Shakespeare - Love's Labour's Lost

2023-02-28 @Literature

One of the earlier, mid-1590s comedies. Ultra spruce rhetorical device, obscure allusions, burlesque, sexual innuendoes galore. The heaviest rhymed verse I recall of all plays, seconded by the Comedy of Errors. Interwoven poetry. One of the few, if not the only play that Shakespeare didn’t appeal to any definitive source for the narrative.

… which as usual, I don’t care to address to any substantial degree. Call it a clash between educational elegance and common wisdom. That should suffice.

More fascinated with the properties, the execution, the sheer beauty captured, noted in my first effort a couple of years back and even more appreciated this second round. Hopefully the invariant holds henceforth.

Sure, a bit esoteric, for which I don’t think the play sees much attention. A shame. And I think it a bit misconstrued, difficulty-wise. Not too laborious in any sense. Just proceed slowly. Really dig through the matter.

Remember, much of it consists of rhymed poetry. Doesn’t feel forced either. And the non-rhymed, charming and witty all the same. The prose passages: all the same if not more. Plain stellar playwriting, if I’m not disillusioned.

Another singular property: greater metrical variance than I elsewhere recall across Shakespeare. Usually, come blank verse or rhymed, the pentameter dominates. Here, lines of verse range from a trimetric to a whopping septametric form. And a fairly lengthy group exchange of scene 2.1 remarkably proceeds in a trisillabic tetrameter.

My take on it: all this convention challenging seeks to create more contrast, add more harmonic variance, more excitement, more surprise. Or a pompous show. What do I know?

I guess you must appreciate the lyricism to be thus affected. I’m a sucker for it. And yet can equally enjoy detestable free modernist verse an hour later.

What more?

There’s a play/show within a play, seen on occasion across Shakespeare (ie Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew).

There’s the masking/identity-changing device, leveraged abundantly throughout those comedies.

I quiet enjoy the ‘interruption’ technique: proceedings/ancillary entertainment spoiled or unfinished, the phenomenon itself a source of entertainment as the Princess once remarks.

The clown character produces extraordinary wisdom. Often seen.

Per custom, I’ll depart with a sampling:

1.1.149-154, BEROWNE. I love the inversion here applied:

Necessity will make us all forsworn
Three thousand times within this three years' space;
For every man with his affects is born,
Not by might mast'red, but by special grace.
If I break faith, this word shall speak for me:
I am forsworn on mere necessity.

1.1.164-9, KING:

Ay, that there is. Our court, you know, is haunted
With a refined traveller of Spain,
A man in all the world's new fashion planted,
That hath a mint of phrases in his brain;
One who the music of his own vain tongue
Doth ravish like enchanting harmony;
A man of complements, whom right and wrong
Have chose as umpire of their mutiny.

2.1.235-7 ‘civil war of wits’:

PRINCESS OF FRANCE. Good wits will be jangling;
but, gentles, agree;
This civil war of wits were much better used
On Navarre and his book-men, for here 'tis abused.


BOYET. Do you hear, my mad wenches?
BOYET. What, then; do you see?
MARIA. Ay, our way to be gone.
BOYET. You are too hard for me. Exeunt

3.1.30-9: ‘by heart’ vs ‘in heart’ vs ‘out of heart’:

MOTH. Negligent student! learn her by heart.
ARMADO. By heart and in heart, boy.
MOTH. And out of heart, master; all those three I will
prove.  ARMADO. What wilt thou prove?
MOTH. A man, if I live; and this, by, in, and without,
upon the instant. By heart you love her, because your
heart cannot come by her; in heart you love her, because
your heart is in love with her; and out of heart you
love her, being out of heart that you cannot enjoy her.

3.1.43-8: horse ambassador for an ass:

ARMADO. Fetch hither the swain; he must carry me a letter.
MOTH. A message well sympathiz'd- a horse to be
ambassador for an ass.
ARMADO. Ha, ha, what sayest thou?
MOTH. Marry, sir, you must send the ass upon the horse,
for he is very slow-gaited. But I go.

4.2.51-7 HOLOFERNES:

I Will something affect the letter, for it argues
The preyful Princess pierc'd and prick'd a pretty
pleasing pricket.
Some say a sore; but not a sore till now made sore with
The dogs did yell; put el to sore, then sorel jumps from
Or pricket sore, or else sorel; the people fall
If sore be sore, then L to sore makes fifty sores o'
Of one sore I an hundred make by adding but one more L.

4.3.259-261, KING:

O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons, and the school of night;
And beauty's crest becomes the heavens well.

Note the rich texture in the last line above. The words ‘becomes’ and ‘well’ carry multiple meanings. Should one insert an apostrophe into ‘heavens’, in a possessive sense, or simply misread it in such manner, ‘well’ likely acquires the meaning of a water well, which makes for a curious metaphoric device itself not devoid of multiple meanings.

4.3.262-270, BEROWNE:

Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light.
O, if in black my lady's brows be deckt,
It mourns that painting and usurping hair
Should ravish doters with a false aspect;
And therefore is she born to make black fair.
Her favour turns the fashion of the days;
For native blood is counted painting now;
And therefore red that would avoid dispraise
Paints itself black, to imitate her brow.


Nay, my good lord, let me o'errule you now.
That sport best pleases that doth least know how;
Where zeal strives to content, and the contents
Dies in the zeal of that which it presents.
Their form confounded makes most form in mirth,
When great things labouring perish in their birth.

Questions, comments? Connect.