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Love's Labour's Lost

15951596

Love's Labour's Lost is one of William Shakespeare's early comedies, believed to have been written in the mid-1590s for a performance at the Inns of Court before Queen Elizabeth I. It follows the King of Navarre and his three companions as they attempt to swear off the company of women for three years of study and fasting. Their subsequent infatuation with the Princess of France and her ladies makes them forsworn. In an untraditional ending for a comedy, the play closes with the death of the Princess's father, and all weddings are delayed for a year. The play draws on themes of masculine love and desire, reckoning and rationalization, and reality versus fantasy.

Though first published in quarto in 1598, the play's title page suggests a revision of an earlier version of the play. While there are no obvious sources for the play's plot, the four main characters are loosely based on historical figures. The use of apostrophes in the play's title varies in early editions, though it is most commonly given as Love's Labour's Lost.

The historical personages portrayed and the political situation in Europe relating to the setting and action of the play were familiar to Shakespeare's audiences. Scholars suggest that the play lost popularity as these historical and political portrayals of Navarre's court became dated and less accessible to theatergoers of later generations. The play's sophisticated wordplay, pedantic humour and dated literary allusions may also be reasons for its relative obscurity, as compared with Shakespeare's more popular works. Love's Labour's Lost was staged rarely in the 19th century, but it has been seen more often in the 20th and 21st centuries, with productions by both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, among others. It has also been adapted as a musical, an opera, for radio and television and as a musical film.

Love's Labour's Lost features the longest scene (5.2), the longest single word 'honorificabilitudinitatibus' (5.1.39–40), and (depending on editorial choices) the longest speech (4.3.284–361) in all of Shakespeare's plays (see "Date and Text" below).

Title page of the first quarto (1598)

Most modern scholars believe the play was written in 1595 or 1596, making it contemporaneous with Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Love's Labour's Lost was first published in quarto in 1598 by the bookseller Cuthbert Burby. The title page states that the play was "Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere," which has suggested to some scholars a revision of an earlier version. he play next appeared in print in the First Folio in 1623, with a later quarto in 1631. Love's Labour's Won is considered by some to be a lost sequel.

Love’s Labour’s Lost features the longest scene in all of Shakespeare’s plays (5.2), which, depending upon formatting and editorial decisions, ranges from around 920 lines to just over 1000 lines. The First Folio records the scene at 942 lines.

The play also features the single longest word in all of Shakespeare's plays: honorificabilitudinitatibus, spoken by Costard at 5.1.30.

The speech given by Berowne at 4.3.284–361 is potentially the longest in all of Shakespeare's plays, depending on editorial choices. Shakespeare critic and editor Edward Capell has pointed out that certain passages within the speech seem to be redundant and argues that these passages represent a first draft which was not adequately corrected before going to print. Specifically, lines 291–313 are “repeated in substance” urther in the speech and are sometimes omitted by editors. With no omissions, the speech is 77 lines and 588 words.

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Published in 14/09/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

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