Five key moments in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost

The Princess (Susan Fleetwood) is accused of mockery by Berowne (Ian Richardson) in the 1975 production of Love's Labour's Lost
The Princess (Susan Fleetwood) is accused of mockery by Berowne (Ian Richardson), witnessed by Maria (Lynette Davies), Ferdinand (David Suchet) and Rosaline (Estelle Kohler) in the 1975 production of Love's Labour's Lost.
Photo by Reg Wilson © RSC – Image Licensing

1. Signing the oath to forgo worldly desires in favour of learning (Act 1, Scene 1)

 Ferdinand, the King of Navarre, and his companions, Longaville, Dumaine and Berowne sign an oath to devote themselves to a life of academic study for three years and forgo comforts, including the company of women. Berowne reluctantly signs the agreement, anticipating difficulties in keeping the oaths, especially as the King will be obliged to receive the French princess and her entourage when they arrive in his kingdom shortly.

 2. The men's resolve is tested with the arrival of the French ladies (Act 2, Scene 1)

 The Princess of France, on a mission from her father, approaches the court of Navarre with her entourage including Rosaline, Katherine and Maria. She sends Boyet to inform the Ferdinand, the King of Navarre, that she is waiting and during his absence takes the opportunity to discuss the qualities of Ferdinand and his close friends with her ladies.

 Boyet returns and informs the ladies that the King cannot admit them to the court because of his oath so they will be lodged 'in the field'. Ferdinand and the lords formally welcome the party and they indulge in witty banter. Once alone, the ladies resolve to indulge in a 'civil war of wits' with 'Navarre and his Bookmen'. Boyet teases the ladies who nickname him 'a love-monger'.

 3. Hunting hinds and hearts (Act 4, Scene 1)

 The theme of hunting in this scene is really a metaphor for courtship. The Princess is waiting for deer to be driven towards her so she can kill them for sport. She considers that she must kill the poor deer to sustain her reputation, not for any personal pleasure. The Princess and her hunting party are interrupted by the illiterate Costard. He gives her a letter he thinks is 'from Berowne to Rosaline', which is actually from Don Armado to Jacquenetta, the milk-maid. Boyet reads the letter aloud and everyone is amused at Don Armado's flowery language.

 4. Men forsworn (Act 4, Scene 3)

 Each of the men in turn betrays their oath and confesses their love. In a moment of solitary reflection, Berowne acknowledges his love for Rosaline and concludes that experience is a better teacher than books. When he spies the King approaching, Berowne hides. Unaware that Berowne is watching and listening, the King reads aloud a sonnet he has written to the Princess until he notices the approaching Longaville, who is also reading a sonnet to his love, Maria.

 The farce continues as Dumaine arrives reading a love sonnet to Katherine. Berowne hides from the King, the King hides from Longaville, who conceals himself from Dumaine. Each in turn then reprimands the other for breaking their oath until Berowne is the only one left unconfessed but is found out by the arrival of Jacquenetta and Costard with Berowne's letter to Rosaline. Berowne finally confesses his love and the four men argue over which lady is the most beautiful. The men resolve to woo their ladies and forgo their oaths.

 5. Disguises discovered, love unmasked, a pageant performed and news received (Act 5, Scene 2)

 The ladies compare the messages and gifts they have received from the men. Boyet tells them that he has overheard the men planning to visit them disguised as Russians .The ladies decide to disrupt this scheme by wearing masks, exchanging their gifts and mocking the suitors. The Princess and Rosaline swap identities and Maria and Katherine do likewise. Berowne talks to the Princess, thinking she is Rosaline; the King chats to Rosaline, thinking she is the Princess: Dumaine talks with Maria, who he thinks is Katherine; Longaville converses with Katherine, believing her to be Maria.

 Thoroughly outwitted, the men leave but return undisguised a short time later. The ladies tell them about the visit from the 'Russians' and how the men have been deceived by identity swapping. The King and his companions also confess their disguises.

 Costard arrives to announce the start of the pageant of the Nine Worthies, created by Don Armado. The pageant descends into farce as Costard accuses Don Armado of making Jacquenetta pregnant.

 The mood of hilarity is broken abruptly by the arrival from the French court of Marcadé, who announces the death of the Princess's father. The Princess and her ladies prepare to leave immediately despite the pleas of the King. The ladies impose a condition on their suitors: the Princess will only marry the King after a year of 'austere unsociable life'; Rosaline tells Berowne to entertain the sick. Don Armado vows to wait three years for Jacquenetta.

The play ends on a poignant note with the song by Nathaniel and Holofernes: a musical dialogue between the cuckoo (spring) and the owl (winter).

 

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