Usually known as Much Ado About Nothing

Bodleian First Folio of Shakespeare's plays

There's long been speculation that Shakespeare wrote a play called Love's Labour's Won. The main evidence for this is a book dated 1598, which refers to his 'Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love's Labour's Lost, his Love's Labour's Won, his Midsummer Night's Dream and his Merchant of Venice'.

It's perfectly possible that this simply refers to a lost work, but it could also be that Love's Labour's Won is an alternative title for one of the established texts – just as What You Will is the subtitle to Twelfth Night.

It was long thought The Taming of the Shrew could be the play in question, since it was written before 1598 and not included in the list above. But 60-odd years ago a fragment of a bookseller's list from 1603 was discovered, referring to six plays. These included Love's Labour's Lost and Won and, crucially, The Taming of the Shrew, leaving Much Ado About Nothing as the strongest contender.

But one only has to skim-read the two plays to see that they make perfect sense as a pair – whether or not they are named as such. At the end of Love's Labour's Lost, two sparring lovers, Berowne and Rosaline, are separated. They cannot consummate their relationship and are forced to spend a year apart. At the start of Much Ado About Nothing, two sparring lovers, Benedick and Beatrice, meet again after a long absence, and continue to wrangle, until their friends manage to trick them into acknowledging their love for each other, and a happy ending is achieved.

Some would say that as Much Ado About Nothing wasn't published until 1600, it can't be a contender for the title. But as Shakespeare includes the name of Will Kemp as the prefix for some of Dogberry's speeches, and Kemp is known to have left the company during 1599, Much Ado About Nothing could well have been in the repertoire in the summer of 1598, and thus the mystery is - perhaps - solved.

We're making no definitive claims, but time and again in rehearsal we've noticed how the two plays speak to each other, with repeated motifs, themes, vocabulary and situations. We hope that by pairing the two plays, possibly for the first time, we can see them both in a fascinating new light.

Christopher Luscombe
Director of Love's Labour's Lost and Love's Labour's Won
Image of Bodleian First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, http://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk 

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