LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST
A | Pleasant | Conceited Comedie | called, | Loues labors lost. | As it was presented before her Highnes | this last Christmas. | Newly corrected and augmented | By W. Shakespere. | Imprinted at London by W. W. | for Cutbert Burby. | 1598. -- TITLE PAGE OF FIRST EDITION, 1598.
Love's Labour Lost I once did see, a Play
Y-cleped so, so called to my paine.
Which I to heare to my small Ioy did stay,
Giving attendance on my froward Dame:
My misgiving mince presaging to me ill,
Yet was I drawne to see it 'gainst my will,
Each Actor plaid in cunning wise his part
But chiefly Those entrapt in Cupids snare;
Yet All was fained, 'twas not from the hart
They seemde to grieve, but yet they felt no care
: 'Twas I that Griefe (indeed) did beare in brest,
The others did but make a show in Iest.
-- T(OFTE), R(OBERT), 1598, Alba.
I have sent and bene all thys morning huntyng for players Juglers & Such kinde of Creaturs, but fynde them harde to finde, wherfore Leavinge notes for them to seeke me, burbage ys come, & Sayes ther ys no new playe that the quene hath not scene, but they have Revyved an olde one Cawled Loves Labore lost, which for wytt & mirthe he sayes will please her excedingly. And Thys ye apointed to be playd to Morowe night at my Lord of Sowthamptons, unless yow send a wrytt to Remove the Corpus Cum Causa to your howse in strande. Burbage ys my messenger Ready attendyng your pleasure. -- COPE, SIR WALTER, 1604, Letter "To the right honorable the Lorde Vycount Cranborne at the Courte." Historical MSS. 1872, p. 148.
In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure and some have rejected as unworthy of our poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages mean, childish, and vulgar; and some which ought not to have been exhibited as we are told they were, to a maiden queen. But there are scattered through the whole many sparks of genius, nor is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakspeare. -- JOHNSON, SAMUEL, 1768, General Observations of Shakspeare's Plays.
"Love's Labour Lost" is numbered among the pieces of his youth. It is a humorsome display of frolic, a whole cornucopia of the most vivacious jokes is emptied into it. Youth is certainly perceivable in the lavish superfluity of labour in the execution: the unbroken succession of plays on words, and sallies of every description, hardly leave the spectator time to breathe, the sparkles of wit fly about in such profusion that they resemble a blaze of fireworks while the dialogue, for the most part, is in the same hurried style in which the passing masks at a carnival attempt to banter each other. -- SCHLEGEL, AUGUSTUS WILLIAM, 1809, Dramatic Art and Literature, Lecture XII., tr. Black, rev. Morrison.
If we were to part with any of the author's comedies, it should be this. Yet we should be loth to part with Don Adriano de Armado, that mighty potentate of nonsense; or his page, that handful of wit; with Nathaniel the curate, or Holofernes the schoolmaster, and their dispute after dinner, on "the golden cadences of poesy," with Costard the clown, or Dull the constable. Biron is too accomplished a character to be lost to the world, and yet he could not appear without his fellow- courtiers and the king: and if we were to leave out the ladies, the gentlemen would have no mistresses. So that we believe we must let the whole play stand as it is, and we shall hardly venture to "set a mark of reprobation on it." Still we have some objections to the style, which we think savours more of the pedantic spirit of Shakespear's time than of his own genius, more of controversial divinity, and the logic of Peter Lombard, than of the inspiration of the Muse. It transports us quite as much to the manners of the court, and the quirks of courts of law, as to the scenes of nature, or the fairy-land of his own imagination. --HAZLITT, WILLIAM, 1817-69, Characters of Shakespear's Plays, p. 206.
If this juvenile drama had been the only one extant of our Shakspere, and we possessed the tradition only of his riper works, or accounts of them in writers who had not even mentioned this play how many of Shakspere's characteristic features might we not still have discovered in "Love's Labour's Lost," though as in a portrait taken of him in his boyhood I can never sufficiently admire the wonderful activity of thought throughout the whole of the first scene of the play, rendered natural, as it is, by the choice if the characters, and the whimsical determination on which the drama is founded. -- COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR, 1818, Lectures and Notes on Shakespere, ed. Ashe, p. 283.
Yet with all its diversity of characters, poetic beauties, wit, and sentences "Love's Labour's Lost" is but little regarded. It is devoid of dramatic interest, and not even the fairest and freshest beau- ties of Shakspeare's genius can compensate for poverty of plot and deficiency of action. -- SKOTTOWE, AUGUSTINE, 1824, Life of Shakspeare, vol. I, p. 254.
There is indeed little interest in the fable, if we can say that there is any fable at all; but there are beautiful coruscations of fancy, more original conception of character than in the "Comedy of Errors," more lively humor than in the "Gentlemen of Verona," more symptoms of Shakspeare's future powers as a comic writer than in either. Much that is here but imperfectly developed came forth again in his later plays, especially in "As you Like It," and "Much Ado about Nothing." -- HALLAM, HENRY, 1837-39, Introduction to the Literature of Europe, vol. II, pt. ii, ch. vi, par. 38.
Both the characters and the dialogue are such as youthful talent might well invent, without much knowledge of real life, and would indeed be likely to invent, before the experience and observation of varied society. The comedy presents a picture, not of the true every-day life of the great or the beautiful, but exhibits groups of such brilliant personages as they might be supposed to appear in the artificial conversation, the elaborate and continual effort to surprise or dazzle by wit or elegance, which was the prevailing taste of the age, in its literature, its poetry, and even its pulpit; and in which the nobles and beauties of the day were accustomed to array themselves for exhibition, as in their state attire, for occasions of display. All this, when the leading idea was once caught, was quite within the reach of the young poet to imitate or surpass, with little or no personal knowledge of aristocratic -- or what would now be termed fashionable -- society. -- VERPLANCK, GULIAN CROMMELIN, 1844-47, ed. The Illustrated Shakespeare, vol. II.
"Love's Labour's Lost" is not a favourite play with the general reader, but the cause of its modern unpopularity is to be sought for in the circumstance of its satire having been principally directed to fashions of language that have long passed away, and consequently little understood rather than in any great deficiency of invention. When it has been deeply studied, there are few comedies that will afford more gratification. It abounds with touches of the highest humour, and the playful tricks and discoveries are conducted with so much dexterity, that, when we arrive at the conclusion, the chief wonder is how the interest could have been preserved in the development of so extremely meagre a plot. Rightly considered, this drama, being a satire on the humour of conversation, could not have been woven from a story involving much situation other than the merely amusing or from any plot which invited the admission of the language of passion; for the free use of the latter would have been evidently inconsistent with the unity of the author's satirical design. -- HALLIWELL-PHILLIPPS, J. O., 1855-79, Memoranda on Love's Labour's Lost, p. 18.
It is this foppery of delicate language this fashionable plaything of his time with which Shakespeare is occupied in "Love's Labours Lost." He shows us the manner in all its stages; passing from the grotesque and vulgar pedantry of Holofernes, through the extravagant but polished caricature of Armado, to become the peculiar characteristic of a real though still quaint poetry in Biron himself, who is still chargeable even at his best with just a little affectation. As Shakespeare laughs broadly at it in Holofernes or Armado, so he is the analyst of its curious charm in Biron; and this analysis involves a delicate raillery by Shakespeare himself at his own chosen manner. -- PATER, WALTER, 1878, Appreciations, p. 171.
During certain scenes we seem almost to stand again by the cradle of new born comedy, and hear the first lisping and laughing accents run over from her baby lips in bubbling rhyme, but when the note changes we recognise the speech of gods. For the first time in our literature the higher key of poetic or romantic comedy is finely touched to a fine issue. The divine instrument fashioned by Marlowe for tragic purposes alone has found at once its new sweet use in the hands of Shakespeare. The way is prepared for "As You Like It" and the "Tempest," the language is discovered which will befit the lips of Rosalind and Miranda. -- SWINBURNE, ALGERNON CHARLES, 1880, A Study of Shakespeare, p. 47.
From The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors, ed. Charles Wells Moulton, 8 vols. (London: Moulton Publishing, 1901), 1: 464-66.
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