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LOVE'S LABOUR 'S LOST.
“ A PLEASANT Conceited Comedie called Loves labor's lost. As it was presented before her Highnes this last Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented. By W. Shakespeare. Imprinted at London by W. W., for Cuthbert Burby. 1598. 4to.” Such is the title of the first edition we possess of the present comedy. Whether any impression was published prior to the corrections and augmentations mentioned, or between the date of this quarto and the folio, 1623, has yet to be discovered. Like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost bears unmistakeable traces of Shakespeare's earliest style. We find in both, though in different degree, the same fluency and sweetness of measure, the same frequency of rhymes, the same laborious addiction to quibbling, repartees, and doggerel verse, and in both it is observable that depth of characterization is altogether subordinate to elegance and sprightliness of dialogue. In the former, however, the wit and fancy of the poet are infinitely more subdued; the events are within the range of probability; and the humour, for the most part, is confined to the inferior personages of the story. But Love's Labour's Lost is an extravaganza for Le bon Roi, René, and the Court of Provence; "a humoursome display of frolic,” as Schlegel calls it, “ in which every one is a jester ; and the sparkles of wit fly about in such profusion that they resemble a blaze of fireworks ; while the dialogue is in the same hurried style in which the masks at a carnival attempt to banter each other."
From the circumstance that Armado is sometimes styled “the Braggart,” and Holofernes “ the Pedant,” it has been conjectured that Shakespeare borrowed his plot from the Italian stage, where these buffoons once formed a staple source of entertainment.* But, judging from the names of the characters, and an evident Gallicism in the Fourth Act,+ Douce attributes its origin to a French novel, and his opinion is in some degree countenanced by the following passage in the Chronicles of Monstrelet (Lond. 1810, i. 108, ed. Johnes), first pointed out by Mr. Hunter :-“ Charles king of Navarre came to Paris to wait on the King. He negotiated so successfully with the King and Privy Council, that he obtained a gift of the castle of Nemours with some of its dependant castlewicks, which territory was made a duchy. He instantly did homage for it, and at the same time surrendered to the King the castle of Cherbourg, the county of Evreux, and all the other lordships he possessed within the kingdom of France, renouncing all claims or profits in them to the King and to his successors, on condition that with the duchy of Nemours the king of France engaged to pay him two hundred thousand gold crowns of the coin of the King our lord.” |
This passage is interesting because it shows that the original story, whether French or Italian, whence Shakespeare drew the outline of his plot, was founded in part at least upon an historical event, and because it enables us to fix the time of the play to about 1425, in which year
"I was often," says Montaigne, "when a boy, wonderfully
Boyet, you can carve:
using the same metaphor of a poulet for a love epistle, that
The payment of a hundred thousand crowns;
nerated by Meres in the the best for comedy anh kinds for the stage ; for conne,
the king of Navarre died. To the date of its production we have no such clue ; it is one of the plays enumerated by Meres in the oft-quoted passage from his Palladis Tamia, 1598, “ As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among yo English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for comedy, witness his Gētlemē of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labor 's Lost, his Love Labour 's Wonne, his Midsummer's Night Dreame, and his Merchant of Venice; for tragedy, his Richard the II., Richard the III., Henry the IV., King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet.”
It is noticed also, and in a manner which seems to imply that the writer had seen it some time before, in the rare poem by R[obert T[ofte, intituled “ Alba; or, The Month's Minde of a Melancholy Lover, 810, 1598.”
“ Lovo's Labour Lost ! I once did see a play
Ycloped so, so called to my paine, ..
The play, no play, but plague was unto me,
Each actor plaid in cunning wise his part,
Beyond these two allusions we have no external evidence positive or negative to aid us in ascertaining the precise date when this comedy was written. We do not despair, however, of the first draft, like the Hamlet of 1603, turning up some day, and in the meantime shall not be far wrong if we assign its production to a period somewhere between 1587 and 1591.
FERDINAND, king of NAVARRE.
| Moti, page to ARMADO. BIRON,
Princess of FRANCE.
ROSALINE, MERCADE, S of FRANCE.
Maria, Ladies attending on the Princess.
JAQUENETTA, a country wench.
Officers and others, attendant on the King and COSTARD, a clown.
* This list of characters was first printed by Rowe.
Enter the King, BIRON," LONGAVILLE, and
DUMAIN. King. Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives, Live register'd upon our brazen" tombs, And then grace us in the disgrace of death; When, spite of cormorant devouring time, Th' endeavour of this present breath may buy That honour, which shall bate his scythe's keen
edge, And make us heirs of all eternity.
Therefore, brave conquerors !—for so you are,
a Biron,-) In the old copies the name is spelt Berowne, probably in accordance with the ancient pronunciation of Biron, which appears to have been Beroon, with the accent on the last syllable. Thus in Act IV. Sc. 3, we find it rhyming to moon
· My love, her mistress, is a gracious moon;
b Live register'd upon our brazen tomos,-) The allusion here is to the figures and inscriptions on plates of brass, with which it was the fashion to ornament the tombs of distinguished persons, from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century. Numerous examples still remain in the churches throughout England, and in those of Belgium and Germany.