LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST
Shakespeare makes us laugh in "Love's Labour's Lost" at the futility
of the attempt of ascetic and academic men to shut out love and women
from their schemes of life and study.
His early work in putting the past history of England into dramatic
form may possibly have suggested to him to put more recent history on
the stage by means of this Comedy. Light as it is, the point of it is
to satirize the monastic and exclusive element in current educational
schemes. Fictitious as the story is, it touches upon names and
incidents belonging to actual history. So familiar were these actual
happenings of the day to his audience that it could especially enjoy
these veiled allusions to them.
The main idea of the plot of the Comedy--the "Academe," was one that
had a bearing upon various similarly named educational projects of
that time in England.
One such scheme was drawn up about 1570, by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir
Walter Raleigh's half-brother, for the "education of her Majeste's
Wardes and others the youths of nobility and gentlemen." This plan
was, like Shakespeare's arranged for a "three yeeres terme" (I, i, 20)
and at the end of "every three years" some book was to be published
which would represent the fruit of the Academy's study during that
period. Merely the title of this scheme--"Queen Elizabethes Achademy"
may have suggested Shakespeare's "Achademe" (I, i, 17). Of course,
however, both Gilbert's and Shakespeare's adoption of the name are
examples of the appropriation by educational groups of the classic
academes of the Philosophers of Athens and their student followers.
Another educational plan "for the bringing up in vertue and learning
of the Queenes Majestis Wardes," was devised by Sir Nicholas Bacon, in
1561. Later, in the reign of James I, the establishment of the
"Academe Royal" by Bolton, is an example of the early vogue of the
name, which has since become familiar everywhere, for educational and
A less important element in the formation of the plot is the allusion
to current French politics which the situation of the characters of
the Play suggests.
A King of Navarre and a Princess of France conferring in treaty over a
disputed province and a claim of allowance for services rendered is an
incident constituting a reference to a state of things in France then
closely concerning England. The succession to the throne of France of
Henry of Navarre, the champion of the Huguenots of France, was long
contested. England was friendly to Navarre, the object of her foreign
policy being to counterpoise the power of Spain and the Catholics of
France, with whom Queen Elizabeth's most formidable rival, Mary
Stuart, was allied in interest.
No king of Navarre was ever named Ferdinand. Yet by making an entirely
fictitious hero a king of Navarre and the suitor of a princess of
France, the relationship of Henry of Navarre to dominance in France
was suggested in an unobjectionable and amusing way. And the death of
the King of France introduced at the close of the Play, involving the
prospect as a probability that the hero might then succeed to the
throne of France, could scarcely fail to remind Shakespeare's audience
of the actual struggle of the King of Navarre for the French crown,
and also of the fact that on the death of the French King in August,
1589, Navarre then became heir presumptive, and after the battle of
Ivry in 1590 Spain delayed but could not long obstruct his complete
In 1593 the most important cities of the Kingdom yielded him
allegiance and in the Spring of 1594 Paris herself opened her gates to
him. These dates 1589-1594 indicate the time, also, when "Love's
Labour's Lost" is likely to have been timely in these references, and
yield a clew to its date of composition.
The effect of these allusions to French political affairs, made more
piquant by the downfall of Spain in her political opposition both to
England and the party of Henry of Navarre, was intensified in
Shakespeare's Play by the names given to Navarre's lords. Berowne,
as the name appears in the Folio, is an English spelling of the French
name Biron, to which it is changed in modernized editions of
Shakespeare. Longavill is an English equivalent of Longueville,
and Dumaine or Dumane of De Mayenne, names which also are changed
in the modernized editions, although not consistently. All these names
are associated with Navarre's struggles in France. The Maréchal de
Biron and the Duc de Longueville fought prominently on Navarre's side.
The Duc de Mayenne, brother of Henry of Guise, fought on the opposite
side. The Duc d'Alençon long a suitor for the hand of Queen Elizabeth,
is mentioned as the father of Rosaline.
Another veiled reference to a Russian suitor of the Queen's seems to
be made in the incident introduced in the last Act. This scene of the
wooing of the King and his lords when disguised as Russians makes fun,
perhaps, of an actual embassy of Russians to the Court of Elizabeth,
in 1583, when the Queen had arranged to put upon Lady Mary Hastings
the suit which the Czar Ivan had originally hoped to proffer to the
Queen herself. (For information upon these and other incidents of the
period that may be used in the plot see Sources, pp. 106-116 also
Notes in the "First Folio Edition" of this Play).