Love’s Labor’s Lost abbreviated

The play takes place in Navarre, a former kingdom then located in the northeast region of present day Spain.  Navarre’s king is a young man named Ferdinand.  As the play opens Ferdinand has convinced his buddies, Longaville, Dumaine and Berowne to agree to attend his newly-formed academy, to be “still and contemplative in living arts,” an academy to be run on the King’s terms.  The four of them have made a three year commitment, most unwittingly, to endure a Spartan existence; the King’s stated objective being that the four of them are to strictly focus on their books and studies. (Pride, Act 1, Scene 1) They have signed-on to a severe and disciplined regimen; a regimen that includes three hours of sleep a night, one meal a day, and to neither see nor talk with women during the three year period.  Belatedly realizing what he’s signed up for, Berowne puts up a fuss, but he stays the course. (Pleading, Act 1, Scene 1) It’s this last requirement, to not see nor talk with women for three years, that each of these guys independently and quickly breaks; that being the basis for this silly, but innocent, romantic-comedy, where the young women win at every turn. 

Shakespeare early on introduces us to Armado, Costard and Jaquenetta; all of whom have important roles and add to the zaniness, the three of them leading a so-called play-within-a-play. (Love, Act 1, Scene 2)

Soon after the young men set up shop at the academy, the beautiful daughter of France’s king, the Princess, pays Ferdinand a visit.  She has been sent to the academy by her father “on serious business craving quick dispatch.”  She’s been sent to Navarre to seek to negotiate the return of Aquitaine to France, an area Ferdinand says was “won by my father in his wars,” Aquitaine being an area in the west of France.  The French king wants Aquitaine returned.  The French king is willing to pay “a hundred thousand crowns” to get it back.    

Determined to make his academy one dedicated to “still and contemplative in living arts” studies, Ferdinand has the Princess and her ladies camp in the field outside his compound, the ladies being Rosaline, Maria and Katherine.  But the men soon independently talk with the Princess and her lady friends, each one of them promptly breaking their severe and mutual pledge. (Infatuation, Act 2, Scene 1.1)  Each one in each group of four is quickly infatuated with another in the other group of four, giving us a pretty good idea of how the story will play out.

Soon after she arrives, the Princess provides Ferdinand with a paper from her father, a proposed settlement of the Aquitaine issue.  Ferdinand reads the document in the presence of the Princess and her ladies, but isn’t very smooth in the doing.  The Princess’ attending lord, Boyet, her loyal and wise protector, offers his assessment of the King’s reading of her father’s document: the King is smitten by the Princess; he can’t take his eye off her. (Infatuation, Act 2, Scene 1.2)

Soon after the King and his young “lords” had arrived at the King’s academy, Armado, known as the Braggart, also called “a child of fancy” by the King, and Costard, known as the Clown, paid the King a visit.  These two guys, along with Jaquenetta, their common girlfriend, offer us their own silliness.  Armado asks Costard to deliver a letter from him to Jaquenetta.  At about the same time, Berowne asks Costard to deliver a letter from him to Rosaline, one of the Princess’ ladies. (Love, Act 3, Scene 1)

Costard mixes up the letters, as expected, delivering each to the wrong young lady.  Boyet reads the letter from Armado intended for Jaquenetta, but delivered to Rosaline through the Princess.  Recognizing that this letter was not intended for Rosaline, the Princess suggests to Rosaline that she might later be able to later use Armando’s misdirected letter to their advantage.  Separately, Jaquenetta has Nathaniel, known as the Curate, read the letter given to her by Costard, she believing it to be from Armado. It’s Berowne’s letter.  Holofernes, a schoolmaster and friend of Nathaniel’s, suggests Jaquenetta deliver the letter to the king. 

Berowne, walking through the forest, upset as he is with Cupid for letting him fall in love with one of the Princess’ ladies, reads to himself the love poem he’s written to Rosaline.  Sensitive to the commitment he made to the King when he agreed to join the King’s academy, he steps out of the way as Ferdinand walks by reading the love poem he’s written to the Princess.  The King then steps aside hearing Longaville walking through the woods reading the love poem he’s written to Maria.  Then Longaville steps aside as Dumaine comes by reading his love poem to Katherine.  Ferdinand then steps forward, reprimanding both Longaville and Dumaine for breaking the pledge they made to him when they joined his academy.  Berowne boldly comes forward, belittling all three of them, including the King, for breaking their oaths.  But then Jaquenetta enters, carrying a letter.  Aware of what this might lead to, Berowne tries to slip away; Ferdinand suggesting otherwise.  A guilty Berowne rips up the letter Jaquenetta has in her hand.  Dumaine picks up the pieces, noting to all that it is a love poem from Berowne to Rosaline.  Berowne admits that the letter is his, but quickly recovers, rallying the four of them, wisely saying “let us fail these troths or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths.”  (Persuasion, Act 4, Scene 3)

Separately, Holofernes announces that he, Nathaniel, Armado, and Costard will present the show “The Nine Worthies” in a special presentation for the benefit of the Princess and her ladies and the King and his lords.

The Princess and her ladies proudly have their own ‘show and tell’ session; sharing with each other the gifts and rhymes they’ve received from the King and his friends.  But Boyet, the source of recent intelligence, enters to report that the four young men are about to arrive, disguised as Muscovites.  These amateurish-acting guys have really fallen for the women.  The Princess and her ladies decide they’ll reciprocate the ruse.  They’ll disguise themselves, wearing masks.  They also switch among themselves the gifts they’ve received from the men, knowing the men are going to try to deceive them, dressed as they are as Russians. The ladies’ trick works beautifully, each man mistakenly telling one of the young ladies (masked and wearing another’s gift) how much he loves her.  The women treat the men with some disdain and the men, embarrassed as they are, leave discouraged but not defeated.  Boyet senses they will soon return, and they do. (Envy, Act 5, Scene 2)  The women welcome the men’s return. (Contrition, Act 5, Scene 2.1) The men soon realize that the woman played the better trick.  The men humbly confess their foolishness and seek forgiveness. (Contrition, Act 5, Scene 2.2)  

Costard soon enters to announce that the play, planned to be The Nine Worthies (but now reduced to The Three Worthies), is about to begin. (Contrition, Act 5, Scene 2.3)  Ferdinand and his friends belittle the actors, but the Princess lauds and cheers their effort.  The show is interrupted when the Princess learns that her father has died. She declares that she and her ladies must promptly return to France. The men beg the women to become their wives.  The Princess says that she and her ladies will mourn her father’s death for one year.  But, she says, if the women are to take the men’s proposals seriously, the men for the next twelve months must live under a form of probation, performing public services. (Counsel, Act 5, Scene 2.1) (Counsel, Act 5, Scene 2.2)  At the end of the twelve month period, depending on how well they conduct themselves and how well they perform their penance, the women say they just may accept the young men’s marriage offers.


Copyright © 2010 Abbreviated Shakespeare

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