Love’s Labors Lost by William Shakespeare

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By heaven, I do love: and it hath taught me to rime, and to be melancholy;
and here is part of my rime, and here my melancholy.
–Berowne, Act IV, Sc. iii of Love’s Labor’s Lost

To kick off the 2000 holiday season, CU-Boulder presents a Shakespearean comedy about romance, in which four well-intentioned young men discover the impossibility of denying the power of true love. The King of Navarre and his three companions swear a public oath to study together, and to renounce women, for three years. Their honor is immediately put to the test by the arrival of the Princess of France and her three lovely companions. Although forced to camp outside the palace, the women quickly break down the men’s resolve, stealing their hearts away. It’s love at first sight for everyone, followed by the men’s highly entertaining but hopeless efforts to disguise their feelings. Witty wordplay and verbal acrobatics make this battle of the sexes a comic war of metaphors, as the women prove that philosophy is not for men alone, and the men demonstrate that love is not only a woman’s province. The intrigue thickens as Russian disguises and masks lead the men to reveal their desires to the wrong mistresses, and the women to mock them mercilessly for making oaths they do not keep. The play’s rather unexpected ending reminds us all that marriage is a decision which requires careful consideration, in order to avoid losing the fruits of love’s labors. Director Candace Taylor has chosen to set this production in the hills of Tuscany, in the Italian countryside, a beautiful place for love and laughter. Join us for what promises to be a delightfully amusing production!

A Quick Game before the Biography . . .

Name the five most prominent English language writers that ever lived. (Go on, now, take me seriously and grab a pencil, scribble down some names and then come back and read the next sentence.)

Great. Having fun so far? Now, sticking to English language creations, name five fictional characters who are, if you had to guess, known by a majority of the people of the world, regardless of what language they speak.

We’ll wait.

All done?

If your author’s list didn’t include William Shakespeare (alongside any number of other possibilities, like Mark Twain, Chaucer, Stephen King, Emily Dickenson or Joan Collins) and your fictional characters list didn’t include either Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet (alongside Mickey Mouse, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Jane Marple, Captain Kirk, or Superman) what planet are YOU from?

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is one of the best-known names in the universe these days. His name appears in and over the titles of films, he’s quoted, referred to or at least acknowledge in virtually every book on the theatre and most books on poetry and his work is taught in every school in the English speaking world. (If not, we don’t really want to know about it up here at the university level). His creations, phrases of his prose and poetry and even the titles and situations of most of his greatest works are part of everyday vocabulary.

With the last four centuries of hype, it’s easy to forget that this was not always the case. Back in 16th Century London, Shakespeare was a just another member of an acting company–not an especially respected profession. Whether he was a good actor or not, we don’t know. Scholarship suggests that he took small but significant roles, like the Ghost in Hamlet, but probably spent most of his time writing, turning out thirty-eight plays (some of which were written with other authors) between 1590 and 1613. None of the plays were published until 1623, seven years after his death. It was probably the publication of this “First Folio” which assured the survival and current popularity of Shakespeare’s work, since other playwrights of his day had better critical reputations. According to most versions of the story, Shakespeare retired to his hometown of Stratford when the Globe Theatre, where the majority of his works had first appeared, burned down in 1613. The truth is, we don’t know much about his life and there is a continuing scholarly debate about the authorship of those plays and poems attributed to him which will probably extend for another four hundred years and beyond.

What we do have, for certain, are the texts–three dozen or so plays, 154 sonnets and a handful of longer poems which continue to stand the test of time; a test passed with flying colors, as evidenced by those lists I made you write. Are there many other writers or characters on those lists dating back four centuries?

A Brief History of the Play:

Love’s Labor’s Lost was performed (though probably not for the first time) for Queen Elizabeth I’s Christmas festivities in 1597 and remained popular through the first decades of the 17th century, then virtually disappeared from the stage for the next two centuries. It returned in 1839 at the reopening of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in London in a lavish production where scenery somehow managed to outstrip the Bard’s poetic fireworks. It was not until Peter Brook staged the play at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1946 that critical attitudes toward the play (which held it to be one of Shakespeare’s less worthy works) began to shift. A series of notable productions at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon and featuring well-known Shakespeareans like Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, Amanda Root and Jeremy Northam, have continued to rediscover the play’s vitality

Three Students Whose Love and Labor isn’t Lost

The opportunity to perform outside of the classroom is one of the most valuable commodities a university theatre program offers. For most student actors, it’s their first chance to appear before an audience larger, more diverse and more discriminating than can be provided by most holiday pageants, camp talent shows or, even high school theatre programs. The need to provide such opportunities to the maximum number of students, while remaining dedicated to quality and keeping things like technical resources and budget in mind is sometimes a tough balancing act. Meeting such a challenge was one of the motivating factors in director Candace Taylor’s choice of Love’s Labor’s Lost. Shakespeare, while always a challenge, also provides a clear blueprint for quality. And, as Professor Taylor suggests elsewhere in this preview, the logistics of the season made Love’s an ideal choice to open a window onto one of the Bard’s wittiest, most colorful worlds for the audience. At the same time, it filled that other need which academic theatre must always seek to address: it opens a door for those students desiring to study the art of acting.

It was a door freshman Tony Guido and sophomore Annika Speer were eager to walk through. Interestingly, both of them attribute at least some of their commitment and enthusiasm about acting at CU to acting Professor Sean Kelley’s Beginning Acting class.

“Sean’s just amazing,” Tony, a Manitou Springs High grad, says. “We all wrote a monologue that had to do with conflict. My monologue dealt a lot with desperation. I wasn’t getting it at all. He had me hold a chair up as I was doing my entire piece and it came out perfectly.” This is not only Tony’s first show at CU, it’s his first experience performing Shakespeare. “I’ve studied him, but never performed any of it. Love’s Labor’s Lost is more of a flat-out comedy. Candace Taylor is really smart with it. She can answer your questions right off. To be able to work under people who actually have the title director before their name is really helpful.”

Annika, who attended Highlands Ranch High, also had Sean for Beginning Acting last year. Her revelation about the importance of declaring theatre as a major and going for the BFA* came last year. While having a wonderful experience in Sean’s class, she had something to contrast it with: “I was open option and ended up missing all the auditions for the Theatre Department shows at the beginning of the semester. So, I did Picasso at the Lapin Agile [a play by Steve Martin] through my dorm last year. And it was awful. Later, I was cast in a show at the Dairy [the Dairy Center for the Arts, in Boulder] directed and written by a CU Theatre graduate student, Bryon Matsuno, called Red Cross. It was a much better experience, working with older people who knew what they were doing.”

Being committed has its advantages. Annika auditioned for and was admitted to the BFA program this year. Love’s Labor’s Lost is her first main stage production. Tony expects to audition next year. So, though this is a first appearance on the CU stage for each of them, it’s not likely to be their last.

Aaron C. Gray, on the other hand, is beginning to realize his career at CU is nearing its end. In the last year of his BFA degree, he finds himself playing his fifth major role–that of Don Armado, an old man known for his comic pedantry and passionately in love with Jacquenetta, a country girl. “This character is a blast. Sometimes it’s harder to play the straight man.”

This is Aaron’s second production experience with Candy. “And I adore her,” Aaron continues. “I really like how she manages rehearsals. She respects your time by coming in with a plan and working it.”

Aaron came to CU in 1997 from George Washington High via Metropolitan State College. “I’ve been doing theatre since I was a kid, but I was a French major. I took Technical Production+, fell in love with the people in the department and never looked back.” When I asked him if just that one experience was enough to turn him from French, Aaron replied: “That….and Sean Kelley’s acting class.” It seems Sean has that effect on a lot of people! I asked why?
“When you get down to it,” Aaron responded, “he’s just a really good guy. He cares about two things in equal parts: the craft [of acting] and the people. And he’s funny. Very funny.”

Aaron reflects on his experiences with CU Theatre and Dance as “Very positive. I’ve learned a lot from the professors. It’s a fairly challenging program that requires a lot from its participants. And I think I’ve made some of my best friends in the Studio classes as a result of my decision to pursue the BFA.”

On a more serious note, the one thing Aaron does wish, for the Department and the University in general, is the enrollment of more people of color. “I’m not sure how it happens except through recruitment tools like these previews and the shows themselves. We have some outreach, but we need more. There’s a really good, broad base of knowledge in this department, both historical and acting-wise, that doesn’t exclude anyone’s experience.” In terms of opportunities for work: “I’ve only not been cast once and that was before I was really in the program. I think this department is very open to color-blind casting–but of course, they can’t do it unless they have the people.”
Oh…and veteran Aaron’s Advice for the Aspiring Actor? He gave it to me in one word: “Play.”

Love’s Labor’s Lost: Promises Made and Promises Broken

This comedy, more than any other Shakespeare drama, reveals the author’s delight in language. The quick, witty, and poetic repartee underscores the playful and mischievous mockery of court pretentions. Love’s Labor’s Lost, renowned for its skillful and agile verbal dexterity, brings to life several of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters: Don Adriano de Armado, the pompous pretender to scholarship, and the clownish Costard, who both vie for the favors of the country girl Jacquenetta.

As the play opens, the youthful Ferdinand, King of Navarre, attempts to gain fame by constructing the stoic world of the academe. Longaville and Dumain are quick to make their vows, but Berowne resists. It is not the pursuit of study he objects to, but rather the conditions of the King’s self-imposed asceticism. Noting how easily the King and the lords have broken their oaths, the Princess and her ladies, Rosaline, Maria, and Katherine, decide to teach the men something about the nature of love. The men find their equals in the mischievous and clever ladies who best them at disguise and wit.

The lords admit their folly in the game of love, realizing that the women want to be truly loved, not merely desired. The ladies who sought to teach the lords a lesson also realize they too have become entangled in their own game, becoming enamored by the clumsy and awkward antics of their youthful suitors.

Shakespeare’s encounter of four couples at play in the game of love can be considered a satire of the courtly pretentions and conventions of Elizabethan England. It was fashionable in Shakespeare’s time for noblemen to devote themselves to rigorous scholarship to the exclusion of other worldly pursuits. Love’s Labor’s Lost ridicules the nobility’s attempt to subvert life and love through the imposition of one type of experience over the other. Once smitten, all of the best intentions fall sway to the power of love, but the pretentious lords must learn that love is more than romantic gestures, the giving of love tokens, and passionate language. The women have little patience with infatuation, but rather demand respect and sincerity. Shakespeare seems to say that learning is served best when there is a balance between experience and contemplation.

Love is hard at work in the University of Colorado production of Love’s Labors Lost, directed by Candace Taylor. Taylor approaches the comedy as a transformation from youthful immaturity to responsible maturity in this lively tale, which she says is one of “promises made and promises broken.” By the end of the play, the noblemen again have made promises. We are left to wonder how sincere their vows are, and if so, how realistic?

— Sandra J. Santa Cruz, Dramaturg

The Globe Theatre: A Place for Plays

In 1599 the Lord Chamberlin’s Men, the acting company with which Shakespeare was associated for his entire career, constructed the Globe Theatre. The company members owned a share in the company’s profits and a share in the company’s theatre–an arrangement unique to the Lord Chamberlin’s Men and an important component in their longevity and success.

The building itself was built from the timbers of The Theatre, a playhouse in London constructed for the Lord Chamberlin’s Men by the father of Richard Burbage, their leading actor. The city government, controlled by the Puritans, had passed laws preventing the use of The Theatre for its intended purpose. As legend has it, in the dead of night, the company disassembled The Theatre and carted it across the River Thames, reassembling the timbers in a slightly modified form and christening the new playhouse The Globe. Now outside the city proper, they could present whatever entertainments they liked.

The Globe’s success was almost instantaneous. It became a favorite of audiences and of the company itself. When, in 1608, it became possible for the company to transfer itself to Blackfriar’s theatre in the city, they instead chose to maintain both houses. The theatre burned in 1613–a possible factor prompting Shakespeare’s retirement–but the Lord Chamberlin’s Men rebuilt the Globe.

Constructed in a form as near to a circle as Elizabethan carpenters could manage, the Globe was an open air theatre with three tiers of covered galleries for seating that wrapped around a central “pit”–the famous “cheap seats” in which the groundlings stood and watched the shows for a penny. One wall was occupied with a “tiring house”–the backstage area– and a gallery probably used for musicians. The stage itself thrust into the pit from the tiring house wall and was roofed, with the underside of this over-hang painted in an elaborate, celestial design justifying its name: the Heavens.

Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest plays specifically for the Globe. When reading works such as Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, All’s Well That Ends Well, King Lear, and Macbeth it might be helpful to imagine them playing in that open air space in daylight, with the audience visible from almost every seat in the house. There was little scenery and few props. Costumes were frequently the personal clothing of the actors themselves. For these reasons, Shakespeare chose, in many of his plays, to acknowledge the theatrical nature of the space, referring to the audience, asking their help in creating the illusions necessary to tell his tales.

For More Information: A Pair of Shakespearean Web Sites . . .

Encylopedia Britannica’s website on Shakespeare, with short articles on most aspects of the Bard and the Elizabethan theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe: Official Web-site of the Reconstructed Globe Theatre in Southbank, London

An excellent site for information on upcoming productions at this historic reconstruction, the education programs offered through outreach and the facility itself.

A LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST STUDY GUIDE: Five leading questions to spark a discussion and draw you deeper into the play…

1). In the first scene, the King swears his men to an oath forbidding partying and the company of women for a period of three years – all in the name of study. At the same time, Don Armado and Holofernes are made fun of for reducing learning to foolish wordiness. Considering these two, apparently contradictory points of view, what is Shakespeare saying about the pursuit of knowledge? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

2). If you have seen the play, what do you make of the striking change in tone in the last few minutes? What does this change in tone consist of, what triggers it and what does it have to do with the theme of finding a balance between the serious and the frivolous?

3). This play was written 400 years ago and is still being produced today, as are most of Shakespeare’s plays. Why? What elements of Shakespeare’s work make him continually interesting and entertaining to audiences of today?

4). One of the points of good scenic design is that is should serve to emphasize key themes and images in the text. Does Bruce Bergner’s scenic design for the CU production–the Italian province of Tuscany–make sense for the play? What themes and images does it emphasize?

5). Think about the performance style of the play: Was it all about the words that Shakespeare wrote, or was there more to it? How important was the physicality of the actors in expressing their characters? Looking specifically at Don Armado, Moth, Holofernes, Boyet, Dull and Costard, how did the way they moved suggest their characters? Use specific examples.