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Love's Labour's Lost

One of Shakespeare's early comedies, Love's Labour's Lost features an artificial and rather silly plot, but displays an astonishing rhetorical technique. This play has never been among Shakespeare's most popular, perhaps due to the pedantic nature of much of the dialogue. Harold Bloom, however, has recently championed this play, arguing that it is the first play to showcase the author's mastery of language.

Though this play is dated early among Shakespeare's canon, the advanced command of language suggests that it was either written later than suspected, or very heavily revised at a later date.

The play opens with the King of Navarre and three noble companions taking an oath to devote themselves to three years of study, foreswearing bodily pleasures and the company of women. One of the companions, Berowne, refuses to take the vow seriously, and argues the merits of sensual love. He also reminds Navarre that a princess of France has an appointment to meet him in order to discuss the surrender of the region of Aquitaine. The King denies the princess and her retinue, which includes three lovely young women, entry into his court, insisting that they camp at a certain distance. After Navarre and his friends have interviewed the princess and her companions, each of the men falls in love with one of the ladies.

The slenderness of the main plot is supplemented by several other comic characters. A bombastic Spanish swordsman woos a low-born country wench, assisted by his brilliantly witty page and a country bumpkin in his keeping. There are also two pedantic scholars who sometimes speak to each other in schoolboy Latin.

Following a lighthearted play at love, the news arrives that the Princess's father has died and she must leave to take the throne. The nobles swear to remain true to their ladies, who act surprised that anyone took the flirtation seriously. The play ends with a rather unsatisfying departure and, oddly for a comedy, no weddings. Before this, the comic characters stage an inept pageant to entertain the noble persons, just as the mechanicals perform a barbarous play for the court at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

See also: Love's Labour's Lost (2000 movie)

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