Stuff that Happens
stuff that happens in the play
- The King of Navarre and lords Longaville, Dumaine, and Berowne have vowed to study for three years, swearing off women for that period. The impending diplomatic visit of the Princess of France threatens the King’s new “no women allowed” proclamation.
- Costard has been found with Jaquenetta and arrested for breaking the new statute; the King puts him in the custody of Armado. The constable Dull arrives with Costard and Jaquenetta, whom Armado loves.
- The Princess of France – accompanied by her ladies, Maria, Katherine, and Rosaline – sends her man Boyet to discover if the women will be admitted to the King’s court. The King courteously denies them entrance to the court (because of the “no women” proclamation), but lets them stay in his park.
- Seeing the Princess, however, causes the King to fall instantly in love with her.
- Berowne and Rosaline renew their acquaintance; Longaville and Dumaine admire Maria and Katherine, respectively.
- Don Armado releases Costard so that he can bear Armado’s love letter to Jaquenetta. Before Costard can accomplish this task, Berowne meets Costard and gives him his own letter for Rosaline.
- Costard delivers the letter intended for Jaquenetta to the Princess, though he announces that the letter is from Berowne to Rosaline.
- Holofernes, the local schoolmaster, and Sir Nathaniel, the parson, discover that Costard has mixed up the letters.
- Alone, Berowne reads some verses he has written in praise of Rosaline. The King, Longaville, and Dumaine, each thinking himself alone, reveal their own passions.
- Jaquenetta and Costard deliver Berowne’s letter to Rosaline. The King and his lords decide to forget their vows and pursue the women. Armado reveals to Holofernes, Sir Nathaniel, Dull, Moth, and Costard that, at the King’s request, he is preparing an entertainment for the ladies of France.
- Pageantry ensue.
Notes from the Director
This present breath
Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live registered upon our brazen tombs,
Adn 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.
Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1.1.1-7
Maybe somewhere between Navarre’s words and the sentiments contained in some of the sonnets we find what Shakespeare is really concerned with in Love’s Labour’s Lost. He allows us to marvel at his mastery over words at the same time as we are being pummeled by his insight into our souls. We come to a realization, ultimately, that words, for all their seeming potency and beauty, are powerless over love and death.
Perhaps because this is Shakespeare, the play isn’t even just profound. These huge themes seem to co-exist quite happily with moments of pure silliness. The daftness of the eavesdropping scene is just one in a series of delightful sucker-punches that ensure we’re laughing when the next big one hits us. Despite the complex language, Love’s Labour’s Lost has a very simple plot (even compared to the other early comedies – such as The Comedy of Errors). It is as if the ideas contained in the play are so big that they didn’t need a twisting, turning story full of sub-plots.
I was looking at Manet’s “Déjeuner sur l’herbe,” because I had read somewhere that other directors had noticed a thematic resonance between it and this play. Something in the essence of the painting feels similar: the direct confrontation of the naked woman fearlessly confronting the viewer; the dizzying, off-kilter depiction of people in the environment, and their seeming lack of absolute connection with one another – a world, as it were, flattened out to reveal its artificiality. Shakespeare knew, it seems, that when you reveal artificiality the artificiality of words, for example), you also reveal truth.
I chose a fin-de-siècle (a little later than Manet’s painting) clothing scheme for this production because that period in European history can sometimes be associated with a kind of decadence that only the truly privileged or the truly ignorant would choose to reject. I imagined the audience might get a kick out of seeing Navarre and his friends leaving a king of an imagined “Moulin Rouge” at dawn, hung over and disheveled after a kind of four-way bachelor party, a farewell to their salad days.
I thought I’d be interested in exploiting this play to poke gentle and clever fun at academics. Poking fun at the academy is what academics do best (not that I am the quintessential academic), but that is not what this play is about. Love’s Labour’s Lost is about the idea of love and love of an idea. It is about language. Life sometimes makes finding the right word impossible. Love sometimes makes finding the right word essential. Even if we are masters of language, we are never masters of love. We never conquer death – with words nor with love.
Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this pow’rful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the Judgement that your self arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.