Friday, February 12, 2016

Love's Labour's Lost - Shakespeare

'Love's Labour's Lost' is another new play to me.  This play is a comedy although it doesn't quite fit the same mold as the other comedies.  It opens with the King of Navarre and three of his friends, all swearing an oath.  For the next three years they will focus strictly on becoming scholars.  To do this, they will regularly fast, limit their sleep and, most of all, banish women from their the King's court.  They all agree that anyone caught breaking these rules will be punished.
Of course, as soon as they make this oath, four attractive women show up, including the Princess of France.  To keep the oath in place, the king has them camp outside of his court.  The four men all fall for one of the women, though they must be careful to keep these loves to themselves.  The wittiest of the four, Berowne, writes a letter to his opposite and gives it to a clown to deliver.  The letter goes to the wrong woman (natch).
One by one, the scholars all discover that the others are in love and they simply agree to drop the oath.  They decide to each give 'their' woman a favor, and then they will come to them dressed like 'Muscovites'.  The women get wind of this plan and the princess decides that they will also wear masks.  They will also switch the favors around so that the men will be confused.  She decides that their approach has been full of mocking, so they will mock them back.
The men utterly fall for this and each pledge love and service to the wrong woman.  They leave and shortly return without masks.  The women reveal that they have been tricked.  The scholars all try to laugh it off, but the women accuse them of breaking their oaths again and again and find them untrustworthy.
Word comes suddenly of the death of the princess's father.  She decides they must leave at once.  The king tries to stop them so that their love can proceed.  She tells him that she will not make such a huge decision as love at a moment's notice.  Instead, he must spend a year in a hermitage, after which, he can renew his suit.  The other men are also given a year away as a kind of penance.  Berowne notes that a year is too long for a play.

The structure of this play is very interesting, but ultimately self-defeating.  The idea of four men swearing off women and then quickly finding themselves in love is a good one.  The women are all compelling and strong.  The mischief is good.  It's predictable but fun, nonetheless. 
The weird part comes with the death announcement and penalties for the men.  It changes the tone rather dramatically.  It's as if you've gone to a romantic comedy and instead of the cute couple ending up together, she is maimed in an accident and he ends up in jail on charges of stalking.  The story isn't impossible, but it's very jarring. 
Not that it doesn't have possibilities.  The remake of 'Taming of the Shrew' as '10 Things I Hate About You' could serve as the template.  Put four college freshman roommates together making a vow and four college girls and you have the basic story.  All of the fixings for a good comedy are there.

This play isn't on the Great Books reading list and I'm not surprised by that.  I read the full thing but I also watched the movie version starring Kenneth Branagh (among others), which is right now on Netflix streaming (in the US at least).  The movie is not very good.  They cut the play down quite a bit and inserted various songs from the Gershwin, Porter, etc.  It works in bits but not in others.  The overall acting is, um, not great.  Nathan Lane is very good and that's about it.  Watch it as a curiosity, or not at all. 
From what I can tell, this is the only film version ever made.  Again, there is some good stuff there, but you'd have to cut the story mercilessly to get to it.  The language is lots of fun, though overall light.  I'm glad I read it but I can't honestly tell anyone else to run out and do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment