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Love's Labour's Lost

Love's Labour's Lost


by William Shakespeare

Analysis: Writing Style

Playful, Poetic, Language-obsessed

Language is almost another character in this play. Seriously, the plot just seems like an excuse for Shakespeare to indulge his taste and talent for putting words together. Have you ever seen so many letters read aloud in a play?

Language in Shakespeare can be difficult. And the language of Love's Labour's Lost is certainly no exception. Here are some conventions to watch for:

The Pun or Quibble: These are the kind of groan-worthy jokes that might seem a little cheesy. A pun plays on the word: either two different meanings of the same word, or on the sound or meaning of two different words. When Rosaline finds out Berowne has written her a love letter, Boyet asks, "Who is the shooter?" (4.1.37). He's referring to the hunt they're involved in, but also making a joke about Rosaline's suitor.

Rhyme: You are probably already familiar with this one. Love's Labour's Lost is full of rhyme – like the scene with the boys in trees. Rhyme is playful, melodious and funny, as in this excerpt (full of puns and sexual innuendo as well):

MARIA: Come, come, you talk greasily; your lips grow foul.
COSTARD: She's too hard for you at pricks, sir; challenge her to bowl.
BOYET: I fear too much rubbing; good-night, my good owl.

(Take a look at "Character Clues" for more about when Shakespeare uses verse and when he uses prose.)

Sonnets: This play has five of them. A sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines that rhyme according to particular rules, and often taking up the subject of love and romance. Shakespeare is the most famous English sonnet-writer – he wrote about 150 around the same time as he was composing Love's Labour's Lost. Here's one by Longaville:

Did not the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye,
'Gainst whom the world cannot hold argument,
Persuade my heart to this false perjury?
Vows for thee broke deserve not punishment.
A woman I forswore; but I will prove,
Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee:
My vow was earthly, thou a heavenly love;
Thy grace being gain'd cures all disgrace in me.
Vows are but breath, and breath a vapour is;
Then thou, fair sun, which on my earth dost shine,
Exhal'st this vapour-vow; in thee it is.
If broken, then it is no fault of mine;
If by me broke, what fool is not so wise
To lose an oath to win a paradise?

The sonnets aren't just an actor's chance to show off in Love's Labour's Lost. They are also important to the plot. It's Costard's mix-up in delivering the sonnets that causes Berowne to be outed as a lover, moving the story forward. If you are interested in Sonnets be sure to check out Shakespeare's Sonnets in Shmoop Poetry.

Stichomythia: It's a long word for the one-liner. Think television comedy – the characters banter, the pace is fast, the energy is high. Long sections of stichomythia make up the "sets of wit" that are all over the play. Like this one in which Boyet tortures Longaville:

LONGAVILLE: I beseech you a word: what is she in the white?
BOYET: A woman sometimes, an you saw her in the light.
LONGAVILLE: Perchance light in the light. I desire her name.
BOYET: She hath but one for herself; to desire that were a shame.
LONGAVILLE: Pray you, sir, whose daughter?
BOYET: Her mother's, I have heard.
LONGAVILLE: God's blessing on your beard!

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