Study Guide

Love's Labour's Lost Introduction

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Love's Labour's Lost Introduction

Read the full text of Love's Labour's Lost with a side-by-side translation HERE.

Question: What do Love's Labour's Lost and The Shining have in common?

Nope, we're not being snide. We're not being funny. We're actually asking you what a Shakespearean pun-addled witfest and the movie that made "Redrum" the scariest word in the English language have in common.

And we're supplying two real answers: 1) they both have the thesis statement that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" and b) they're the product of great minds left to run loose and do what they like to do best.

Stanley Kubrick was a big dog in the cinematic word when he directed The Shining. Rumor had it he was also kind of bored. So he let loose with a movie that is essentially a scrapbook of allusions and visual puns. (If you want to learn more about this, as well as hear some awesome conspiracy theories, check out the film Room 237.)

Shakespeare was a big dog in the Elizabethan playwright world when he penned Love's Labor's Lost. And he let loose with a play that is a dizzying wordplay carnival with more quips and asides and allusions than you would find in an average season of Last Week Tonight.

William Shakespeare probably wrote his comedy around 1594, in the same era as Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. It shares a number of themes with those plays: love, marriage, friendship, nature, the impact of death, plays-within-plays, the intermingling of the nobility with the peasantry.

But rather than drawing from history, literature, or mythology, as he did for many of his other plays, Shakespeare invented the plot for Love's Labour's Lost. This bad boy is all Bard. In fact, this play is most likely the only play Shakespeare ever wrote whose story is completely original. (No judgement, Billy S.)

So what is the one plot William Shakespeare cooked up? Well, in Love's Labour's Lost, four young noblemen of Navarre take a vow to study for three years, and not to see women. And, what do you know? Four beautiful French women show up at their door.

Love's Labour's Lost explores the grand spectrum that divides scholarly learning (i.e., learning about life by keeping your nose in a book) and pure instinct (i.e., enjoying life by eating, drinking, flirting, and connecting with the world around you). Once the young scholars set eyes on the ladies of France, they stagger in the open space between reason and instinct, books and common sense, man and woman.

But this play isn't known for being a meditation on the difference between book-learnin' and life-learnin'. It's known for its explosion of wordplay. And we're talking pyrotechnics. In some ways, the words that characters use in this play are more important than what they are actually trying to say. Shakespeare was having a lot of fun when he wrote this play—he was freed by his his own devices (and probably his success) to do what he liked best: screw around with language. Puns, rhymes, and allusions are exploding across this script like firecrackers on the 4th of July.

But this same word-loving quality made Love's Labour's Lost unpopular (and almost unperformed) from the mid 17th to the early 20th centuries. When, in the 1920s, directors discovered new approaches to the language and emphasized the style instead of obscuring it, the play surged again in popularity, and has never looked back.

What is Love's Labour's Lost About and Why Should I Care?

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work

Oh! Sorry about that. You interrupted our, uh, writing. Yeah, that's it. You see, we were just contemplating a very important lesson that we had picked up from reading Love's Labour's Lost.  Check it out:

Fun is an important part of life. You might know someone—in fact, you might be someone—who is all about work. Whether it's training to be the next greatest freestyle pole jumper or practicing to be the #1 accordion player in your school band, you might be 100% dedicated to your goal, putting everything you have into it.

And yet, this play is a helpful reminder that balance is important in life.

Sure, it's good to be dedicated. It's good to work hard. But too much of a good thing is, well, a very bad thing. Just as you can goof-off too much, you can overdo it with work, or exercise, or even (as in this play) studying. Reading this play is a helpful reminder of that important fact. 

So the next time you're invited to go out dancing on a school night, or have to decide between going to the lake or cramming for an exam, or are tempted to binge-watch Netflix with your friends instead of sprucing up your resume... go with the chiller option. It's what the Bard would have wanted.

But there's one caveat—you should read Love's Labour's Lost first. It's (also) what the Bard would have wanted.

Love's Labour's Lost Resources


Shakespeare Resource Center
A good place to start for general information about Shakespeare and lots of other links.

The Royal Shakespeare Company
The RSC is considered the world's greatest Shakespearean theatre company. Here you can get more information about Love's Labour's Lost, as well as Shakespeare's other plays.

The Folger Library
It's not about coffee … it's one of the world's best Shakespeare collections and home to the Elizabethan Theatre, a recreation of an English Renaissance inn similar to ones where Shakespeare's productions were produced.

The American Shakespeare Center
Home to the world's only recreation of Shakespeare's first theatre – the Blackfriars – and one of the USA's newest Shakespearean research centers.

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon
The homepage of Shakespeare's final resting place.

Movie or TV Productions

Love's Labour's Lost, 2000
This really fun adaptation by Kenneth Branagh looks and sounds like a classic 30s musical.

Love's Labour's Lost, 1964
A 1964 filmed version of a stage play celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth on April 23, 1564.

Historical Documents

Old Title Page
1598 cover page from published Love's Labour's Lost. Check out the crazy spelling.

Thoughts on Love's Labour's Lost
A collection of some quotes from critics of Love's Labour's Lost from throughout the ages.


The Globe Theatre in London
Mostly cool because you can see what Shakespeare's theater would have looked like.

Virtual Globe
Cartoon virtual tour of Shakespeare's "Globe Theatre."


Performance Photos
"Groovy" production photos from the Shakespeare Theatre Company's 2006 production.

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