Do you like your comedy with a little edge? Are you okay with poetry that has some racy content? How about a poem that is actually a song, meant to be sung as part of a play? If any of this sounds up your poetry-alley (if you can imagine that) then William Shakespeare's "Spring" might be for you.
"Spring" is actually half of a two-song set, along with "Winter," that comes in the final act of Shakespeare's comedy Love's Labour's Lost (written around 1594). The play follows the hijinks of a Spanish king and his pals. (For all the bawdy details, check out our discussion of the play—it's excellent, if we do say so ourselves.)
Now, hold onto your hats—the song-poem "Spring" is part of a play within Love's Labour's Lost. (Things get kind of meta in Shakespeare from time to time.) "Spring" is very sensory and full of life, with lots of colors and sounds—just like the season itself. But the song turns out to be less about the season and more about the nature of life and love. As you might expect if you've spent much time with Will's plays and poems, the song is filled with wordplay and punning that create layers of meaning. (Spoiler alert: one of those layers turns out to be bad news for married men.)
Like most of Shakespeare's work, this one has stood the test of time and folks are still watching productions of Love's Labour's Lost and still hearing actors sing "Spring." It's even made it to Hollywood. Check out "Best of the Web" to see what that looks like.
"Spring" is part of a comedy and the content of this song is meant to be humorous. Now, we like humor, but it's usually not such a good idea to look for life lessons in works like Step Brothers or Pineapple Express. We're speaking from experience, people. But here's the thing: this is a Shakespearean comedy. As is often the case with William Shakespeare, there are layers of meaning. In "Spring," there are some other, more serious things bubbling just below the surface.
Besides being fun and funny, "Spring" subtly reminds us that things aren't always what they seem and we don't always get what we expect. If you've ever looked at a picture menu and ordered the delicious-looking vegetarian entrée, only to have a plate of rubbery broccoli smothered in "sauce" arrive, you know what we're talking about. This song begins with all those traditional springtime images—the blooming flowers, the "painted" fields—so we don't expect that pesky cuckoo bird, acting as a harbinger (an omen) of infidelity, to swoop in and turn things gloomy for the married guys.
But wait, there's more. In "Spring," sights and sounds mean different things to different people. To the ladies, the blooming flowers and chirping birds signal a happy time of rebirth and vitality. To the dudes, the same chirping birds send them into a spiral of suspicion, fear, and jealousy. What gives? The song's the same, but the reaction is totally different. "Spring" is a good reminder that everyone responds to art differently. The same thing that makes one person feel happy or optimistic might make another person feel anxious or depressed. Even things we assume to be universals really are not. We tend to think of spring as universally happy and winter as universally sad, but in reality it is our personal, individual life experiences that dictate how we respond to these "universals." In the reality of human experience, which is exactly what Shakespeare was so adept at capturing, reactions to universals are really quite personal.
So, here's the take-away. Things are rarely black and white and rarely as simple as they might seem. Life is full of surprises. Sure, it's all stuff you've heard before. But Shakespeare lets us have a laugh while we think about it. In a sense, "Spring" is a little eighteen-line song that imitates life, that captures what it's like to be alive. And that's not bad for eighteen lines.
The Bard, from Beginning to End
William was multi-talented—poet, playwright, he even did some acting as a young man. For more fun facts and Shakespeare tidbits, check out this bio from the Poetry Foundation.
Shakespeare in Plants
Shakespeare had a habit of filling his plays and poems with specific flower, tree, and plant names. Here's a quiz to see how well you know your Shakespearian horticulture. You should definitely get question #6 right.
The Shmoop Scoop on Love's Labour's Lost
Remember, "Spring" is a song from Shakespeare's comedy Love's Labour's Lost. Check out the song in its intended context and get a super Shmoop-y take on the play while you're at it.
And You Thought Shakespeare Wasn't Fun…
Here's a trailer for a 2009 production of Love's Labour's Lost. Good times, indeed.
An Interesting Ode to Springtime
Here's a little ditty about the wonders of spring. Give it a chance, it might just make you smile.
Two Poems for the Price of One
Click the link to hear a reading of "Spring" and the companion song, "Winter."
Once More… with Feeling!
Here's "Spring" again. This time it's sung and in the context of the play. It's tough to dance to—sorry.
The 1598 Edition of Love's Labour's Lost
Here's what you might have used to memorize your lines if you were an actor doing this play in 1598.
Pick a Portrait, any Portrait
Here are a few of the best-known portraits of the Bard. Got a favorite?
And Now, a Word from the Director…
Director Shana Cooper discusses Love's Labour's Lost.
Go Ahead and Judge by the Cover
Here's a link to, well, lots and lots of editions of Love's Labour's Lost. Pick one that looks good.
You Read the Play, Now Watch the Movie
Here's the trailer for Kenneth Branagh's updated take on Love's Labour's Lost. You'll have to watch the movie to see what he did with the song, "Spring."