The title-page of the first quarto states that Love’s
Labour’s Lost was ‘presented before her Highnes
this last Christmas’. The play may have been performed at
court during the Christmas season 1597-1598 or even earlier. The
Lord Chamberlain’s Men are first known to have performed at
court on 26 and 27 December 1594. However, the play could also have
been played initially in the public theatre rather than at court.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is listed as one of the
plays given during the Christmas season of 1604-1605, when it may
have been performed either at Robert Cecil’s house in the
Strand or at Southampton House (the London residence of Shakespeare’s
patron) during January 1605. The title-page of the second quarto
of 1631 declares that the play was ‘acted by his Maiesties
Seruants at the Blacke-Friers and the Globe’. This suggests
that Love’s Labour’s Lost was performed after
1608, when the King’s Men acquired their indoor theatre at
Blackfriars, and that the play continued to be performed into the
reign of Charles I. It has been suggested that the comedian William
Kemp first played the role of Costard.
Publication in quarto and folio
Love’s Labour’s Lost appeared in four editions
- First quarto, 1598. The first of Shakespeare’s published
works to have his name on the title-page. The text is described
on the title-page as ‘Newly corrected and augmented’,
and it is believed that there was an earlier quarto of the play
which does not survive. It is thought that the first quarto was
printed from this predecessor, which itself was printed from a
manuscript originating with Shakespeare.
- First folio, 1623. Printed from the first quarto. Variations between the folio and quarto texts suggest that a theatrical manuscript of some sort was also consulted for the folio.
- Second quarto, 1631. Printed from the first folio.
- Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.
The first quarto was printed in 1598 by William White for Cuthbert Burby. Although there was no initial entry in the Stationers’ Register, this does record the transfer of Love’s Labour’s Lost from Burby to Nicholas Ling on 22 January 1607. Less than a year later, on 19 November 1607, the play was transferred from Ling to John Smethwick. The second quarto was printed by William Stansby for John Smethwick in 1631.
British Library copies of Love's Labour's Lost contains detailed bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.
Shakespeare apparently used no specific sources for Love’s Labour’s Lost. General influences on the play and its language include the works of Sir Philip Sidney and John Lyly. There may also be links to entertainments such as the 1594-1595 revels at Gray’s Inn. The French wars of religion, and particularly events surrounding Henri de Navarre (later King Henry IV of France) and his first wife Marguerite de Valois, have been investigated by scholars. The cultural life of the English court, including the School of Night and its opponents, have also been explored. However, neither French politics nor English literary and philosophical debate seem to have more than tangential relationships to the play. Love’s Labour’s Lost can be related to Shakespeare’s other works of around the same time, including Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
April, with a scene of ladies
in the countryside. Edmund Spenser, The
Shepheardes Calender, 1579. British Library, G.11532, f. 11v. Larger
Story of the play
Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where each
act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos themselves
have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play is always the earliest
in the Library's collection - unless it is a 'bad' quarto in which case
it is the earliest 'good' quarto.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is set in the kingdom
(Act 1) Ferdinand, King of Navarre, and his companions Berowne,
Longaville, and Dumaine swear to devote themselves to study for
three years. They vow to see no women during that time. The clown
Costard is brought before the King for breaking his decree forbidding
women to come near the court. Costard has been found with the dairymaid
Jacquenetta. The Spanish knight Armado arrives. He is in love with
(Act 2) The Princess of France arrives on an embassy to the King
of Navarre, with her ladies Rosaline, Maria, and Katherine. They
are granted an audience with King Ferdinand and his companions.
(Act 3) Armado employs Costard to send a love-letter to Jacquenetta.
Berowne gives Costard a love-letter for Rosaline.
(Act 4) By mistake, Costard delivers Armado’s letter to
the Princess and her ladies. He admits that he was to deliver a
letter from Berowne to Rosaline. Still confused, Costard delivers
Berowne’s letter to Jacquenetta. Berowne enters, alone, and
confesses he is in love with Rosaline. He hides as King Ferdinand
enters reading a love-poem for the Princess. The King hides in his
turn, as Longaville arrives with a love-sonnet to Maria. Then Longaville
hides as Dumaine enters declaring his love for Katherine. Each lord
is revealed as having broken his oath against women. Berowne finally
comes forward, protesting his own innocence until Jacquenetta and
Costard arrive with his letter to Rosaline. All four men resolve
to forget their vows and woo their ladies.
(Act 5) The King and his companions, disguised, visit the Princess
and her ladies. The women see through their disguise and make fun
of them. When the men return, having shed their disguise, they are
forced to admit they are in love. Armado, Costard, and other locals
put on a pageant of the nine worthies to entertain the King, the
Princess and their followers. Before the pageant is over, a messenger
arrives with news of the death of the King of France. The Princess,
now Queen, and her ladies must return home. She decrees a year of
mourning and sets a year’s penance for the King before she
will see him again and think of marrying him. Similar responses
are made by Katherine to Dumaine, Maria to Longaville, and Rosaline
to Berowne. The King and his companions, and the Princess and her