William Shakespeare‘s comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of his early works that was written sometime around the mid-1590’s, is a somewhat difficult play to fully appreciate. It’s style, while sophisticated and witty, like its frequent allusions, rely on a significant understanding of the forms and court interplays of the time. This results in it being a real challenge to the modern reader. Wikipedia’s article on the play states:
Love’s Labour’s Lost abounds in sophisticated wordplay, puns, and literary allusions and is filled with clever pastiches of contemporary poetic forms…It has never been among Shakespeare’s most popular plays, likely because its pedantic humor and linguistic density are extremely demanding of contemporary theatergoers. The satirical allusions of Navarre’s court are likewise inaccessible, “having been principally directed to fashions of language that have long passed away, and [are] consequently little understood, rather than in any great deficiency of invention.”
None-the-less, it is well worth reading and quite entertaining if one gives it the proper time and thought. The storyline itself hints at the humor and wit that is lurking there just waiting to be appreciated. The Monthly Letter (ML) sums it up as “The King of Navarre and three of his lords have sworn for three years to keep from the sight of women and to live studying and fasting. The arrival of the Princess of France on an embassy, with her attendant ladies, obliges them ‘of mere necessity’ to disregard their vows.” Much courting and merry-making follow, with plenty of Shakespearian humor and wisdom, as some examples to follow highlight.
Ferdinand, King of Navarre, speaks of fame triumphing over death; a hope that still drives those seeking fame today.
Let Fame, that all hunt after in their lives, Live registred upon our brazen Tombes, And then grace us in the disgrace of death: When spight of cormorant of devouring Time, Th’endevour of this present breath may buy That honour which shall bate his sythes keene edge, And make us heyres of all eternitie.
The Princess, in responding to Boyet, one of the lords attending on her, rebuffs his complements with wisdom that many a beauty of today would be wise to emulate:
Good Lord Boyet, my beauty though but mean, Needs not the painted flourish of your praise: Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye, Not uttered by base sale of chapmens tongues: I am less proud to hear you tell me worth, Then you much wiling to be counted wise, In spending your wit in the praise of mine.
Longaville, one of the lords attending on the king, writes a sonnet to Maria, one of the lady attendants of the princess, with whom he is in love. The sonnet is classic Shakespeare, noble in expression:
Vowes for thee broke deserve not punishment A woman I foreswore, but I will prove, Though being a Goddesse, I foreswore not thee My Vow was earthly, thou a heavenly Love. … If broken, then it is no fault of mine: If by me broke, What foole is not so wise, To lose an oath, to win a Paradise?
Lastly, reading Shakespeare always provides brilliant, short strokes of the pen…so wise, so well stated.
O thou monster Ignorance, how deformed doost thou looke.
This edition of Love’s Labour’s Lost is part of the marvelous 1939/1940 thirty seven volume The Plays of William Shakespeare by the Limited Editions Club (LEC), which was designed by the great Bruce Rogers. Like all editions in this set, it uses the text of the First Folio, with Quarto insertions, edited and amended where obscure by Herbert Farjeon. The type is an 18 point close facsimile of Janson, made by the Lanston Monotype Company, with the italic used being a creation of the Monotype Company since Bruce Rogers did not like the Janson 18 point italic; italic small capitals were made by re-cutting the Italic capitals of the Monotype Garamond Bold in a special size and with slight alterations of a few of the characters with a close new type face. It is bound with gilt tops and uncut edges in backs of American linen, with the titles stamped in gold on the spine. The cover design is based on a decorative wall design in a house that that Shakespeare was thought to have stayed at frequently.
A different artist was used for each of the 37 volumes in this set. Love’s Labour’s Lost was illustrated by Mariette Lydis. Though Lydis is mostly known for her color illustrations, fans of the LEC know here for outstanding and nuanced work in black and white for The Beggars Opera and The Turn of the Screw. For Love’s Labour’s Lost, Lydis used crayon and wash drawings which were reproduced by collotype in black and gray inks by Georges Duval in Paris. In the Monthly Letter (ML), Lydis tells us of her many readings of the play, done because:
…it is not enough to read it as one reads as a rule to amuse oneself, one must read and re-read it, try to get to the bottom of the text, to penetrate the style and the more or less secret intentions of the author, the period and the ideas of the country at that time.
She goes on to say:
And so with this volume, as always, I read and re-read the text, and even re-read some of Shakespeare’s more serious dramas, which may seem unnecessary for the undertaking of this light comedy. Yet the painter knows that light and shade must touch, and that the one cannot exist without the other. The lightness of Love’s Labour’s Lost throws a graceful veil upon human beings, upon eternal sentiments, whether they are sad or gay, upon men and women, who, 20 today are no longer 20 tomorrow. They are, beneath an apparent folly, real and everlasting human beings, as only the genius of an immense poet can portray them.
The illustrations are nicely done and are attractive drawings on their own (especially see Sample Illustration #2 below). They do convey some of the more ‘fantasy’ elements of the play. However, I do not feel they capture fully the spirit of the play, by which I mostly refer to the desire and passion of the male characters and the interplay of such with the ladies.
About the Edition
- Part of the 1939/1940 thirty seven volume The Plays of William Shakespeare by the Limited Editions Club
- Designed by Bruce Rogers
- Text of the First Folio, with Quarto insertions, edited and amended where obscure by Herbert Farjeon
- Illustrations with crayon and wash drawings by Mariette Lydis; reproduction done by collotype in black and gray inks, by Georges Duval in Paris
- Note concerning the play (in the prospectus) by Sir Paul Harvey, from The Oxford Companion to English Literature
- Preface to the play (in the prospectus) by Walter Pater, from “Appreciation” (MacMillan 1889)
- Printed at the Press of A. Colish in New York
- Type is an 18 point close facsimile of Janson, made by the Lanston Monotype Company, with the italic used being a creation of the Monotype Company since Rogers did not like the Janson 18 point italic; italic small capitals were made by re-cutting the Italic capitals of the Monotype Garamond Bold in a special size and with slight alterations of a few of the characters with a close new type face
- New paper created for this edition by the Worthy Paper Company of Springfield
- The binding was done by Russell-Rutter Company in New York
- Bound with gilt tops and uncut edges in backs of American linen, with the titles stamped in gold on the spine
- Cover design based on a decoration wall design in a house that that Shakespeare was thought to have stayed at frequently (a friend of his)
- 8 3/4″ x 13″, 94 pages
- Limited to 1950 copies
Pictures of the Edition
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