Parallels

August 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

As may be obvious from my non-interest in the Shakespeare authorship question, I am not much for conspiracy theories. So, the multiple theories on whether or not there may have been a sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost parallels for me the conspiracy stuff and let’s just say I won’t lose sleep over the possibilities.

But, LLL leaves so many loose ends that it does seem possible (maybe even probable) to me that there was a sequel that brought it all together. There are historical references to a play called Love’s Labour’s Won… although it has vanished without a trace (to date).

I read this in an online discussion group on the topic and it makes sense to me:

(1) In 1952 a bookseller’s inventory was discovered that listed both LLL and LLW as separate listings in alphabetical order…The bookseller would have had no reason to fabricate the names in his stock.

(2) The internal evidence in LLL is even more evocative. The play does
not end like a traditional comedy, as Birowne notes (“Jack hath not
Jill”), and the ending is full of strong hints of a continuation after a
year (“it wants a twelvemonth and a day, / And then ’twill end. That’s
too long for a play.”). In other words, “stay tuned.” The tasks
assigned the various gentlemen provide good grist for another comedy.
Posted by Larry Weiss at Shaksper, the Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference

List of several plays from the verso of the 1603 leaf used to bind a book of sermons in 1637, including ''Love's Labour's Won''

I don’t know anything about the person who posted this and to be honest, I did not read most of the discussion. But this quote pretty much describes what’s been in the back of my mind. There is historical evidence that a play named Love’s Labour’s Won existed. We don’t have it today. The play Love’s Labour’s Lost ends oddly, with loose ends, with tasks assigned to the characters that could be material for another play. I agree that Berowne’s words sound like “stay tuned” and that the second play would probably wind up with four (or more!) weddings.

Theories
That said, another idea is that maybe Love’s Labour’s Won was just a subtitle for another play. Or maybe it was an alternate title for another Shakespearean play… one that we are familiar with by a different name. There are various ideas about this–possibly The Taming of the Shrew, All’s Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing or Troilus and Cressida.

In the article “Wonne” is “Lost, quite lost,” G. Harold Metz analyzes the literature on the subject (published in 1986, so maybe it’s out of date, but I found it interesting) and came to this conclusion:

The attempts to identify Love’s Labour’s Won with an acknowledged Shakespearean play are seriously or even fatally hampered by the fact that we do not have any knowledge of the play beyond the title… It seems clear that we are left with the conclusion, however unhappy to contemplate, that this title in Meres’s list represents a lost Shakespearean play…

The probability that Love’s Labour’s Won has been lost need not lead us to conclude that it is forever beyond recovery. Q1 of Titus Andronicus, which was known to Langbaine in 1691, dropped from sight for two centuries until the unique copy now in the Folger Shakespeare Library came to light in the modest book collection of a Swedish postal employee in 1904. We may hope that a similar stroke of good luck will someday restore Love’s Labour’s Won to us. But at this moment in time, except for the title, Wonne is “all, all lost, quite lost.”

“Wonne” Is “Lost, Quite Lost,” G. Harold Metz, Modern Language Studies Vol. 16, No. 2 (Spring, 1986), pp. 3-12

Much Ado About Something?
As Metz points out, most of the scholars he cites admit that Love’s Labour’s Won is probably a lost work, and yet they are unable to stop themselves from conjecturing which existing play it might have been.

So, in that vein, I will do the same and since Much Ado About Nothing is the only one of the possibilities that I’m fairly familiar with at this point, I will talk about it (for no purpose other than to talk, since I don’t really think Much Ado is LLW!).

It is not hard to see parallels between LLL and Much Ado About Nothing. Let’s consider a few:

The Sparring Love-match: Berowne and Rosaline’s sexy sparring is reminiscent of Much Ado’s Beatrice and Benedick. In both cases there was a relationship prior to the play’s action and in both cases, they apparently did not part amicably and that history colors the sparring. However, in Much Ado, it was Beatrice who was hurt by Benedick prior to the play, while in LLL, it appears that Rosaline may have dumped Berowne. Also, there is deeper character development in Much Ado and I am more emotionally attached to B&B than B&R. I find Beatrice and Benedick a much more likable pair… they sizzle and seem well-matched. Rosaline is not so likable for me and in general, I care less about the outcome of R&B’s romance, while I root for B&B and am pleased by their marriage.

Masks/Mistaken Identities: This occurs in both Much Ado and LLL. The reasons for and outcomes of the masks are quite different. In Much Ado, these mistakes are central to the plot and affect nearly all the characters. In LLL, the masks and mistakes are just pastimes and tricks.

Mocked Men: Berowne and Benedick are teased pretty mercilessly by their guy friends in both plays. In LLL, all the guys are in the same silly boat, being mocked by the ladies, as well. In Much Ado, that’s not the case.

Eavesdropping: In both plays, there is some silly eavesdropping to out the men’s true feelings. In LLL, the men eavesdrop on each other to prove that each of them have broken their oath to give up women, but it does not bring B&R together. In Much Ado, the eavesdropping brings B&B together.

Intercepted/Mocked Love Letters: Both plays have ‘em. In Much Ado, Beatrice gets to read Benedick’s letter and it melts her heart. In LLL, Rosaline never sees the letter from Berowne.

Rustic Foils: Both plays have a comic constable: Dogberry in Much Ado and Dull in LLL. However, Dogberry’s verbal style and silliness has more in common with LLL’s Costard.

I will stop there. There are similarities, for sure. But the characters and plays feel very different to me. What I want is a Love’s Labour’s Won where we see the king attempt (and fail) to be a hermit for a year and Berowne to work in a hospital and care for the sick (for a day or two) and Dumaine and Longaville to fail at whatever they are supposed to do for a year, and Don Armado to faithfully farm and take care of Jaquenetta and her child (whoever the father really is!) and for everyone somehow to get happily married at the end!  I will be sure to post about that if the lost play is found!

The Owl and the Cuckoo
Love’s Labour’s Lost ends with a parallel that I really don’t understand… the song about the Owl and the Cuckoo. Don Armado brings it up at the end:

This side is Hiems, Winter, this Ver, the Spring;
the one maintained by the owl, the other by the
cuckoo. Ver, begin.

THE SONG

SPRING.
When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
When shepherds pipe on oaten straws
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
WINTER.
When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
V.2.873-894

What the heck does this song mean? Can anyone help me understand the purpose of the song and how it relates to the rest of the play? The play within the play, the Nine Worthies, is nothing but interrupted, and yet this song, meant to end the Nine Worthies (and how does it even relate to the Nine Worthies?), is sung in its entirety, without interruption or comment. Why?

Twas the Night Before Christmas
And now I will end with a fun parallel. When I first read the honey-tongued old lovemonger Boyet’s speech to the Princess (below), I thought it reminded me of the Grinch (I always have Dr. Seuss on the brain) but then I realized it was A Visit from St. Nicholas that rang the bell. (“When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer…”) Hear the rhythm?

Why, all his behaviors did make their retire
To the court of his eye, peeping thorough desire:
His heart, like an agate, with your print impress’d,
Proud with his form, in his eye pride express’d:
His tongue, all impatient to speak and not see,
Did stumble with haste in his eyesight to be;
All senses to that sense did make their repair,
To feel only looking on fairest of fair:
Methought all his senses were lock’d in his eye,
As jewels in crystal for some prince to buy;
Who, tendering their own worth from where they were glass’d,
Did point you to buy them, along as you pass’d:
His face’s own margent did quote such amazes
That all eyes saw his eyes enchanted with gazes.
I’ll give you Aquitaine and all that is his,
An you give him for my sake but one loving kiss.
II.1.233-248

On that silly note, I think I will end my thoughts on Love’s Labour’s Lost. I would love to hear from anyone, comments, clarifications, disagreements… whatever you like.

I am looking forward to the next play: The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Maybe it will not take me a whole year!

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Remuneration

August 5, 2011 at 9:17 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

remuneration (plural remunerations)

  1. something given in exchange for goods or services rendered
  2. a payment for work done; wages, salary, emolument
  3. a recompense for a loss; compensation

Source: Wiktionary

Words, words, words, and more words! Love’s Labour’s Lost is filled with word play… words for the sake of words. Once you get used to the silliness and utter farce of this play, the wordiness becomes enjoyable. To be honest, I have trouble explaining this to myself.

The play was nearly unreadable for me the first time around, and watching the BBC TV version was trying (the first time). But a year has passed since my first foray into this play, and on second reading (and multiple viewings of the BBC show and the other videos)… I find the wordiness no longer bothers me at all. In fact, I like it. It all felt so pedantic and annoying and snooty to me the first time around, but no longer. I cannot explain.

I can make some recommendations, though, so that you don’t repeat my mistakes. I highly recommend beginning with the Globe Theatre production of the play. Start here (maybe end here!), then read it. Then, watch the Kenneth Branagh musical. Then, if you feel like it, try the BBC version. I have to admit that even subsequent viewings of the BBC version sent me into an almost immediate coma-like sleep. It takes me a while to get through, but I like it now. (I cannot explain.)

I have not seen a live performance of this yet, but I think clearly, this is a play that is better savored in performance than as literature. There is no doubt that the physical comedy, really slapstick silliness, and the comic timing of the lines, the facial expressions… you really need this in order to enjoy the play. It is hard to read.

So, I stuck with this play, and there’s my remuneration… a big pay off in laughs. And words! One of the episodes of the British TV series Playing Shakespeare that I watched last fall (where Royal Shakespeare Company actors and the director John Barton show how they work with a text to put it on the stage) describes the Elizabethan love affair with language. The elasticity of the language, the beauty of words… Shakespeare was a product of the culture that loved wordplay and punning: they loved words! His plays were popular with the mass audiences because these people “got” the wordplay. They loved it!

An example of this in the Playing Shakespeare series was a bit from Love’s Labour’s Lost where Costard (the “rustic clown”… in other words, the lowbrow foil to all the highfalutin characters in this play) plays with the word “remuneration.”

Don Armado asks Costard to deliver a love letter to Jaquenetta and flips him a coin in payment, calling it a remuneration. Costard is disappointed at Armado’s cheapness and wraps this up with the meaning of the word remuneration. Then, Berowne asks Costard to deliver a love letter to Rosaline and flips him a coin, calling it a guerdon (a reward… pretty much a synonym for remuneration), and Costard goes off on the difference between “remuneration” and “guerdon.” It is wordplay extraordinaire! Again, realizing that this is better seen in performance than reading it (Costard’s tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. make a huge difference), I hope the fun here shines through.

I will let Shakespeare speak:

ADRIANO DE ARMADO
I give thee thy liberty, set thee from durance; and,
in lieu thereof, impose on thee nothing but this:
bear this significant
Giving a letter

to the country maid Jaquenetta:
there is remuneration; for the best ward of mine
honour is rewarding my dependents. Moth, follow.
Exit

MOTH
Like the sequel, I. Signior Costard, adieu.

COSTARD
My sweet ounce of man’s flesh! my incony Jew!
Exit MOTH

Now will I look to his remuneration. Remuneration!
O, that’s the Latin word for three farthings: three
farthings–remuneration.–’What’s the price of this
inkle?’–’One penny.’–’No, I’ll give you a
remuneration:’ why, it carries it. Remuneration!
why, it is a fairer name than French crown. I will
never buy and sell out of this word.
Enter BIRON

BIRON
O, my good knave Costard! exceedingly well met.

COSTARD
Pray you, sir, how much carnation ribbon may a man
buy for a remuneration?

BIRON
What is a remuneration?

COSTARD
Marry, sir, halfpenny farthing.

BIRON
Why, then, three-farthing worth of silk.

COSTARD
I thank your worship: God be wi’ you!

BIRON
Stay, slave; I must employ thee:
As thou wilt win my favour, good my knave,
Do one thing for me that I shall entreat.

COSTARD
When would you have it done, sir?

BIRON
This afternoon.

COSTARD
Well, I will do it, sir: fare you well.

BIRON
Thou knowest not what it is.

COSTARD
I shall know, sir, when I have done it.

BIRON
Why, villain, thou must know first.

COSTARD
I will come to your worship to-morrow morning.

BIRON
It must be done this afternoon.
Hark, slave, it is but this:
The princess comes to hunt here in the park,
And in her train there is a gentle lady;
When tongues speak sweetly, then they name her name,
And Rosaline they call her: ask for her;
And to her white hand see thou do commend
This seal’d-up counsel. There’s thy guerdon; go.
Giving him a shilling

COSTARD
Gardon, O sweet gardon! better than remuneration,
a’leven-pence farthing better: most sweet gardon! I
will do it sir, in print. Gardon! Remuneration!
Exit

III.1.888-935

Anyway. I find Costard a really fun character. He mashes up and mixes up words like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, but then he shows his wordy finesse here and when he uses the longest word in the Shakespearean canon: honorificabilitudinitatibus (the state of being able to achieve honors). Ha ha!

I know I am not alone in liking Costard. I was watching (semi-dozing) the new Winnie the Pooh movie and guess what I heard? I think it must be Owl that says: Remuneration! And then another character (as I say, I wasn’t watching too closely and was taken a bit by surprise by it coming up) echos Berowne and says “What is a remuneration?”

Made my day.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost, Abridged

August 4, 2011 at 10:54 am (Love's Labour's Lost, Plot Summaries, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

A year after I began… here is a summary of the plot. I began disliking this play very much. I found it very hard to read at first. There is thick satire, intricate wordplay, difficult allusions… it is not easy reading. I was waylaid by other things in my life, but I am glad I had all this time to think about this play. I like it quite a bit now and find it quite light and funny, which was not at all evident to me on first reading.

So, as always, I hope this summary will entice you to read the actual play. There are some wonderfully funny characters here, especially Don Armado and Costard. There are some very funny situations. It is essentially a play about girls versus boys. In this case, the boys are very silly and naive and the girls are more worldly and cynical.

There is very, very little plot to this play, and essentially all the real action happens at the very end. The rest of it is sheer folly (wit and wooing) and words, words, words… or as the introduction in my Penguin edition says, “extravagant excesses of language.”

It makes reading the play a challenge, especially if you take it too seriously! Really, it’s much easier when you do not take too seriously the crazy pig-Latin type lunacy of Holofernes and the over-flowingly flamboyant Armado and the earnest-but-common-sense-lacking King of Navarre. Just go with the flow and enjoy the sexy repartee (when you can understand it).

The ending is very ambiguous… not at all the happily ever after expected in a Shakespearean comedy. No one gets married! Maybe, as some scholars believe, there was a companion play (now lost): Love’s Labour’s Won, that wrapped things up. Or maybe Much Ado About Nothing began in this role and Shakespeare changed his mind. We don’t know. But it’s an intriguing question, because this play ends rather abruptly and with loose ends.

If anyone sees any errors, let me know so I can fix them—this is just based on my casual reading of the text, so I could easily have things out of order or get the details wrong.

Without further ado, here’s… Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Overview
The young King of Navarre and the three young lords, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville, all sign an oath to study for three years with no distraction. They agree to eat and sleep sparingly and to give up the company of women for three years(!), so that they can focus on their serious quest for knowledge.

Berowne points out how difficult it will be to keep these oaths, especially because the Princess of France is due any minute on a diplomatic visit that the King of Navarre forgot about. The King decides to make the Princess and her entourage stay in a field so that the oath that no women come to court isn’t broken.

The Princess and the ladies Rosaline, Katherine and Maria indulge in much girly chatter about the boys who they hear are at court in Navarre. They know them from previous social gatherings and are excited to get reacquainted on this visit. Everyone is in love!

The boys are instantly smitten with the girls when they meet in the field. Thus ensues the silly and extravagant wooing in this play, involving the boys visiting disguised as Russians, and the girls mocking and laughing at the boys as they themselves wear masks and trick the boys by switching places.

There are side stories featuring the rustic clown Costard, the dreamy Spaniard Don Armado and his page Moth, the lusty maid Jaquenetta, and the constable Dull, who lives up to his name. These folks along with the schoolmaster Holofernes (he of the silly Latin) and the cleric Nathaniel, put on the ridiculous play within the play about the “Nine Worthies.”

The poor players are mercilessly heckled during The Nine Worthies, and then Costard and Don Armado prepare to fight when Costard oddly breaks into the play to announce that Jaquenetta is pregnant by Armado. The fight is interrupted by the entrance of a messenger from France, who tells the Princess that her father, the King, is dead.

At this news, the Princess decides to return immediately to France, but the King of Navarre professes his love and asks her to stay. She and the other ladies tell the boys they thought the wooing was all in jest and that if they are in earnest, they must all wait a year and a day and come to France if they still feel the same and want to marry.

The play ends with the singing of a song about Spring (the cuckoo) and Winter (the owl) and Don Armado has the oddly poignant last lines: “The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You, that way: we, this way.” And everyone parts and goes their separate ways. Not the usual celebratory end to a Shakespearean comedy!

The Four Stooges
The play seems so serious at first, as the Earnest (with a capital E!) King of Navarre asks his lords to sign the oaths they have agreed to take in order to focus on their studies and seek Knowledge (with a capital K!). Dumaine and Longaville jump right in, excitedly signing up.

It soon becomes ridiculously apparent that these are impulsive boys and they have agreed to take oaths that will be impossible to keep… even for a day! Berowne, before signing, points out the difficulties of keeping these oaths for three years(!), with the hope that maybe there is some wiggle room. After all, it does not really seem reasonable to get by on one meal a day (with a fast day thrown in each week!), three hours of sleep per night with no napping, and worst of all… to give up the company of all women, who are thereby outlawed from the court.

Giving in to peer pressure (not wanting to appear a wuss), Berowne agrees to sign the oath, but immediately points out that they are going to break it when the Princess of France arrives any minute on her diplomatic mission. Navarre has forgotten about this, and decides that they can break their oath this time “on mere necessity.” Berowne will have none of that, as he says if they do it this time, they will all find a zillion reasons down the road to break the oath “on mere necessity.” So, Navarre decides that if they meet the Princess in the fields outside Navarre, they are not technically breaking the oath.

Three More Stooges
Berowne asks if they will really just study, study, study for three years, with no entertainment, and Navarre points out that the Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado will be around, and he should provide a steady supply of material to mock. Longaville notes that the hayseed Costard will also be around for a good laugh.

Then, the aptly named constable Dull arrives with Costard and a letter from Don Armado tattling on Costard for being caught with the country maid Jaquenetta. Apparently Costard is also supposed to forgo the company of ladies for three years, even though he is not part of the oath. When asked if he knew the new law, he said he’d heard it but didn’t really pay any attention to it. Navarre sentences Costard to a week of fasting under the supervision of Don Armado.

Don Armado converses with his page Moth, who appears to have more common sense than all the other characters combined. Dull delivers Costard to Armado. Armado professes his love to Jaquenetta before Dull takes her away. Moth takes Costard away to “prison,” leaving Armado feeling floridly poetic from his love for Jaquenetta (who you will remember, he just caught in a compromising position with Costard!).

The Princess and her Ladies
The Princess of France and her entourage approach Navarre and send the courtier Boyet ahead for information. He comes back with news of the lords (Berowne, Longaville and Dumain) who are at court with the King of Navarre. This sends the girls all into a flurry of excitement, as they know the boys: Maria has met Longaville, Katherine knows Dumaine, and Rosaline has danced with Berowne. The princess teases them that they are all in love.

Boyet also warns them of the King’s oath and the fact that he intends for them to camp out in the field outside Navarre. Minutes later, the King of Navarre appears and welcomes them to court. The princess rebuffs him for leaving them out in the field. Berowne and Rosaline flirt.

The “Plot”
There is very little plot in this play, but perhaps the diplomatic purpose behind the Princess’s visit to Navarre can be considered the plot. Navarre claims that the Princess’s father, the King of France, owes him money. The Princess claims that it is paid and that she can produce the paperwork to prove it. However, Boyet points out that the papers will not actually arrive until the next day… thus requiring the ladies to stay in Navarre, and providing the opportunity for the extensive wooing that ensues.

Love’s Labours
And then the “courting” begins. Berowne and Rosaline flirt and spar. The boys, like lovesick puppies, take turns asking Boyet about the girls: Dumaine asks about Katherine, Longaville about Maria, Berowne about Rosaline. Then, the girls are all flirting and teasing with Boyet. Boyet tells the Princess that the King is in love with her.

Meanwhile, Armado, who has been writing poetry to Jaquenetta, tells Moth to go get Costard, so he can take the letter to Jaquenetta. There is much punning back and forth between Moth, who stretches every word to its last possible meaning, and Armado, for whom English is a second language, and who has that florid Latin style to his speech.

Don Armado pays Costard to take the letter to Jaquenetta. Costard has a good deal of fun over the word “remuneration” which Armado calls the tip. Costard is then asked by Berowne to take a letter to Rosaline and he flips Costard a coin, which he calls a “guerdon,” leaving Costard to enjoy (verbally) the difference between remuneration and guerdon.

The Thrill of the Hunt
The ladies are out hunting to pass the time. Costard arrives and gives them the wrong letter (Don Armado’s letter intended for Jaquenetta). Boyet reads it (realizing the error immediately) and then there is some rather smutty back and forth between Rosaline and Boyet, with Costard joining in.

Costard and Jaquenetta (who can’t read) take the other letter to Holofernes, the school teacher (also called the Pedant) who reads it and believes since it is from Berowne to Rosaline that it represents treason and should be delivered immediately to the King.

True Confessions
There follows a very comic scene where each of the boys, in turn, enters and thinking themselves alone, declare their undying love for their lady. First Berowne sees the King approach and hides, so he overhears the King say how much he loves the Princess. Then Longaville approaches and the King hides to listen. Then it’s Dumaine’s turn. Longaville calls Dumaine on it (acting all innocent himself). The King comes out of hiding and calls Longaville on it (acting all innocent himself). And Berowne comes out of hiding and calls the King on it (acting all innocent himself).

Costard comes in with the letter Berowne wrote to Rosaline, and so that kind of gives him away, as well. They have all broken their oath to give up women (within hours of making the oath!).

Berowne then eloquently explains that women are actually essential to intellectual achievement, so they all decide it’s fine to break the oath and woo the girls in earnest.

Entertainment
Next is a scene that is truly best not to take too seriously. Holofernes and Nathaniel complain at length about Don Armado’s abuse of the English language (for example, not pronouncing the “l” in calf). And then Costard finds a reason to use the longest word in the English language: honorificabilitudinatatibus. In other words, there is much ado about nothing.

Don Armado finally gets around to asking Holofernes for help planning some evening entertainment for the Princess and the ladies. Holofernes immediately comes up with the idea of presenting a play about the “Nine Worthies” — ancient kings and leaders of note. They decide who will play which parts in the play within the play.

The scene ends with the line that gets the biggest laugh in the play from audiences:

Holofernes: Via, goodman Dull! Thou hast spoken no
word all this while.
Dull: Nor understood none neither, sir.
V.1.139-141

Favors and Masks
The girls get together to gossip about the gifts and letters they have received from the boys. They make fun of the poetry and the Princess tell them they are wise girls to mock their lovers.

Boyet (who has a knack for warning the Princess about whatever is coming next) arrives to tell the Princess that he was eavesdropping and overheard the boys discuss a plan to disguise themselves as Russians and come visit the ladies. They would recognize which lady to woo based on the favors (gifts of jewels) they had just sent.

The Princess immediately decides they should trick the boys by masking themselves and switching favors so that the boys woo the wrong girls. Rosaline will switch with the Princess, and Katherine will switch Maria. Madcap mayhem ensues!

The Muscovites
The men arrive dressed as Russians (Muscovites) and go after the wrong girls, based on the favors. The King goes after Rosaline (thinking she’s the Princess), Berowne after the Princess (thinking she’s Rosaline), Longaville with Katherine (thinking she’s Maria), and of course, Dumaine goes after Maria (thinking she’s Katherine).

The ladies mock the boys. The boys retreat, tails between legs. The girls giggle at the boys’ folly.

Boyet (always the harbinger) tells them that the boys will be back, unmasked. So, the ladies prepare, unmasking themselves and giving the favors back to the rightful owners.

The boys return and ask Boyet to get the girls. Berowne points out that he doesn’t trust Boyet. The girls come out and there is much teasing as it becomes clear that the girls know it was they who were dressed as Muscovites. Rosaline is pretty relentless making fun of them. The boys are humiliated and Dumaine says they should just admit to it.

The King asks the Princess to excuse them for their folly in dressing up. The Princess keeps up the teasing, telling the King he wooed Rosaline and will have to take her now. And telling Berowne all the sweet nothings she heard him say and that now she is his. Berowne blames Boyet for giving the ladies the heads up about the ruse.

The Nine Worthies
Costard arrives and asks if they can now perform the evening’s entertainment: The Nine Worthies. The King worries that the play will be so awful that it will further humiliate them in front of the ladies, however, the Princess intervenes and says she wants to see the play.

Costard comes out in costume as Pompey the Great. Then, Nathaniel does his rendition of Alexander, and is heckled by Boyet. Holofernes portrays Judas Maccabeus, and everyone heckles him. Armado is next, playing Hector, and again he is in the midst of being heckled by the lords and Boyet when Costard interrupts the play to announce that Jaquenetta is two months’ pregnant with Armado’s baby.

Armado challenges Costard, but as they prepare to fight, they are interrupted by the arrival of a messenger from the court of France who tells the Princess that her father, the King of France, is dead.

The Wrap Up with Many Loose Ends
The Princess (now Queen) wants to return to France immediately, but the King of Navarre asks her to stay. She doesn’t understand him and Berowne explains that although they did stupid things, they were serious and are in love with the ladies. The Queen tells them that the girls thought the flirting was all light-hearted pastime and not serious.

The Queen tells Navarre that although she doesn’t trust his oaths (!) that if he is serious, he should become a hermit for a year and if he still feels the same way for her, he can then come to her and she will marry him. Each of the ladies gives her guy a similar put-off for a year… the men are not pleased, but what can they say?

Berowne points out that this is too long for a play. We won’t know if any of them marry (or even see each other again).

Armado enters and says that he has vowed his love to Jaquenetta and will wait three years for her. And then he asks if they would like to hear the song prepared for the end of their play: in praise of the Owl (winter) and Cuckoo (spring). The songs include the bird calls with “cuckoo” sounding like “cuckold” and so not pleasing to married men’s ears. And the owl’s call: “Tu-whit, tu-who!” sounding an awful lot like “To Wit, To Woo” which pretty much sums up the action of this play!

The play then ends with Armado’s parting line: “You, that way: we, this way,” as everyone (including the audience) goes their separate ways.

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An About Face

November 26, 2010 at 3:21 pm (Film Adaptations, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

I’ve changed my mind. I like Love’s Labour’s Lost now. It’s been months since I posted about it, but I really disliked this play before. I found it so pretentious and annoying, all the characters seemed smarmy, overly-wordy and self-important. Blech.

It’s all changed now. I watched Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost from Shakespeare’s Globe and all is well. I couldn’t be more surprised at how this video of a stage production at London’s Globe Theatre could change my perspective on this play. This passage from the notes that accompany the DVD explain the difference:

During the play, Shakespeare makes fun of pedantry and pompousness, of wordiness and worthiness and of academic posturing in general. Any literary dons that recognise none of themselves in Love’s Labour’s Lost are at best unsporting and at worst obtuse. But anyone new to Shakespeare, perhaps worried about being confused or intimidated by the language, would probably not be grateful for the play’s obscure allusions, knotted wordplay and long passages in Latin. A good production, then, must ensure that such qualities are presented as the butt of the joke, rather than crucial pieces of plot. This, thankfully, is the approach taken by Dominic Dromgoole’s production, and it plays no small part in the production’s success.

All I can say is three cheers for Dominic Dromgoole! Instead of getting weighed down by the wordy wit and wordplay I found myself just enjoying the farce of the situations and the wonderful silliness of the characters.

The cast of zany characters in this play really shines. Costard (played by Fergal McElherron) is over-the-top fun throughout the play. This take on Costard whispers to me of Michael Keaton’s bizarre portrayal of Dogberry in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. But where Keaton’s Dogberry seemed to me distractingly weird, McElherron’s Costard seems on the money. I get a big kick out of Costard’s scene about remuneration (the money he takes from Don Armado for delivering a love letter to Jacquenetta). I had seen the scene analyzed in Playing Shakespeare, where it was an example of the Elizabethan love for words and language. Great fun!

Dull (played by Andrew Vincent) is sincerely (to great comic effect) dull. Don Armado (Paul Ready) is hilariously goofy. Boyet (Tom Stuart) is a nosy sycophant, often dismissed by the princess with an eye roll. And I love the princess here (portrayed by Michelle Terry)–her strong personality shining through in every scene.

What’s lost in this production? The pedantry. And good riddance! The silly banter between the boys making their oath to study and give up food, sleep and women for three years is hilarious! The ridiculous conversations between Holofernes and Nathaniel are dealt with lightly — they are a minor part of the show and there is no labour lost worrying about what the heck they are talking about.

Unfortunately, I think some of the banter between Berowne and Rosaline is also lost here. I don’t see much chemistry between the two in this production. I like Trystan Gravelle’s Berowne, but I find Thomasin Rand a bit mechanical in her delivery of Rosaline’s lines, and the interchanges lose their sizzle.

Speaking of mechanical, the play within the play here, The Nine Worthies, is really funny. The set up is very like the set up for the mechanicals’ production of Pyramus and Thisby in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (an ironic twist that the supposedly-learned Halofernes, Nathaniel and Armado are among the “rustics” made fun of here). As with P&T, there is much heckling of the players from the royal audience. It’s very funny and ends in total chaos here, with wrestling and a food fight.

I thoroughly enjoyed this production. It’s great entertainment, the staging is fun and imaginative, the set is simple, but lovely, the costumes are luscious, the music beautiful. If you’re looking for a good video representation of Love’s Labour’s Lost, look no further. It’s not on Netflix yet, but is available on Amazon and eBay. Enjoy!

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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I Get No Kick From Champagne

August 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm (Film Adaptations, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

I get no kick from Champagne, but I get a big ol’ kick out of Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 version of Love’s Labour’s Lost. It’s set in 1939 France. World War II is looming and we’re updated several times during the film with faux newsreel footage. But everyone is quite stylish and elegant in Navarre. And the music is good. The music is very, very good with all those great Depression-era show tunes.

Okay. Let’s be honest. The BBC took Shakespeare’s play at face value and delivered a true-to-the-text (and therefore very wordy) version. In stark contrast, Branagh throws caution (and maybe common sense) to the wind and delivers a trippy, giddy, easy-on-the-eye dreamscape of a musical. This is Shakespeare Lite. Emphasis on Lite.

I didn’t analyze how much of the text is missing, but it’s significant — like all the boring parts! Really, you don’t get any sense at all of the wordplay and self-conscious erudition that permeates the original. It’s nearly pedantless! This is all fun and games. Heavy on the wooing, lite on the wit.

Does it work? I find this film much easier to watch and more entertaining than the BBC version. Is it all good? I wouldn’t go that far. I actually hate Alicia Silverstone as the princess. She is just awful and barely delivers her lines. She’s the low point for me. And, well, I watch a lot of Scooby at my house, so it’s hard for me to see Matthew Lillard (who plays Longaville) and think of anything but Shaggy. Yet, it sorta works in this movie. Longaville = Shaggy. Go figure.

What’s good here? I love Nathan Lane’s Costard. And by far the trippiest character is Timothy Spall’s amazingly bizarre Don Armado. Wow, is all I can say there. Fun to watch. Weird, though.

Really weird. I think my favorite scene is Don Armado singing Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out of You” and sneezing cocaine all over another guy’s face, followed immediately by the princess and her ladies goofily waking up with their teddy bears in their tent and then going for a synchronized Esther Williams-style swim while singing Irving Berlin’s “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)” from Top Hat with Fred Astaire.

Yeah. I have to say I really don’t get this play (I mean Shakespeare’s version). I’m going to read it again before I post about it. But whatever is in Love’s Labour’s Lost is surely lost in this film version. The play is about wordplay and satire; that is completely absent from this film. Yet, the film is entertaining – for sheer cheesy weirdness, really, more than great song and dance.

Okay, enough of the hallucination. I’m going to get back to the text. I will report back. Hopefully, I’ll find it more readable on the second pass. Wish me luck!

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To Wit, To Woo

August 5, 2010 at 8:34 pm (Film Adaptations, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

Oh, I’m tired. I’m witless from witty banter. I just finished reading Love’s Labour’s Lost and I’ve watched the 1984 Elijah Moshinsky version for the BBC Shakespeare series. I’ve watched it twice now. As I say, I am tired and witless from all the witty banter.

I had never read this play or seen it performed, so this was all new. It’s an acquired taste. I was lost the first time I watched the BBC version. The play is all about wit and puns and there’s very little action; it is difficult to keep up with the dialogue and make sense of it on casual viewing.

Then I read the play; I watched it again. Okay. I get it now. It’s very thick satire. Extremely thick, non-stop mockery of people who have nothing better to do than to be impressed with their own wit. So I say: To Wit, To Woo. That is, I think, Shakespeare’s pun on the lyrics in the final song representing the owl’s cry, “tu-whit, tu-who!”

The whole play is about wit and wooing. Or maybe, as the introduction in my text says, “Perhaps the men have been too witty to be able to woo effectively.” The banter and wordplay is just all-around too much for me. But I’m critiquing the content of the play itself, and that’s hard not to do when it’s the basis for the film.

I read that this is Shakespeare’s most intellectual play, and so one that is less accessible to modern audiences. And in fact, it probably was not originally produced for the general public, but for a learned audience who would get the thick allusions and wordplay. It’s not easy.

That said, I think that the BBC version does a good job of making it at least a bit accessible (and I’ve read that this play can also be quite enjoyable performed live… even when much of the witty banter goes right by you). There is really not a serious moment until the very end and the film keeps moving along briskly (not belaboring the wordplay at all).

The BBC setting reminds me of a Fragonard painting… a frothy 18th century French fantasia. The actors are well-suited to their roles. I especially like David Warner’s version of the endearingly goofy Don Adriano de Armado. I also enjoy the Beatrice/Benedick-esque sparring between Rosaline (Jenny Agutter) and Berowne (Mike Gwilym). But unlike Beatrice and Benedick, these characters are never developed enough in the play to really care about them and the sparring is all just verbal play — there’s little emotion behind it.

That’s a critique of the play again, not the BBC production. I cannot say I like this play much. It’s smarmy and pedantic. I feel like a pedant just saying that. When I start getting the jokes I feel like Miss Smartypants. The whole thing is making fun of smarmy pedants, but you have to be one to get the joke. And so the joke’s on you. Sneaky guy, that Shakespeare.

I appreciate that this BBC version is a fun take on Shakespeare. I can’t say I recommend this for people who are not familiar with the play. I don’t think most people will enjoy it or get much out of it on casual viewing.

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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