Love's Labour's Lost is one of William Shakespeare's early comedies; it is believed to have been written around 1595-1596 and is probably contemporaneous with Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The play opens with the King of Navarre and three noble companions, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville, taking an oath to devote themselves to three years of study, foreswearing bodily pleasures and the company of women. One of the companions, Berowne, refuses to take the vow seriously, and argues the merits of sensual love, but is overruled and promises to abide. Berowne then reminds the King that the Princess of France has an appointment to meet him in order to discuss the surrender of the region of Aquitaine. The King denies the Princess and her retinue (which includes three lovely young women) entry into his court, insisting that they camp at a distance. The King and his friends then interview the Princess and her companions, and each falls in love with one of the ladies.
The main plot is supplemented by several other comic subplots. A bombastic Spanish swordsman, Don Adriano de Armardo, woos a low-born country wench, Jaquenetta, assisted by Moth, his witty page, and Costard, a country bumpkin. There are also two pedantic scholars, Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel, who sometimes speak to each other in schoolboy Latin. In the final act, the comic characters stage an inept pageant to entertain the noble persons, just as the mechanicals perform a barbarous play for the court at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
At the end of this lighthearted play, events suddenly take a darker turn. News arrives that the Princess's father has died and she must leave to take the throne. The nobles swear to remain true to their ladies, but the ladies, unconvinced by their youthful ardour, demand that they wait a whole year to prove their seriousness. The play thus ends with no weddings, a surprising conclusion for an Elizabethan comedy. There is evidence that Shakespeare may have written a sequel, Love's Labour's Won which has since been lost.
Style and reputation
Love's Labours is often thought of as Shakespeare's most flamboyantly intellectual play. It abounds in sophisticated wordplay, puns, and literary allusions and is filled with clever pastiches of contemporary poetic forms. It is often assumed that it was written for performance at the Inns of Court, whose students would have been most likely to appreciate its style.
The style of Love's Labours is the principal reason why it has never been among Shakespeare's most popular plays; the pedantic humour makes it extremely inaccessible to contemporary theatregoers.
Kenneth Branagh's 2000 film relocated the setting to the 1930s and attempted to make the play more accessible by turning it into a musical. However, the film was a box office failure.