Love's Labour's Lost

Performance history

The earliest recorded performance of the play occurred at Christmas in 1597 at the Court before Queen Elizabeth. A second performance is recorded to have occurred in 1605, either at the house of the Earl of Southampton or at that of Robert Cecil, Lord Cranborne. The first known production after Shakespeare's era was not until 1839, at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, with Madame Vestris as Rosaline.[23] The Times was unimpressed, stating: "The play moved very heavily. The whole dialogue is but a string of brilliant conceits, which, if not delivered well, are tedious and unintelligible. The manner in which it was played last night destroyed the brilliancy completely, and left a residuum of insipidity which was encumbered rather than relieved by the scenery and decorations."[24] The only other performances of the play recorded in England in the 19th century were at Sadler's Wells in 1857 and the St. James's Theatre in 1886.[25]

Notable 20th century British productions included a 1936 staging at the Old Vic featuring Michael Redgrave as Ferdinand and Alec Clunes as Berowne. In 1949, the play was given at the New Theatre with Redgrave in the role of Berowne.[26] The cast of a 1965 Royal Shakespeare Company production included Glenda Jackson, Janet Suzman and Timothy West.[27] In 1968, the play was staged by Laurence Olivier for the National Theatre, with Derek Jacobi as the Duke and Jeremy Brett as Berowne.[28] The Royal Shakespeare Company produced the play again in 1994. The critic Michael Billington wrote in his review of the production: "The more I see Love's Labour's Lost, the more I think it Shakespeare's most beguiling comedy. It both celebrates and satisfies linguistic exuberance, explores the often painful transition from youth to maturity, and reminds us of our common mortality."[29]

In late summer 2005, an adaptation of the play was staged in the Dari language in Kabul, Afghanistan by a group of Afghan actors, and was reportedly very well received.[30]

A 2009 staging by Shakespeare's Globe theatre, with artistic direction by Dominic Dromgoole, toured internationally. Ben Brantley, in The New York Times, called the production, seen at Pace University, "sophomoric". He postulated that the play itself "may well be the first and best example of a genre that would flourish in less sophisticated forms five centuries later: the college comedy."[31]

In 2014, the Royal Shakespeare Company completed a double-feature in which Love's Labour's Lost, set on the eve of the First World War, is followed by Much Ado About Nothing (re-titled Love's Labour's Won). Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph called it "the most blissfully entertaining and emotionally involving RSC offering I’ve seen in ages" and remarked that "Parallels between the two works – the sparring wit, the sex-war skirmishes, the shift from showy linguistic evasion to heart-felt earnestness – become persuasively apparent."[32]

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