Love's Labour's Lost is, along with Shakespeare's The Tempest, a play without any obvious sources. Some possible influences on Love's Labour's Lost can be found in the early plays of John Lyly, Robert Wilson's The Cobbler's Prophecy (c.1590) and Pierre de la Primaudaye's L'Academie française (1577). Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells comment that it has often been conjectured that the plot derives from "a now lost account of a diplomatic visit made to Henry in 1578 by Catherine de Medicis and her daughter Marguerite de Valois, Henry's estranged wife, to discuss the future of Aquitaine, but this is by no means certain."
The four main male characters are all loosely based on historical figures; Navarre is based on Henry of Navarre (who later became King Henry IV of France), Berowne on Charles de Gontaut, duc de Biron, Dumain on Charles, duc de Mayenne and Longaville on Henri I d'Orléans, duc de Longueville. Biron in particular was well known in England because Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, had joined forces with Biron's army in support of Henry in 1591. Albert Tricomi states that "the play's humorous idealization could remain durable as long as the French names of its principal characters remained familiar to Shakespeare's audiences. This means that the witty portrayal of Navarre's court could remain reasonably effective until the assassination of Henry IV in 1610. ... Such considerations suggest that the portrayals of Navarre and the civil-war generals presented Elizabethan audiences not with a mere collection of French names in the news, but with an added dramatic dimension which, once lost, helps to account for the eclipse Love's Labour's Lost soon underwent."
Critics have attempted to draw connections between notable Elizabethan English persons and the characters of Don Armado, Moth, Sir Nathaniel, and Holofernes, with little success.