Love's Labour's Lost Themes

Love's Labour's Lost Themes


Simply put, love is the overriding theme of this Shakespeare comedy. That should hardly come as a surprise considering the title, but the title fails to adequately signal just how profoundly the thematic preoccupation with things related to love really penetrates throughout the entire play. For one thing, the entire plot revolves around the various rites and rituals associated with courtship. The narrative’s dependence on the mechanics of these rituals as they are subject to the vagaries of the human heart means that the pursuit of courtship provides ample opportunity for the characters to talk endlessly about how much in love they are and how they are committed to swearing off love when things do not go well. What really works to make love a theme rather than a mere plot device, however, is the various ways that love is viewed by the characters. At different points along the way, love is reckoned to be a distraction from what is truly important, a plague, as a powerful foe capable of placing one under its authority as a communicable disease. Despite these negative connotations, however, nearly every character in the play is desperately pursuing love with all their heart at one point or another.

Celebration of Natural Impulses

The play begins with King Ferdinand of Navarre proclaiming that the path to success involves committing to study at the expense of sacrificing desire. Essentially, the King is suggesting that wisdom and knowledge can only run through rejection of any natural impulse to take part in the sensual pleasures of the world. Underlying this proclamation is wholesale revelation of the world of aristocratic courts as being a place haven for insincere attempts to throttle those impulses under cover of hollow vanity. That this critique of the court is spot-in in made more than manifest by Ferdinand being the first one to break his oath…though only as a result of sheer necessity imposed upon by external forces, of course.

The Love of Language

The thematic obsession with love extends even to the very language utilized to express those feelings. Shakespeare is famous, of course, for giving his characters dialogue to speak that works on several levels at once, overflowing with allusions, double-entendres, raunchy puns and various other dazzling exhibitions of the extraordinary fluidity and flexibility of the English language. The dialogue spoken throughout Love’s Labours Lost takes that characteristic of the Bard to one of its most elevated levels. Practically, every speech contains at least one example of Shakespeare’s obsession with wordplay. But the love of language doesn’t stop with the dazzling displays of verbal virtuosity because much of the fun that playwright is having with the lack of precision in English is directed toward helping the plot along. Speeches do not just contain puns and paradoxes of meaning, they contain puns and paradoxes of meaning that lead to misapprehensions and confusion over intent, thus making the transforming the love of language into vital essence of the language of love.

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