"For where is any author in the world teaches such beauty as a woman's eye?"
Start your summer with a frothy, funny celebration of love and learning. In the bucolic Kingdom of Navarre, four attractive young men make a pact to swear off romance and focus on academia … just minutes before the four loves of their lives wander by. Shakespeare’s side-splitting comedy about the struggle to balance heart and head is the perfect ode to Colorado Shakespeare Festival's academic surroundings.
The King of Navarre desires an all-male “academe” where he and his courtiers (Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine) will spend three years studying and fasting—and avoiding the company of women, forbidding them within a mile of court. The men reluctantly agree, although Berowne questions the wisdom of the endeavor.
The constable Dull delivers a letter to the King from Don Armado, a Spanish knight, reporting a relationship between the clown Costard and the dairymaid Jacquenetta. The King sentences Costard to prison. Armado confesses to his page, Moth, his own love for Jacquenetta.
The sequestered world of men is soon tested by the arrival of the Princess of France, her ladies (Rosaline, Maria and Katherine) and her courtier Boyet on a political mission from the Princess’ father, who is ill. The Princess criticizes the King’s discourteous plan to lodge her in a field rather than at court, but he refuses to relent.
Meanwhile, the men’s oaths prove fragile as they fall in love with the women. Armado promises Costard his liberty if he will deliver his love letter to Jacquenetta. Berowne also gives Costard a letter for Rosaline, but Costard accidentally switches them delivering them to the wrong women. Two scholars, Holofernes and Nathaniel, advise Jacquenetta on what to do.
The King and his men observe each other confessing their love and decide to woo the ladies. The women receive sonnets and gifts, but mock the mens’ conventional efforts. Boyet overhears the men planning to dress as Russians to entertain the women and she informs the women accordingly—thereby allowing the women to trick the men, instead. Identities revealed, the men own up to their absurd errors.
Holofernes, Nathaniel, Costard, Moth and Don Armado present a pageant of the Nine Worthies. Costard accuses Armado of impregnating Jacquenetta. Their fight is interrupted by Marcade with news from the French court that changes the expected ending of the play.
—Kathryn M. Moncrief, PhD, Dramaturg
“Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves,
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths!”
—Berowne, Love’s Labour’s Lost
That quote encapsulates so much of why I love Love’s Labour’s Lost. The four young men at the heart of the play are caught between their heads and their hearts and spend the play trying to navigate between them. In the beginning of the play the King of Navarre, declares that they will form an “academe,” foregoing fun and female companionship to devote themselves completely to a life of the mind for years. This extreme oath is immediately challenged by the arrival of the Princess of France and her retinue—conveniently enough, each woman catches the eye of each man. The men are caught on the horns of a massive problem: do they follow their hearts, break their oaths and lose their integrity? Or do they keep their oaths and break their own hearts? There’s no easy answer, but their comic struggle—along with the more sophisticated women’s affections for and exasperation with them—is Shakespeare’s wise take on the process of growing up. As the young men and women try to “find themselves” in bucolic Navarre, we get to watch them spar, flirt, stumble, pick themselves up and hopefully gain a little maturity along the way.
Love and language intertwine like a DNA strand throughout our play. We witness romantic love, close friendship, admiration between a mentor and pupil, love of learning, love of performing … and self-love. With nearly every character a wordsmith, language is highlighted in some way, in every scene. The young men use language not only to flirt, but to celebrate their loves using sonnets and compliments. The young women tease each other and their consort Boyet, and puncture their potential lovers’ pretensions. The local schoolmaster, curate and groundskeeper are all obsessed with a desire to use (and abuse) language to impress each other. The “fantastical Spaniard” Don Armado passionately wields purple prose to woo the country maid Jaquenetta.
For all of the fun, funny and pyrotechnic uses of language in Love’s Labour’s Lost, the play finally shows us the limits of words at times to express difficult, turbulent emotions. The simple line “honest plain words best pierce the ear of grief” is moving in its eloquence. As they grow up before our eyes, our lovers need to learn when to speak, and when to listen.
—Brendon Fox, Director
Wooing, Words and Wisdom in Love’s Labour’s Lost
Composed in approximately 1595 and published in quarto in 1598, Love’s Labour’s Lost is uncomplicated in its plot but extravagant in its use and enjoyment of language. Emphasizing stylish wit, rhetorical eloquence and verbal pyrotechnics, the play is firmly rooted in Elizabethan culture at the height of the English vogue for sonnets. Written at nearly the same time as Romeo and Juliet (1595-6) and just before As You Like It (1599), all three plays rely on and critique the wordy, obsessive Petrarchan lover. Along with A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595-96) and Much Ado About Nothing (1598-99), these comedies explore and exploit love, courtship and the complicated path to marriage as young people learn about themselves and grapple their way toward maturity.
The play contains frequent references to education while its plot moves toward matrimony. It begins with the King of Navarre’s strict demand that his men study, fast and avoid women. He himself will serve as their schoolmaster. In convincing his men to undertake his project, the King draws on important aspects of early modern masculinity, including “fame” and “reputation.” His single-sex enclave echoes early modern academic education for men (grammar school, universities, the Inns of Court) which—along with other types of schools for private instruction devoted to instilling gentlemanly skills, including academies of fencing, riding, music and dancing—served to prepare young men for public life.
Not only are the educated aristocrats, schoolmaster and curate fascinated with language and learning, so too are the servants and rustics. Indeed, Moth advises his master, Don Armado, in his pursuit of Jaquenetta: “Negligent student! Learn her by heart.”
The arrival at court of the Princess and her ladies, whose verbal accomplishments match their own, challenges the mens’ determination and their approach to education. After being bested by the women at their own games, the King asks the Princess, “Teach us, sweet madam, for our rude transgression/Some fair excuse.” Berowne acknowledges the necessity of women “by whom we men are men” and advises the others that they must “lose our oaths to find ourselves.” The women not only school the men, but each other, learning from their shared discourse.
Over the course of the play, the men come to understand that isolated study and intoxicatingly clever word-games are insufficient and are ready to be with the women they love. The play would seem to have reached a satisfying and familiar comedic conclusion—but Shakespeare has one more surprise in store.
—Kathryn M. Moncrief, PhD, Dramaturg
A.H. Goldstein, Daily CameraLearn more - Daily Camera
Gary Zeidner, Boulder WeeklyLearn more - Boulder Weekly
Ginny Quaney, PlayShakespeare.comLearn more - PlayShakespeare.com
Beki Pineda, Boulder MagazineLearn more - Boulder Magazine
Juliet Wittman, WestwordLearn more - Westword
Bob Bows, coloradodrama.comLearn more - Colorado Drama
CU Presents, "A Summer of Love and Ambition"
CU PresentsLearn more - CU Presents, "A Summer of Love and Ambition"
CU Presents, "Back to School With 'Love's Labour's Lost'"
CU PresentsLearn more - CU Presents, "Back to School With 'Love's Labour's Lost'"
Don Adriano de Armado
Desirée Mee Jung*
Princess of France
King Ferdinand of Navarre
Assistant Sound Designer
Stacy R. Norwood*
Stephen C. Jones^
Plan your visit
Most CU Presents performances take place on the beautiful University of Colorado Boulder campus. Take some time to explore our venues, find out how to get here and get more tips on what to do while you’re in town.Plan Your Visit - Plan your visit
The University of Colorado is committed to providing equal access to individuals with disabilities. If you are planning to attend an event take some time to review our accessibility services.Accessibility - Accessibility Services