Friday, April 1, 2011

Love's Labour's Lost - A Lack of Common Sense

Biron. What is the end of study? let me know.
King. Why, that to know, which else we should not know.
Biron. Things hid and barr'd, you mean, from common sense?
(Love's Labour's Lost, 1.1.56-58)

This whole week Love's Labour's Lost has been annoying me. I found myself dismayed by how much I disliked it - a rambling comedy about frivolous, unkind, proud, mendacious people. The very set-up is extremely silly - the King of Navarre ropes three of his lords, plus the Spanish dandy Don Adriano, into vowing to dedicate themselves to study and not even look at women for three years. But when the Princess of France and her three waiting women arrive on the scene, who thinks for one minute that the boys will hold to their oath?

Despite all the Renaissance trappings that decorate this play - the masks, the disguises, the sonnets, the elaborate wordplay - I found Shakespeare's general portrait of the King and his lords to be an almost uncannily accurate depiction of young people with pretentions to intellectualism. The opening quotation demonstrates this - while preening themselves on their studiousness, finding out things beyond "common" perception, they don't even pay attention to or value "common sense," thinking themselves above it. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons that I found all the characters in Love's Labour's Lost so irritating - as a college student, I already spend enough time with 20-somethings who think that they are better and smarter than everyone else, disdaining "ordinary" life and relationships, yet managing to get into more than their fair share of romantic tangles. I suppose it's kind of sweet really - one way to read this play, right? - but it does get wearing after a while.

However - spoiler alert! - the title, "Love's Labour's Lost," gives us the clue that this play is perhaps not only what it seems to be on the surface. After heartily disliking the play throughout the first four acts, I felt a lot better after reading the final act. Hooray, I don't have to hate Shakespeare for writing this play anymore!

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