The men are scarcely aware of how the tables have turned in Love's Labor's Lost.
One of the year’s better productions must close this Sunday. Even with the play’s disturbing, though fully justified, un-comic ending, the Old Globe’s Love’s Labor’s Lost is a keeper.
1) People watch the rampant misogyny in The Taming of the Shrew and wish Shakespeare wrote a sequel where women put men in their place. But he did: Love’s Labor’s Lost. Scholars date both around 1593, so the connection may have been more evident at the time.
In Taming, Petruchio woos Kate with draconian tactics: sleep and food deprivation, mental tricks. In the end, accepting the reigning belief of the day, she subordinates her will to Petruchio and obeys St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands...for the husband is the head of the wife.” Whether Petruchio’s “tamed” depends on individual productions.
Good luck, Kate.
Love’s Labor’s Lost turns the tables. Four of Navarre’s most eligible males, including young King Ferdinand, want to abandon the world for three years and become, as it were, the anti-Petruchio: wall themselves in, like monks, and study so rigorously they’ll become the intellectual “heirs of all eternity.”
This means, among other Shrew-like deprivations, taming their sexuality by renouncing all contact with women.
But guys book-learning without life experiences is like sunshine on water: it never gets wet. And, ancient Heraclitus would hasten to add, “much learning doth not make wise.”
Enter the princess of France on a diplomatic mission. The four males are so full of themselves they think they can woo the French contingent with highfalutin poeticizing. Boys will be boys. Oh, are they in for a comeuppance!
2) Shakespeare was lucky. He lived in an age when language expanded. The Renaissance opened up new areas of knowledge. Ships returning from far-off places brought new customs, ideas, and terminology. Science, separating from religion, grew apace, as did philosophy and rhetoric. So much was new that an Elizabethan complained, “there are more things than there are words to express them by.”
The result was the “language explosion” of the Renaissance. Poets coined words and phrases, creating new worlds with words akin to the New Worlds abroad (one wonders what they would think of today’s shrinking vocabularies).
In Love’s Labor’s Lost, Shakespeare delights in this expressive freedom. The play’s a feast of words, laced with sonnets and a new kind of verbal music. But the linguistic explosion had a downside: a new word could mean anything, or nothing. Much of the comedy comes from those who misuse words, like Holofernes, the pedant scholar who may not even make sense to himself; or Armado, the over-the-top, braggadocio stylist. Also, the four males of Navarre, who assume the French ladies will swoon over airy nothings. Little do these gents know, the princess and her retinue are among the most astute literary critics in Shakespeare.
Playing through September 18