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Royal Shakespeare Company, 2008

Love's Labour's Lost

Summary of William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost: Four men forswear women right before four women arrive to meet them; the men change their minds.

Act I

In the French kingdom of Navarre, King Ferdinand and his three companions, Biron (or Berowne), Dumaine, and Longueville (or Longaville), see themselves as enthusiastic students of philosophy. Together, they resolve to forgo the company of women for three years to devote time to their studies. Additionally, this decree against women is meant to apply to the entire kingdom. Accordingly, when the local peasant Costard is caught pursuing his betrothed, Jacquenetta, he is arrested. The Spaniard Don Armado, the one in charge of punishing Costard, however, is also in love with Jacquenetta, and he writes her a letter to be delivered by Costard. 

Royal Shakespeare Company, 2008
Love's Labour's Lost, RSC, 2008

Act II–III

Soon after everyone takes the King's oath, the Princess of France and her three ladies in waiting, Rosaline, Katharine, and Maria, arrive on an embassy. Due to the new laws put in place through the King's pledge, the women are lodged a mile from the court. With the aid of the Princess's officer, they are granted audience with Navarre and his friends, and soon discover that they have all met before. Furthermore, the King falls in love with the Princess, and each of his lords with one of her ladies. Biron writes a love letter to Rosaline, giving it to Costard to deliver. However, Costard confuses the letters in his charge and gives Biron's letter to Jaquenetta, who resolves to tell the King. 

Meanwhile, the village schoolmaster, Holofernes, and the parson, in company with Don Armado, plan to help entertain the royal visitors by devising a pageant (entitled the 'Nine Worthies'), which features Costard, Armado, and his pageboy, Mote.

Love is familiar. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but Love.

— Love's Labour's Lost, Act 1 Scene 2

Act IV

The King and his friends watch each other in hiding as they severally declare their love for the Princess and her ladies, and they soon find out about everyone's affections. After his letter is revealed, Biron persuades Navarre that love is a lawful part of their studies, so the men decide to continue to entertain their guests. 

Love's Labor's Lost 1984
Love's Labour's Lost, RSC, 1984

Act V

The men try to woo the women with gifts and visit them in disguise, but they still pretend to maintain an indifference to the ladies' charms. Finally, they are tricked by the women (through the women's own disguises) into an admission of the truth of their love: King Ferdinand for the Princess, Biron for Rosaline, Dumaine for Katharine, Longueville for Maria.

The men and women come together happily to watch the pageant of the 'Nine Worthies', but during the performance, a messenger arrives to say that the King of France is dead. Owing to this news, the Princess decides that she must return home. She declares a year-long period of absence between the men of Navarre and the women of France. If, at the end of that time, their promises hold true, then the ladies may return to accept them in marriage. The play ends as the ladies leave and the pageant actors sing.

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