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Royal Shakespeare Company, 2008

Love's Labour's Lost

Synopsis and plot overview of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost

TL;DR (may contain spoilers): Four men forswear women right before four women arrive to meet them; the men change their minds.

Love's Labour's Lost Summary

After vowing to avoid women, the King and three of his friends have to host a princess and her three ladies. The four men fall in love and decide to court the women. In the end, the women must return to their kingdom for a year after which they will marry the king and his friends, providing they remain true to them.

More detail: 2 minute read

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 applies to the entire kingdom. 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, is also in love with Jacquenetta. He writes her a letter for Costard to deliver. 

Three men in courtly Elizabethan clothes kneel as they argue. To their right stands a peasant figure in black. In the background is a thick twisted tree branch.
Love's Labour's Lost, RSC, 2008


Soon after the 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. They 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 the lady 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 schoolmaster Holofernes, the parson, and Don Armado, plan to entertain the royals with a pageant (entitled the 'Nine Worthies').  It will feature 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 separately declare their love for the Princess and her ladies. 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. The men decide to continue to entertain their guests. 

Berowne (in a black gown) using the headless statue of Cupid to hide himself when overhearing his friends breaking their oaths to forswear the company of women in exchange for solitude and philosophy.
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 be indifferent to the ladies' charms. Finally, the women trick them (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'. During the performance, a messenger arrives to say that the King of France is dead. Because of 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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