First off, what’s up with that second apostrophe in the title, Love’s Labour’s Lost? I can overlook the inefficient, Britain-island spelling of “labor,” but is the title supposed to be a slightly abbreviated way of saying, “Love’s Labor Is Lost” ? I always thought the title was in past-tense: “Love’s Labors Lost.” I suppose this title is just another case in which Shakes took a saying of the day and turned it into a title for one of his comedies, like “Much Ado About Nothing” or “All’s Well That Ends Well.” Country songs today do something similar, frequently playing off some hackneyed phrase in a title or refrain.
I found Love’s Labour’s Lost very painful plowing. This is a playwright who is obsessed with bending, biting, and breaking the English language– to the point of annoyance– nay, to the point of sacrificing the play’s action for the sake of prolonged unfunny arguing, bantering, and word-torturing. It is a comedy very much of its time, and I mean that in the worst possible way. I was relieved to find that this was an early play for Shakespeare. Obviously, he hadn’t yet hit his stride.
I have, actually, enjoyed a few Shakespearian comedies…
Much Ado About Nothing (Branagh’s version)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the one with Kevin Kline as Bottom)
The Taming Of The Shrew (I suppose the Elizabeth Taylor one, but it was also interesting to see John Cleese play Petruchio in a version; oh, and 10 Things I Hate About You wasn’t bad either!)
But all the rest of Shakespeare’s comedies I found so irritating (and so similarly irritating) that I now get them confused and forget which ones I loathed, which ones I merely despised, and which ones I have or haven’t tried to read or see.
Shakespeare’s dramas, on the other hand, I dig– I mean really dig. I suppose it seems either silly or pretentious to state that my favorite playwright is Shakespeare, but it is true. Hamlet is probably my favorite script from any time or place, with Casablanca and The Lion In Winter not so far behind, especially in terms of dialoguey scripts. What the hell?– I’ll just quickly list my favorite works of Shakespeare:
Hamlet (I liked both Branagh’s and Gibson’s versions)
Julius Caesar (see the one with Marlon Brando as Antony)
King Lear (so far, my favorite version of this one was a radio play I heard once)
Romeo and Juliet (I liked both Carlo Carlei’s and Baz Luhrman’s productions, for very different reasons)
Macbeth (DON’T see Polanski’s version, ugh!)
The Tempest (so different from anything else in the canon! Julie Taymor directed a good version, but with a female Prospero)
Richard III (Ian McKellen’s movie rocked it)
Othello (I haven’t seen that many versions yet, but again, Branagh knows how to put on a Shakespeare production)
Henry IV (The Hollow Crown versions of these two plays were very good renditions)
Henry V (yeah, Branagh’s version– as well as The Hollow Crown version)
The Merchant Of Venice (haven’t loved a version of this one yet)
Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes’ version is pretty darn good)
Titus (perhaps my least-favorite favorite; Julie Taymor directed a movie version of this with Anthony Hopkins)
I suppose my dislike of the majority of Shakespeare’s comedies ties-in with some comments I made a year or so ago about Ingmar Bergman’s comedies. There, I wrote that most comedies seem to have an expiration-date. I think this is due to the fact that the sense of humor alters over time, even from generation to generation. Perhaps what we find tragic remains more constant than what we find humorous–
On second thought, maybe it’s not the “what” of funny that changes so much, as the “style” of funny. I learned in Psych 101 that humor and fear/surprise are closely related. What surprises us often causes us to smile– which, they taught me, is actually a form of bearing our teeth as if we were afraid. Slipping on a banana peel, a pie in the face, cross-dressing– these can still be funny sometimes, I suppose, if done in the way proper to the era. And miscommunications are still the source of much of comedy, as is satire. We do love fish-out-water tales and other stories which allow us to laugh at our selves and our society.
Good comedy can be such a RELIEF!– allowing us, for a moment, to step outside the constant drama of our day-to-day lives and see it all from a moon-high perspective. With enough distance, even the most self-absorbed of us (and let’s admit it, we can all become pretty myopic and self-absorbed in the middle of a bad week) can see just how ridiculous we are… arguing to the death over a plot of desert, haggling til we’re red in face over a transactional disagreement, impotently cursing men sitting on cushions who cut us off with their little covered, motor-powered wagons… on and on and on. There’s no shortage of things to upset us if that’s what we’re looking for. And we take it all so seriously!
Thank God for laughter, the best medicine, for without it, we’d surely not last as a species very long.