Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wit! Honour! Love!

To their dismay and for our amusement, the characters of Love’s Labor’s Lost keep trying to live up to their highest ideals, especially when they come into conflict. These ideals are wit (or, as we might say, intelligence), honor, and love.

Devotion to intelligence drives the ill-fated endeavor to embrace study for three years. That devotion also fires the sparkling wit that the lords and ladies find so attractive and so dangerous in each other. The same drive finds expression in Armado’s and Holofernes’s and Nathaniel’s extravagant love of language and in Costard’s admiration for the cleverness of Moth’s dealing with Armado and of the ladies’ dealing with Boyet. Jaquenetta is overwhelmed by the artfully expressive love letter she briefly believes to be written for her. Wit also finds expression in the keen mockery that tends to keep everyone at some distance from each other.

As for honor, there is nothing more important for these characters than following through on what one has sworn to do. It really means something terrible, painful for them to be perjured, to be forsworn, or to see someone they admire fail to honor an oath. The lords feel they should keep their word (or, failing that, maintaining the appearance of keeping their word), but also feel they must break the oath in order to be with the women they love. The ladies feel that the lords must break the oath in order to be decent hosts, but also seem to wish that their beloved gentlemen could keep their misguided word. The men would be better, more admirable people if they could keep troth – not to mention more promising lovers, companions, spouses. Armado is perhaps most vulnerable to melancholy because he cannot keep his own oath, as a true soldier and subject should.

Finally, these characters believe in love. The Princess admires the King’s nobility (it may be that Boyet’s first speech repeats her own praise of Navarre); Maria is impressed by Longaville’s virtue; Katherine by Dumaine’s grace; Rosaline by Berowne’s witty eloquence. But the ladies do not realize how ardently their affections are returned and so are skeptical of the lords’ attempts at romantic compliment. They too cleverly – the shadow side of wit, again – seek to keep themselves from being fooled or mocked, even as they truly want to be loved by these men. Although he’s dismissed as "an old lovemonger," Boyet sees and understands it all. Armado, in pursuit of love himself, recognizes the King and Princess near the end of the play as a "most royal couplement" – a couple.

While the play overall might poke gentle and not so gentle fun at these social conventions and ideals, the characters are utterly convinced of their value. Anticipating (and perhaps influencing) Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, the play is all the funnier the smarter and more sincere and serious its primary characters are, even as wit and honor and love regularly lead them to folly.

The Flatwater Shakespeare Company production of Love's Labor's Lost opens next Thursday night, June 7th, at the Swan at Wyuka, 3600 "O" Street, in Lincoln. Show time is 7:30 p.m. The run continues June 8-10, 14-17, and 21-24. Call 484-7640 for reservations.

1 Comments:

Blogger Eric said...

I'm looking forward to this. I could use some silly, absurdist Shakepearean dialog right about now.

Eric

9:40 PM  

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