Shakespeare’s sources – Love’s Labour’s Lost

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Shakespeare, a source for Shakespeare!

Today marks the final blog in my series on Shakespeare’s sources and my final play is Love’s Labour’s Lost. I have left this play to last because it is said to be Shakespeare’s most original play. There is no direct literary source (as far as anyone knows) as there is with many of Shakespeare’s plays. However this does not mean the play exists in a vacuum and there are connections in this play to other works, people and events.


There really was a King Navarre he was King Henry IV of France, and his lords (Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville) are also named for real aristocrats. However tantalising this may seem to us unfortunately there is no historical record of anything remotely similar to the story of Love’s Labour’s Lost ever taking place between the real people who gave their names for Shakespeare’s story (indeed two of them were likely enemies). There are also possible references to real entertainments or revels which took place at Gray’s Inn in 1594-1595. The idea of the various tricks of disguise played by the lords and ladies on one another are familiar from a number of Shakespeare’s plays and probably were popular ways of entertaining and flirting at the court and elsewhere. There is also a vague textual influence from Sir Philip Sidney and John Lyly, but again nothing of the kind we have seen in the other plays we have considered.


Interestingly, as there are in a number of plays by Shakespeare, there are verbal and intellectual echoes of Shakespeare’s own poetry here his collection of sonnets. Consider the opening lines of Love’s Labour’s Lost and how much like the sonnets addressed to the young man they sound.


Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live register’d upon our brazen tombs
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
The endeavor of this present breath may buy
That honour which shall bate his scythe’s keen edge
And make us heirs of all eternity.


The phrase ‘devouring time’ even appears again in Sonnet 19. It is not surprising that Shakespeare’s works echo each other and indeed occasionally contain the same lines, ‘I am not what I am’ for instance is said by both Viola (romantic heroine of Twelfth Night) and Iago (villain in Othello). What is interesting is that this play is one of Shakespeare’s most self consciously literary – it is riddled with intellectual in jokes and is probably best loved by scholars – and it seems as if for this work Shakespeare was most comfortable referencing himself and using his own very capable imagination.

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • BillShax

    1. Do you think WS wrote LLL? I’m arguing with Oxfordites….

    2. You are really cute! Do you date?

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