Shakespeare’s play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, describes a classic romantic comedy with a twist at the end. Several of the story’s characters were reflections of Shakespeare’s feelings about the areas from which they hailed and the setting of Navarre added a deeper element to the work’s significance and enhanced the Elizabethan audience’s thoughts and emotions about the tale. Shakespeare’s emotions, paired with historical facts, guided the story line, and shaped into a play still read and contemplated to this day.
The Kingdom of Navarre was a familiar place. Shakespeare realized that if his romantic comedy were to be received well as realistic and applicable to his audience’s lives he would need a setting with which they were familiar. At the same time, he wanted to add an element of uniqueness and stray away from the classic storyline, as evidenced by the twist at the end of the play. Navarre provided an interesting past as well as a not too distant land that could be easily identified by an English audience. In addition, Navarre was a foreign place to the people of England and gave the story a touch of mystery and unfamiliarity. Shakespeare’s play was not a typical love story with a strong comedic presence it was a classic story with several unique twists including the selection of an original setting and a historically accurate storyline.
Women ruled over the Kingdom of Navarre for two and a half centuries. This is interesting in relation to Shakespeare’s story, because the women who came to visit Navarre in Love’s Labour’s Lost took control of the kingdom within days of arriving. Although the King and his noblemen swore off women in their original agreement to focus on their studies and to make the King’s academy the best in Europe, they all secretly forswore this oath within days of formulating the rules of their study. In Shakespeare’s Navarre where reason and knowledge were of upmost importance, the Princess of France and her ladies brought wit and caused a complete reversal of the male characters’ priorities. With the arrival of the princess and her ladies, instead of craving knowledge, the noblemen and their King were immediately and simultaneously enticed by the flesh of the women. The women have a confidence that they will conquer the men, in a sense, “Only for praise; and praise we may afford / To any lady that subdues a lord.” (IV.ii.41-42) Eventually, the men were all writing letters of love to the woman to whom they were attracted and presenting them with gifts. The women were the focus of the King and his educated comrades and one could argue that they were in control of the fate of the kingdom.
The king and his noblemen proclaim their love for the women from France without spending much time with them at all, let alone one on one. Given this, one can infer that the men were not actually in love with the women, but instead were driven by primal sexual desires. They were eager to bed these women, and were not concerned with being with them. Disregarding their feelings, they tried to seduce the women by writing them letters, giving them gifts, and even disguised themselves to try to deceive them. The men disguised themselves as Muscovites to visit the women and court them. Shakespeare planned this, as Western Europe viewed Muscovites as barbaric and more simple minded than they. Of course, the women did not fall for it, as evidenced through Rosaline’s satisfaction with their superior wit, and the king and his men looked like fools. “Twenty adieus / my frozen Muskovits.— / Are these the breed of wits so wondered at?” (V.ii.292-294) The princess and her friends from France were strong and level headed and seem fit to rule over Shakespeare’s Navarre just as women ruled the real Navarre for hundreds of years.
The romantic comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost reveals Shakespeare’s creativity and his knowledge of Western European history. It is clear from his writing that he was heavily influenced by the geography of Western Europe, the role of women in his society, and King Henry. His inspiration was different and fascinating and it gave birth to a brilliant and original play.