The Romantic Love in Love’s Labours Lost

Author: Gabrielle Hughes

Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598) is a comedy written by the renowned William Shakespeare that asserts love is romantic, even when forbidden.  After swearing to an oath that bans them from having any contact with women, King Ferdinand and his lords each find themselves in love.  Shakespeare places the characters in this situation in order to prove that love cannot be controlled and is often inevitable.  Love’s Labour’s Lost is an influential work that makes the reader question the intention of actions taken for love.  Shakespeare exhibits the fact that that love can be romantic no matter the circumstances, as influenced by Gil Vicente, an author who came before him.

Gil Vicente was a Portuguese playwright and poet who was born in the 1400s, about one hundred years before the birth of William Shakespeare.  He was recognized as one of the greatest dramatists of his time and wrote several influential plays such as “Monológo del Vaquero” and “Auto da Festa”.  Many of Vicente’s plays were romantic comedies written in Portuguese or Spanish.  He was known to be a poetic genius with Aubrey F. G. Bell saying of him in her biography Gil Vicente, “He had a lyrical gift surpassed by very few poets of any age or country, he had genuine comic insight, and a real love of nature” (16).  These are talents that many would use to describe Shakespeare as well.  It is very likely that Shakespeare himself was influenced by Gil Vicente and the works he wrote previous to Shakespeare’s career.  Shakespeare knew Spanish very well and he makes many allusions to Spain in his works.  He also wrote about similar themes and topics as Vicente, such as love and romantic comedy, both of which are prominent elements of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

[Love's labour's lost] A pleasant conceited comedie called, Loues labors lost. 1598. Folger Digital Image Collection, Folger Shakespeare Library. Accessed April 16, 2017.
[Love’s labour’s lost] A pleasant conceited comedie called, Loues labors lost. 1598. Folger Digital Image Collection, Folger Shakespeare Library. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Love’s Labour’s Lost was likely written with inspiration from Gil Vicente.  The play takes place in Navarre, Spain and tells the love story of the king and his lords.  The love the men find in the play is romantic, and not cynical as it may appear to be at first.  When the men begin their endeavor of creating the academy they try to free themselves from the distractions that a woman may bring, claiming, “Our court shall be a little Academe,/ Still and contemplative in living art” (LLL.1.1.13).  Their attempt to focus on education and isolate themselves from human nature only drives them in the opposite direction.

Despite the fact that King Ferdinand and his lords go against their oath, their intentions were not cynical or contemptuous.  It is human nature to fall in love and trying to prevent it will do no good.  Berowne himself admits, “But love, first learned in a lady’s eyes,/ Lives not alone immured in the brain,/ But, with the motion of all elements,/ Courses as swift as thought in every power,/ And gives to every power a double power,/ Above their functions and their offices” (LLL.4.3.303).  Love, as portrayed by Shakespeare, is uncontrollable and untamable.  It is filled with complexities that will not change no matter the time or age.

The love displayed in Love’s Labour’s Lost is romantic despite the disagreeable circumstances.  No matter how hard they try, the men in the play find themselves secretly in love.  The romantic theme and genre of the work could very well have been influenced by Gil Vicente.  The two were significantly influential playwrights who wrote about the romanticism of love that defined a comedy during their time.