William Hazlitt, self portrait, 1802
For several centuries critics have been debating the merits of our summer play, Love's Labor's Lost. "If we were to part with any of the author's comedies, it would should be this," begins William Hazlitt, one of Shakespeare's best 19th century interpreters. You might think that would introduce an essay of condemnation, but you would be mostly wrong: Hazlitt goes on to affectionately praise the characters of Armado, Moth, Holofernes, Nathanial, and Berowne, as well as quoting several feliciious passages. And while he claims that in this play Shakespeare's might genius has never been deployed on so slight a subject (as if "Titian had been employed to give grace to the curtls of a full bottomed periwig"), Hazlitt can't help but delight in the curls he dismisses.
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw, who liked to compare his own great genius with his dramatic forebearer's, begins his essay in a similar negative vein: "A performance of Love's Labor's Lost is a sort of entertainment to be valued for Shakespear's sake than for its own." But Shaw too is beguiled by this "sunny, joyous and delightful play" he says, "Much of the verse is charming: even when it is rhymed doggrell it is full of that bewitching Shakespearean music which tempts the susceptible critic to sugar his ink and declare that Shakespear can do no wrong." His essay ends with the same doublemindedness: "On the whole, I am not sure that Love's Labor's Lost is worth reviving at this time of day; but I am bound to add that if were announced to-morrow with an adequate cast, I should make a point of seeing it."
Our distinguished Prologue guest, Stephen Booth, one of the world's leading Shakespeare authorities, confessed a similar ambivilance in his podcast interview with Kevin Landis.
For a long time Professor Booth thought Love's Labor's was a play that was better to think about than see, but he has changed his mind. You can hear more at his free Prologue talk in our Rock Ledge Ranch tent, Saturday, August 4, at 6:00 p.m. The lecture is free for all.
Finally, that Pasha of Shakespeare critics, Harold Bloom, makes this remarkable confession: "we all have particular favorites, in literature as in life, and I take more unmixed pleasure from Love's Labor's Lost than from any Shakepearean play." He goes on to say, "Alas, I have never seen a production of theis extravagent comedy that could begin to perform to is vocal magnificence, but I always live in hope that some director of genius will yet deliver it to us."
We cannot promise such a director, nor a company that would satisy this sultan of Shakespeare, but I have sent camels to tell him that here at Rock Ledge Ranch we have actors who can sing as well as be very silly (and silliness is purity, as a friend once explained). And I have notified George Bernard Shaw in his empyreum that we have indeed an adequate cast, and that indeed he should make a point of seeing the production. And so should you!