In the Kenneth Branagh movie review, I quoted Harley Granville-Barker saying that Love's Labor's Lost is a "comedy of affectations." Separate from Branagh's film, I think I misread this statement. I kinda thought more about Shakespeare's affectations -- all that deservedly smug toying with Neo-Platonics, Euphuism, and mock sonnets -- than the characters' affectations. Then I came across this comment by W. H. Auden from Lectures on Shakespeare:
"Affectation is a way people try out ideas of what they are and succeed in finding out about themselves. Affectation is very good at college age. If it's lacking, in five years a person will become a bore. But if it goes on into middle age, it is unpleasant" (2000, 41).
In Love's Labor's Lost Shakespeare gives us four men, who if they are not in college, are at least still collegiate. Ferdinand says "Our court shall be a little academe, / Still and contemplative in living art" (Signet, 1.1.13-14) and calls his colleagues his "fellow scholars." Youths or not, they adopt the trappings and goals of identity-searching youth.
So, if Auden's definition of affectation works here, then Act I, scene i presents us with four guys trying to figure out who they are. Do they succeed? What specific affectations do they demonstrate? (Berowne may see these more clearly than the rest, but I think the women see it most clearly.) How do these affectations affect their interactions? Does not the comedy (of affectations) resolve itself completely on the grounds that the men succeed in finding themselves, even though they have not united with their chosen brides? I think many of the answers to these questions come in Act V and maybe some in Act IV, scene iii, but Auden encourages me to think more deeply about them.
Certainly more than I did yesterday. Perhaps this is the curse of Shakespeare: there's always more to think about.
Book Note: Ticket to Childhood
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