Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Love's Labor's Lost - Envoi

Fellow Scholars/lovers/pedants,

Love's Labor's Lost -- evolution: I have had an interesting evolution this month. I have worked out an understanding that Love's Labor's Lost really does have a solid center, except it is unconventional. THE plot of comedy is boy sees girl, obstacles arise, boy gets girl, but in Love's Labor's Lost boy(s) eschew girls, the girls are the witty obstacles, and then the boys don't get the girls until they have proved they can demonstrate common sense in lieu of unnatural foolishness. Or instead of chaos-to-order, the plot goes from disharmony (the academe) to another sort of disharmony (the self-smitten guys paying court to the smarter girls) to a stasis (come back next year). As Randall notes, they substitute attempts at the language of love, no more sincere than their devotion to study, but it is dismissed by the ladies as "bombast."

Part of my original difficulty was being distracted too much by all the language play, though I never focused on Armado-Holofenes-Nathanial-Dull-Costard to solve them. But the more we worked with the play, the more I came to see that it is the language of the court that is excessive -- the "heroic" opening, the lovers' poems, Berowne's flights of eloquence -- and this is counterpointed or at least parodied by the language quirks of the clowns. When we first see Berowne trying to apply common-sense analysis to Navarre's "barren tasks," after "then I swore in jest" (the schoolboy defense of "my fingers were crossed"), he wings away against the shallowness of study (I warned Mike and Randall to bowdlerize these passages lest their students embrace them): "Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile" and "Small have continual plodders ever won,/ Save base authority from others' books" (I.i.77, 86-7), but Navarre himself correctly articulates something that applies to the whole play: "How well he's read, to reason against reading!"(I.i.94).

In truth, I think Navarre's comment is my motto for appreciating this play, Shakespeare is having a glorious time using language to twit the excessive uses of language. So I don't think I need worry about Lyly or Raleigh or Florio. Language exploded in the Renaissance, and Shakespeare here is both a major part of the explosion and a commentator on the resultant intemperance. At the end of Ben Jonson's Volpone, after Volpone has improvised close to the most glorious language ever in order to create worlds beyond imagination, e.g.:

Good morning to the day; and next my gold!
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
Hail the world's soul, and mine! More glad than is
The teeming earth to see the longed-for sun
Peep through the horns of the celestial Ram
Am I, to view thy splendour, darkening his. (I.i.1-6, and on through the rest of the play)

The play ends with Volpone before a ridiculously self-serving court to whom he confesses with the sparest line in the play: "I am Volpone, and this is my knave." Love's Labor's Lost , after all the rhetorical wonders' comes down to "Sans 'sans,' I pray you" (V.ii.416), "A right description of our sport, my lord" (V.ii.521), "This is not generous, not gentle, not humble" (V.ii.629), "The scene begins to cloud" (V.ii.721), "Jack hath not Gill" (V.ii.876), "The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo" (V.ii.930) and, though it may be only a misplaced editorial stage direction, "You that way; we this way" (V.ii.931). I am Berowne, and these are my fools.

Randall cites Barton's "fatally self-indulgent," so in the interest of synonymity, I'd like to add Theodore Weiss's "veritable froth of language" and "fruitless persiflage." And Randall's commentary on the role of comedy in a suffering world sends me to Trevor Griffith's Comedians where the central question argues whether comedy is possible after Auschwitz. I'm not sure that is a stretch when I consider the nature of the penance Rosaline has set for Berowne -- the harshest sentence because Berowne has more understanding than the others and therefore is more guilty of self-delusion?

I have not read Auden yet, but considering "affectation," in both the applications, really works. "Trying out ideas of what they are and succeed in finding out about themselves" makes this a comedy of identity. Unlike The Comedy of Errors here the mistaken identities are the bookmen mistaking themselves, so, to address Randall's questions, no, I don't think they do succeed in figuring out who they are. They, or at least Berowne, sees reality more clearly, expelled from arrested adolescence. Berowne-up-a-tree unmasks them all as forsworn, but only Berowne overtly tries to swear off "Three-pil'd hyperboles."

Randall's critque of Branagh's Love's Labor's Lost is right on (and wonderfully written). It inspired me to watch it again. Alas, I dozed off after the sonnets in the library and didn't rewake until "There's No Business like Show Business," and as I tried to rewind, I got a serious phone call from my brother-in-law, that certainly did not go with Nathan Lane. Thus, my only advance in Love's Labor's Lost experience was watching with fascination Alicia Silverstone's lips.

I really have begun more thoughts on affectation -- courtiers who affect scholars who then affect lovers, echoed by affectations of the braggart Armado and the pedant Holofernes, so when Armado surrenders to the eye of Jaquenetta it anticipates the collapse of the courtiers' vows before the eyes of the French ladies. And the courtiers mock the Nine Worthies after having been mocked by the ladies. Well, our time is really up, so on to Titus and ...

You that way, me this way.

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