2002: Love's Labour's Lost

The 1598 edition of Love's Labour's Lost is the first printed play text to carry Shakespeare's name, but was probably written earlier in 1593 or 1594.

The plot is one of the few Shakespeare invented himself, though including several contemporary references.  Even if Catholic, Henry of Navarre, (a kingdom straddling the border between France and Spain), was a popular hero in Elizabethan England.  The three lords - Berowne, Dumaine and Longueville - who join the King of Navarre in a vow to devote three years to austere study, avoiding the company of all women, are named after leading figures in 16th century France.

The sub-plot is peopled with characters taken from commedia dell'arte who reflect facets of the lords' personalities: Costard and Jacquenetta (the 'yokels'), open-hearted and uninhibited; Don Armado, full of pompous affectation; Holofernes, the schoolmaster; and his admiring companion, the curate Sir Nathaniel, demonstrate the pedantry into which the lord's verbal brilliance could degenerate.  For the play's title page proclaims it "a conceited comedy" and it is the sophistication and beauty of the language that is at the heart of this delightful play.