“In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure, and some have rejected as unworthy of our poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages mean, childish and vulgar; and some which ought not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, to a maiden queen. But there are scattered, through the whole, many sparks of genius; nor is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakespeare.”
Samuel Johnson. The Plays of William Shakespeare. 1765.
“If we were to part with any of the author’s comedies, it should be this. Yet we should be loath to part with Don Adriano de Armado, that mighty potentate of nonsense, or his page, that handful of wit; with Nathaniel the curate, or Holofernes the schoolmaster, and their dispute after dinner on ‘the golden cadences of poesy’; with Costard the clown, or Dull the constable. Berowne is too accomplished a character to be lost to the world, and yet he could not appear without his fellow courtiers and the king: and if we were to leave out the ladies, the gentlemen would have no mistresses. So that we believe we may let the whole play stand as it is, and we shall hardly venture to ‘set a mark of reprobation on it.’”
William Hazlitt. “Love’s Labor’s Lost” from Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays. 1817.
“The characters in this play are either impersonated out of Shakespeare’s own multiformity by imaginative self-position, or out of such as a country town and a schoolboy’s observation might supply—the curate, the schoolmaster, the Armado (who even in my time was not extinct in the cheaper inns of North Wales) and so on. The satire is chiefly on follies of words … the frequency of the rhymes, the sweetness as well as the smoothness of the meter, and the number of acute and fancifully illustrated aphorisms, are all as they ought to be in a poet’s youth.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Notes on Love’s Labor’s Lost. 1818.
“In Love’s Labor’s Lost, Shakespeare employs oaths to reveal how men and women characters perceive the meaning of truth and honesty. During the play, oaths increase in seriousness.… Women constitute the subject of men’s vows, although the men swear first to reject women, then pledge to pursue them, and finally to marry them. The ironic progression suggests that since the oath-takers are men, Shakespeare is mocking the male tradition of oath-taking, insisting that it be linked with honesty. In contrast, the Princess of France and the women of her court reject the offers of marriage of the King and his courtiers, refusing to be bound by this timeless oath. One of the men objects that this is no way to end a comedy. Thus Shakespeare presents a woman’s point of view on honesty and truth, endowing the play with a significance that goes beyond the limits of the comic world.”
Irene G. Dash. “Oath-Taking” in “Love’s Labor’s Lost”: Critical Essays. 1981.
“The temptation is strong to argue for Love’s Labor’s Lost as Shakespeare’s most feminist play. Such an argument would be supported most obviously by the fact that the Princess of France and her three noble ladies control the action from their first appearance to their last. In spite of their exclusion from the inner sanctum of the court of Navarre because the King and his three noble followers have resolved on a cloistered life and have forsworn the company of women, the ladies arrive as visitors and soon become love objects for the four men. However, the women continue to defer capitulation to marriage even beyond the end of the play, assigning to the men a year of penance for their oath-breaking, to be followed by possible reconsideration. Such an ending has no parallel in Shakespearean comedy, and it looks like not only a violation of the conventions of New Comedy but also a clear example of women on top.”
Jeanne Addison Roberts. “Convents, Conventions, and Contraventions: Love’s Labor’s Lost and The Convent of Pleasure” from Shakespeare’s Sweet Thunder. 1997.