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TF Love's labour is apparently lost on the beauteous ab dames and sprightly courtiers of Navarre and France,
poetic readers have still to be grateful for the many fine things that his inspiration has caused his votaries to utter. The play is not for those who see no merit but in broad and striking effects, for it really is deficient in dramatic interest; still it has an infinite variety of beauties ; there is a rich vein of gold running through the lode, although the earthy mixture is greater in proportion than in most of the metal from the same prolific mine. The characters are numerous and well contrasted; the one thing wanting to them, and consequently to the play, is determined purpose. It is, how
ever, pleasant to consort with a happy lot of Fortune's darlings, who seem to carve out penance for themselves simply to get rid of their superfluous leisure ; and who have nothing to do throughout the long, delightful, summer day, but to amuse, baffle, laud, and depreciate each other, in blissful ignorance of time and business, vice and sorrow.
Biron and Rosaline have been often noted as the precursors of Benedick and Beatrice, and well deserve the compliment. The King and Princess, in their general courtesy and intellectual gifts, advance much more than conventional claim to the title of “Matchless Navarre," and the “Maid of grace and complete majesty." The scholastic enthusiasm of Holofernes and Nathaniel is not without its interest to those who, in the language of the Curate, have “ learned to feed upon the delicacies of a book.” The sentence in which this phrase occurs, rivals, in merit, his praise of the Schoolmaster's table-talk ;-an eulogium, which Johnson (an unexceptionable judge in such a case), calls, “ a finished representation of colloquial excellence.”
Costard is admirable throughout,—bating the occasional coarseness, which he shares with his betters in the scene. His mode of meeting the accusation of Armado, in the first Act, would have been worthy of Touchstone, Launcelot, or Ferto. Equally good is his overflowing delight in the witty impertinence of Moth; his exaltation, on successfully standing for “ Pompion the Great," though " he knows not the degree of the worthy ;” and his triumphant compassion on the histrionic failure of the poor Curate : “He is a marvellous good neighbour, in sooth, and a very good bowler; but for Alexander, alas ! you see how it is; a little o'er parted."
Among the finer passages of the play (albeit they abound beyond the power of enumeration), are Biron's enthusiastic praise of Rosaline; her description of him; his expostulation with the King and Courtiers, in the first Act; and his glowing laudation of love and women in the last. Dumain's exquisite Sonnet, “ On a Day,” must not be forgotten; nor the “Dialogue of the Owl and the Cuckoo;" words which, married to the exquisite music of Arne, contribute to form as auspicious a conjunction as ever was ratified at the altar of Apollo.
At what time the first edition of this play appeared is altogether uncertain ; probably about 1590: it is, undoubtedly, one of Shakspere's earlier productions. The edition of 1598 has the following title: “A pleasant conceited comedie, called 'Love's Labour's Lost.' As it was presented before her Highness this last Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakspere.” The drama was, probably, on various accounts especially pleasing to Elizabeth. The voluntary, yet unwilling, maiden Queen-she who was so peevishly jealous of the marriage of her maids of honour—must have relished, intensely, the postponement of so many sexual unions " for a twelvemonth and a day,” with a tolerable prospect of the matches failing altogether. The learning of the pedants must have been anything but caviare to the accomplished pupil of Ascham ; while the grandiloquence of Armado would provoke a smile, both for herself and the author, from the lion-hearted woman who had so heroically defied alike the thunder and the machinations of the wily and redoubtable Philip.
" It is not unimportant (says Mr. Coleridge) to notice how strong a presumption the dictions and allusions of this play afford, that, though Shakspere's acquirements in the dead languages might not be such as we suppose consistent with a learned education, his habits had nevertheless been scholastic and those of a student.”
Scene I.–Navarre. A Park, with a Palace in it. Enter the King, Biron, LONGAVILLE, and
Dumain. King. Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives, Live registered upon our brazen tombs, And then grace us in the disgrace of death; When, spite of cormorant devouring time, The endeavour of this present breath may buy That honour which shall bate his scythe's keen
edge, And make us heirs of all eternity. Therefore, brave conquerors !—for so you are, That war against your own affections,
And the huge army of the world's desires,-