It has been generally accepted that Love’s Labour’s Won is The Bard’s lost comedy. Although I acknowledge this theory as a reasonable possibilty, I do not believe it to be the case. Love’s Labour’s Won was first mentioned by the minister Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia pamphlet published in 1598, subtitled: Wits Treasury. He lists twelve plays in total, five of which, for relevance sake, I will name; listed in this order they are: The Comedy Of Errors, Love’s Labours Lost, Love’s Labour’s Won, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merchant Of Venice. The only play out of these five unfamiliar to Shakespeare’s canon is Love’s Labour’s Won. If we look at the plot of its companion, Love’s Labour’s Lost, we understand how its title is appropriate; at its conclusion, all of the gentlemen’s efforts, including The King Of Navarre, to woo and win their ladies do in fact fail, and their Labour has been Lost.
Concerning the supposed lost play, my opinion, which is shared by others, including Gregory Dolan of the RSC, is that Love’s Labour’s Won & Much Ado About Nothing are the same play. In 2:1 of Much Ado, carefully read over what Don Pedro, The Prince Of Arragon declares to his companions. He says, “I will in the interim undertake one of Hercules‘ Labours, which is, to bring Signior Benedick and Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection the one with the other.” Not only is the actual word Labour used but it’s used in the context of pursuing the goal of causing two people to fall in Love; which in the end, if we read Much Ado, we find out ends up being Won. Add to that the fact that the most famous part of the Hercules Legend, especially in Shakespeare’s time, was the triumph of his twelve Grueling Labour’s; which to draw another parallel, the Love between Benedick and Lady Beatrice isn’t achieved with ease, but with precarious and persistent effort.
The quarto copy of Much Ado, printed in 1600, mentions on the title page to have been acted many times before. If we take this into consideration and compare it to other quartos such as King Lear, published in 1608 and generally accepted to have been written in 1605, we get a three year window, putting a likely composition date for the potential LLW as 1597. LLL first recorded performance was at Court on Christmas in 1597 for Queen Elizabeth. The two comedies likely being written together, the “sequel” being performed subsequently forthwith, is reasonable evidence that Francis Meres would have been acquainted enough with the play we know as Much Ado in time to list it in his Wits Treasury when published in 1598 and catalogued with the Stationer’s Register September 7th.
It’s also important to point out that The Merchant Of Venice [mentioned among the five plays I named as listed in the Palladis Tamia] was published in quarto the same year as Much Ado , making it reasonable to deduce that Much Ado was extant in performance around the same time as Merchant; taking this liklihood into account, because both Merchant and LLW are specified on the same list and there is no mentioning of a Much Ado About Nothing leaves the possibility that Meres’ reference to LLW was the play we know as Much Ado.
Given the tremendous success of Much Ado, as well as its popularity and critical acclaim, it seems inconceivable Meres would excise the play from his list of The Bard’s best, leaving us to deduce that he did in fact include it in his list but recorded it under an alternate title.
It’s important to note that this wouldn’t be the only time an alternate title would be used for one of Shakespeare’s plays. Henry VIII was also known as All Is True, Twelfth Night as What You Will, not to mention that the quarto of King Henry VI Part II, published in 1594, was titled without even mentioning King Henry, being labeled as The First Part Of The Contention.
Now I want to call your attention to The First Folio of 1623; if we suppose that The Much Ado About Nothing we know today is, in fact, Love’s Labour’s Won, and if we take the 5 plays in the Palladis Tamia that I initially mentioned, beginning with The Comedy Of Errors and ending with The Merchant Of Venice, The SAME FIVE plays are grouped ALL TOGETHER in The FF of 1623; almost in the Exact Same Order! Errors is first on page 85, then Much Ado/LLW on page 101, then LLL on page 122, then Midsummer on page 145, and then finally Merchant on page 163. If Much Ado/LLW was printed successive to LLL instead of Errors, the order would be identical. If we consider them two plays written together primarily to complement their contrasting conclusions, and we don’t dwell on which one is sequel to the other, they basically, for all practical purposes, are printed in the same order found in Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia.
Lost play? OR… Have we had it all along?! What do YALL think?! Maybe sleep on it? Anyways, that’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading, and HAVE A BARDTASTIC DAY!