Last month, the Royal Shakespeare Company opened a duet of plays, Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing. Only the RSC isn’t promoting the two plays as that bill. Instead, they are presenting Much Ado as Love’s Labor’s Won.
Now for those who don’t remember, Love’s Labor’s Won is a play referenced in 1598 in a book that mentions both Lost and Won as being by Shakespeare. Its text has never been found, though. Many consider it a lost play, while some critics have claimed it is an alternate title for another play (much like how some critics believe the original performance title of Richard III was Buckingham, and the subtitle of Twelfth Night is “What You Will”), with the most popular suspects being Troilus and Cressida, The Taming of the Shrew, and–you guessed it–Much Ado About Nothing.
Christopher Luscombe, the director of the RSC production, supports his choice of Much Ado with a well thought-out essay that connects Beatrice and Benedick to Rosaline and Berowne, as well as Dogberry with Shakespeare’s go-to comic Will Kemp. Luscombe uses the First World War as the war that separates the lovers at the end of Love’s Labor’s Lost, and the war from which the soldiers return in Much Ado/Won. The director also employs casting to tie the two productions together, with the same actors playing Rosaline/Beatrice, Berowne/Benedick, Armado/Pedro, Costard/Dogberry.
The RSC’s Luscombe is not the only one who has pushed this position recently. Ralph Alan Cohen, one of the co-founders of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, and the only American to win the Sam Wanamaker award for increasing the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare, is a proponent of this theory as well. He states this conviction in his “Dr. Ralph Presents” podcast on Much Ado About Nothing back in 2012 (beginning around 11:37 in the recording), describing the four “incredibly shallow leading men” from Love’s Labor’s Lost becoming Much Ado‘s pseudo frat boys returning from the war (Pedro, John, Claudio, and Benedick).
Great minds think alike.
Mine, however, is not a great mind. And I don’t buy it.
Yes, in theory I can see it working, if you ply (and play) the scripts just right. But man, I think you have to jump through so many hoops to make it work, that it would end up being more of an academic exercise than a theatrical experience (which, frankly, is an issue I’ve had with many RSC [filmed] productions), and this museum-theater vibe is one that I find stultifying).
But who am I to say? If you check out the latest This Week in Shakespeare podcast, you’ll find some raves for that RSC version…