A Pregnant, Nameless Thing: Improvisation In Love's Labour's Lost
There are persistent allusions in Love’s Labour’s Lost to both improvised and scripted performance. On its surface, the comedy appears to concern itself mostly with questions about the proper place of study in the human experience. This manifests in the distinction the play makes between romantic and academic pursuits and by its comparison of natural wit with cultivated erudition. This paper explores how all of these issues (performance, love, study, wit) intersect in Love’s Labour’s Lost and it seeks an explanation for their association in Shakespeare’s mind. The argument is that the portrayal of these connected issues might be a reflection of the Harvey-Nashe pamphlet war — one of the play’s many topical points of reference. The investigation finds that Love’s Labour’s Lost may have presented an opportunity for Shakespeare to make an indirect contribution to Harvey and Nashe’s disagreement about wit and art. Shakespeare may have been partially motivated to do this in order to make his reply to some of Robert Greene’s posthumously published remarks about the relationship between writing and performance in the theater in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit. The paper concludes by suggesting the merit of investigating whether Shakespeare might have had some unorthodox ideas about improvisation that he would have had reason to conceal.