Friday, April 1, 2011

Just Released...

"Near Cowfold, Sussex is Oakendene, a stronghold of cricket at the beginning of the eighteenth century. William Wood was the greatest of the Oakendene men. He was the best bowler in Sussex, the art having been acquired as he walked about his farm with his dog, when he would bowl at whatever he saw and the dog would retrieve the ball."

These are the opening words of Avril Bolond's new book Unkindest Cut: Love's Labour's Lost and Found, an intriguing chronicle of how William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Won was "disappeared," and banished from the Canon of Shakespeare's work—and how it was recently unearthed (almost literally) in the small village of Oakendene in Sussex by a construction worker hired to clear out a cottage once owned by cricketer William Wood. It had languished in a leather satchel under a flight of blocked-off cellar stairs for almost two centuries.

The existence of the play itself, of course, has long been subject to speculation; many works—some apocryphal, others genuine—have magically appeared over the centuries since the bard's death. In the famous list of Shakespeare's plays assembled by Frances Meres in 1598, he included Love's Labour's Won, as a sequel to Love's Labour's Lost. In the final moments of Love's Labour's Lost the group wedding scene (the typical, off-the-rack, comedy culmination) of Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine, three noble companions to the King of Navarre, is unexpectedly deferred for a year without any obvious use to the plot. In all likelihood, Shakespeare was planning a sequel.

Another clue to the existence of Love's Labour's Won came to light in 1953, when Solomon Pottesman, an antiquarian book collector, discovered a 1603 book list penned by the stationer Christopher Hunt that includes Love's Labour's Won as a play in print.

Avril Bolond's book postulates, among other things, that the play was never performed or published because of its egregious and some would say treasonous content. In one scene, for example, there is discourse between two characters (courtiers to the King) that is contemptuous of both King James I (especially his wife Anne of Denmark) and the mores of the day. And in another, a blatantly homosexual affair between Longaville and Dumaine is graphically and unambiguously remarked upon. Enough said: read it for yourself.

All these mysteries are addressed in Ms. Bolond's fine book, along with others that will undoubtedly keep the fires of controversy over Love's Labour's Won burning for years to come.

Unkindest Cut: Love's Labour's Lost and Found
By Avril Bolond
344 pp. Prost/Kargill & Co. U.K.

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