Shakespeare's Globe uncovers long-lost Shakespeare play

  A quarto copy of Love’s Labour’s Won has been discovered in the attic of our Globe Theatre

4 minute read

During our period of closure, since 18 March 2020, we’ve been doing a little housekeeping – including carrying out maintenance work on the Globe Theatre and cataloguing items in our Library & Archive. As well as containing our Performance Archive and Collected Archives of the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe, our Library & Archive also houses a collection of rare Early Modern books, accrued through generous donations from many benefactors.

The inside of an attic with thatch roof and great oak beams. Various cables and objects hang from the rafters.

An astonishing discovery has been made in the attic of our Globe Theatre – a quarto copy of Shakespeare’s lost play, Love’s Labour’s Won. Photographer: Marc Brenner

It was upon sorting these in the attic of the Globe Theatre that our Collections team make an astonishing discovery – buried within the boxes of various antique volumes was a goatskin-bound book with a remarkable title page: Loues Labours wonne – or Love’s Labour’s Won.

In terms of literary discoveries, they do not come much bigger than a long-lost play by one of the world’s greatest playwrights, William Shakespeare. Love’s Labour’s Won is first mentioned in Francis Mere’s Palladis Tamia, or Wits Treasury (1598), in which he commends a number of Shakespeare’s plays: ‘for Comedy, witness his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labours Lost, his Love Labours Won, his Midsummer’s Night Dream, & his Merchant of Venice.’ In August 1603, stationer Christopher Hunt listed the play as printed in quarto along with a number of other extant works. But no copy of this comedy by Shakespeare has previously been found in quarto or folio.

A selection of the text Palladis Tamia, listing some of Shakespeare's plays, including Lous Labour's wonne

Love’s Labour’s Won is first mentioned in Francis Mere’s Palladis Tamia, or Wits Treasury (1598), above.

For years, scholars have disputed whether Love’s Labour’s Won is a true lost work – is it a sequel to his comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost, or an alternative title to a known Shakespeare play, such as Much Ado About Nothing?

Well, we can confirm, it is a sequel, and returns to the story of the King of Navarre and the Princess of France.

Four actors wearing elaborate Elizabethan gowns, armed with hunting gear including bow and arrow.

Gemma Arterton as Rosaline and Michelle Terry as the Princess of France in our 2007 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Photographer: John Haynes

But how did we know this was a legitimate copy of Shakespeare’s lost play? Authenticating documents of this type involves a series of technical checks, including the age and appearance of the paper, and the printing process. Our Research team are calling it a rare and significant find:

‘Treasure-hunters have combed the archives for centuries in the hunt for Love’s Labour’s Won, and for it to turn up in our attic is little short of miraculous. But then, the most transformational discoveries can sometimes be happenstance. This find transforms Shakespeare scholarship, and it means I’ll finally get an editing credit on my CV’

— Dr Will Tosh, Research Fellow and Lecturer

Loues Labour’s wonne in quarto…

A first page from an old quarto text, with the title: Loues Labours wonne

… and the first page, recently discovered in the attic of the Globe Theatre.

The discovery is a hugely lucky break for Shakespeare fans. Many plays from the era are considered lost, as they were never printed and their manuscripts have been mislaid or destroyed. Latest estimates suggest that only around 540 full or incomplete plays survive from the time of Shakespeare London, with another 740 or so known by their titles or descriptions only – including Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s Cardenio, now the last remaining ‘lost’ Shakespeare play.

Only half of Shakespeare’s play were printed during his lifetime, and if it was not for the collected works in the First Folio in 1623, assembled seven years after Shakespeare died by his colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell, we would have lost some of his most popular plays, including Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night.

The discovery of Love’s Labour’s Won printed in quarto comes ahead of our reopening for the summer season – and after a period of closure for over a year, the timing could not be more exhilarating:

‘This is an extraordinary moment for world theatre. We spend our lives trying to make Shakespeare look, feel, sound like a new play. For us to embark on a true journey of discovery is a light at the end of this very dark tunnel. And for the Princess, Rosaline, Katherine and Maria to return after a year, after this annual reckoning….this austere insociable life, and find Navarre a world in which they are not only loved and respected but treated truly as equals, well it couldn’t be more timely, more necessary and further proof that Shakespeare really is the progressive playwright we believe him to be’

— Michelle Terry, Artistic Director

So for all you Shakespeare fans who have been wondering how the lads of Navarre and ladies of France fared after being parted for a twelvemonth and a day – well, you’ll have to wait just that little bit longer until our Summer 2022 season to find out…