At the date of its first performance, audiences in Shakespeare's day were familiar with the characters as their contemporaries. But as time passed Love's Labour Lost became less performed as the characters were less accessible to theater goers. In modern times the play has been performed innumerable times and adapted as an opera, a musical, and in several different radio, theater, and television productions.
In the play, the King of Navarre, known as Ferdinand, and three of his noble male companions, Longaville, Dumaine, and Berowne, pledge an oath to each not enjoy the company of women for a period of three years. They decide to use this time to fast and study without the distraction of the fairer sex. Berowne is the least enthusiastic, though he agrees to the oath.
To help their cause, Ferdinand decrees that women are not allowed with a one mile perimeter of the court. This causes some scheduling inconveniences. The Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado visits the court with a tale of a lovers quarrel between Costard and Jaquenetta. Secretly Don Armado is in love with Jaquenetta and confesses this fact to his page, Moth. He writes Jaquenetta a letter and asks her very own lover Costard to deliver it to her.
Meanwhile, the Princess of France arrives with her entourage of ladies and tries to speak to King Ferdinand about the cession of Aquitaine. They are forced to make camp outside the King's court. But when Ferdinand visits their camp he falls in love with the Princess, while his lords fall in love with her ladies. Again the courier, Berowne hands Costard a love letter for lady Rosaline, which is switched with the letter he carried for Jaquenetta.
When Jaquenetta reads the letter meant for Rosaline and written by Berowne, advisors instruct her to tell the King. The King and his men start to break under the pressure of their oath and the feelings of love they have. When the King gets news of the letter he criticizes Berowne but is dealt back the same judgement as Berowne points out that the Ferdinand is in love with the Princess.
Jaquenetta and Costard confront Berowne about the letter and it is the straw the breaks the men's back. They renounce their vow and arrange a date to court the women while they are disguised as Muscovites. The ladies hear of their plan and tease them back by taking on each others appearances as their own disguise. A playful bout of teasing occurs when the lords return.
As all the lords and ladies watch the play the Nine Worthies, Costard decides to reveal that Don Armado has gotten Jaquenetta pregnant. The men feud amongst themselves until news comes that father of the Princess has died. In mourning, the Princess leaves at once with her ladies.
Upon their departure they proclaim that they will be in mourning for one year and that to prove their undying love, the men must wait a year and a day if they wish to court the ladies and Princess once more. In solidarity, Don Armado swears the same oath to Jaquenetta and the play ends with him performing a song for all the nobles.
Love's Labour Lost, is one of only two plays, including "The Tempest," which appear to be entirely original and not inspired by any previous historical texts.