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Au's Well That Ends

Henry WU



John D. Morris and Company

P 1 L L A D E L P H I A


PR 2754 .M6


This Edition of the complete works of William Shakespeare, printed for Subscribers only, is limited to One Thousand numbered sets of which this is

No. 255

Copyright, 1901, by
The University Society



The First Editions. All's Well that Ends Well appeared for the first time in the First Folio. It is certain that no earlier edition existed; the play was mentioned in the Stationers' Register under Nov. 8th, 1623, among the plays not previously entered. The text of the first edition is corrupt in many places, and gives the impression of having been carelessly printed from an imperfectly revised copy. There is no record of the performance of All's Well that Ends Well during Shakespeare's lifetime; the earliest theatrical notices belong to the middle of the eighteenth century.

The Date of Composition. The remarkable incongruity of style characteristic of All's Well that Ends Wellthe striking contrast of mature and early workcan only be accounted for by regarding the play as a recast of an earlier version of the comedy. Rhyming lines, the sonnet-like letters, the lyrical dialogues and speeches, remind the reader of such a play as Love's Labour's Lost. The following passages have not inaptly been described as 'boulders from the old strata embedded in the later deposits':-Act I. i. 226-239; I. iii. 133-141; II. i. 132-213; II. iii. 73-105, 127-146; III. iv. 4-17; IV. iii. 237-245; V. iii. 60-72, 322-337.

It seems very probable, almost certain, that the play is a revision of Love's Labours Wonne,' mentioned by Meres in his Palladis Tamia (1598). Love's Labours Wonne' has been variously identified by scholars with


Much Ado about Nothing, Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest. A strong case can, however, be made for the present play, and there is perhaps an allusion to the old title in Helena's words (V. iii. 311-312) :

'This is done; Will you be mine, now you are doubly won?' The play was probably originally a companion play to Love's Labour's Lost, and was written about the years 1590-92. It may well have belonged to the group of early comedies. The story, divested of its tragic intensity, may perhaps link it to The Two Gentlemen of Verona; the original Helena may have been a twin-sister to the 'Helena' of A Midsummer-Night's Dream. The diction and metre throughout may have resembled the passages to which attention has already been called.

There is no very definite evidence for the date of the revision of the play. The links which connect it with Hamlet are unmistakeable; the Countess's advice to Bertram anticipates Polonius's advice to Laertes; Helena's strength of will and clearness of purpose make her a sort of counterpart to Hamlet, as she herself says :

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven; the fated sky
Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull:

(I. i. 236-9). Furthermore, the name 'Corambus' (IV. ii. 185) recalls the Corambis' of the First Quarto of Hamlet; similarly the name.' Escalus' is the name of the Governor in Measure for Measure. In the latter play, indeed, we have almost the same situation as in Alll's Well,—the honest intrigue of a betrothed to win an irresponsive lover. Finally, the undoing of the braggart Parolles recalls Falstaff's exposure in Henry IV., and Malvolio's humiliation in Twelfth Night. All things considered, the play, as we have it, may safely be dated, about 1602.'



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The Source of the Plot. The story of Helena and Bertram was derived by Shakespeare from the Decameron through the medium of Paynter's translation in the Palace of Pleasure (1566). The Novels of the Third Day of the Decameron tell of those lovers who have overcome insuperable obstacles; they are, in fact, stories of ‘Love's Labours Won,' and if Shakespeare had turned to the Italian, the original title 'Love's Labour's Won' may have been suggested by the words connecting the Novels of the Second and Third Days. The Ninth Novel of the Third Day narrates how "Giletta, a physician's daughter of Narbon, healed the French King of a Fistula, for reward whereof she demanded Beltramo, Count of Rossiglione, to husband. The Count being married against his will, for despite fled to Florence and loved another. Giletta, his wife, by policy found means to be with her husband in place of his lover, and was begotten with child of two sons; which known to her husband, he received her again, and afterwards he lived in great honour and felicity.'

The following are among the most noteworthy of Shakespeare's variations from his original :-(i.) the whole interest of the story is centred in the heroine-according to Coleridge, Shakespeare's loveliest creation; to this character-study all else in the play is subordinated; the poor Helen of All's Well, unlike the wealthy Giletta of the Novel, derives 'no dignity or interest from place or circumstances,' and rests for all our sympathy and respect solely upon the truth and intensity of her affections; (ii.) the moral character of Bertram, the Beltramo of the Novel, is darkened; his personal beauty and valour is emphasized; while (iii.) Shakespeare has embodied his evil genius in the character of the vile Parolles, of whom there is no hint in the original story; (iv.) similarly, generous old Lafeu, the Countess,— like one of Titian's old ladies, reminding us still amid their wrinkles of that soul of beauty and sensibility which must have

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