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ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
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 Well the 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,
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.'
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
animated them when young'-the Steward, and the Clown, are entirely his own creations.
Duration of Action. The time of the play is eleven days, distributed over three months, arranged as follows by Mr. Daniel (Trans. of New Shakespeare Soc., 187779):
Day 1, Act I. i. Interval. Bertram's journey to Court. Day 2, Act I. ii. and iii. Interval. Helena's journey. Day 3, Act II. i. and ii. Interval. Cure of the King's malady. Day 4, Act II. iii., iv. and v. Interval. Helena's return to Rousillon. Bertram's journey to Florence. Day 5, Act III. i. and ii. Day 6, Act III. iii. and iv. Interval-some two months. Day 7, Act III. v. Day 8, Act III. vi. and vii.; Act IV. i., ii. and iii. Day 9, Act IV. iv. Interval. Bertram's return to Rousillon. Helena's return to Marseilles. Day 10, Act IV. v.; Act V. i. Day 11, Act V. ii. and iii.
I. Upon the death of a celebrated physician, his daughter Helena is given a home with the Countess of Rousillon, and she there falls desperately in love with the Countess's son, Bertram. His mother discovers the attachment, but is not displeased at it, for Helena, though poor and unknown, is a woman of much worth. Bertram, however, pays no heed to Helena, all his thoughts being turned to active service with the King of France, under whose protection he places himself after the death of his father. The King is suffering at this time from a disease which has been pronounced incurable. Helena, hearing of the King's ailment, secures the Countess's permission to go and offer him a prescription left her by her father.
II. Helena obtains an audience with the King, and after much persuasion induces him to try her remedy, exacting only a royal promise that, in the event of his being cured, the monarch shall bestow upon her the hand of a gentleman of her choosing. The cure is effected, and Helena chooses Bertram. The young Count disdains the match, but is forced to consent to the nuptials, under peril of the King's displeasure. But no sooner is the ceremony performed than Bertram departs for the Florentine war, without so much as kissing his bride.
III. Helena is sent home to the Countess with a letter from Bertram to the effect that he will never recog