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DATE AND ORIGINAL TITLE OF THE COMEDY-ITS MIXTURE
OF STYLES, CHARACTERISTICS, ETC.
given by Meares, in his “Wit's Treasury,” published in that year, is found
It is exceedingly improbable that this should have been the title of a popular play of Shakespeare's, well known in its day, and since entirely lost. Every drama ascribed to him was eagerly gathered up and printed in the collections of his plays, as speedily as the previous vested rights of
theatres or publishers in them would permit: his genuine and undoubted works, in the folio of Heminge & Condell, (1623;) others, either wholly spurious, or at most his only in some small part, by addition or alteration, were published in pamphlets, with his name or initials, during his life, and seven of them collected and embodied with his unquestioned works, by the editors of the two later folios, (1664, and 1685.)
Had there then been known to have existed a comedy under the title of “Love's Labour Won," distinct from any of those known under other names, it would certainly have either found its way, in an authentic shape, from the prompter's books to the press, or else we should have had a spurious counterfeit assuming the title; unless indeed the fact of its existence and loss had been universally known; in which latter case we should have had editors, critics, and contemporary poets, acknowledging the loss, and mourning for its disappearance as for a “lost Pleiad” from the heaven of invention. Thus the inference is irresistible, that “ Love's Labour Won” could only have been the original or the popular title of some comedy since known under another name, or at least the title of some youthful production, in its chrysalis state, which we now possess in a more mature form. The title of course cannot apply to any one of the others in Meares's list, nor can it apply to others of which we are enabled to trace the dates and original titles, by means of the earliest editions, and the mention made of them by contemporary writers. But the plot of All's WELL THAT Ends Well turns entirely on the single interest of Helena's labours of despised love, at last triumphing over the impediments of humble birth and station, and winning its almost hopeless object. There is no other of its author's dramas so devoted as this to the single subject of unwavering love overcoming scorn and difficulty, in the persevering confidence that none
To show her merit, that did miss her love. There are, indeed, several allusions in this play to its present title, but these may be additions contemporary with the change of name, or rather they may indicate that, like TWELFTH-Night, or What You Will, this play also, at first, bore the double title of “ Love's Labour Won, or All Well that Ends Well;" which would correspond precisely with the lines at the conclusion :
The king's a beggar, now the play is done.
AU is well ended, if this suit be roon. In itself, the solution of this question is of little importance, but the main interest of the inquiry, as to the identity of the comedies bearing these distinct titles, is the light that it throws upon the literary and intellectual history and character of All's Well that Ends Well, and its author, by proving it to be in some parts a youthful work, afterwards revised; thus confirming the strong probabilities afforded by the variety and contrast of its style and manner, in different passages, that it was written at distant periods of the author's career, and contains examples of his most distinct manners in composition. If this comedy, under another title, was produced not very long after the first representation of Love's Labour's Lost, and as a sort of counterpart to it, painting the energy inspired by love, as the other play depicted “ love in idleness," and ending in nothing; then, since we fiud All's Well THAT ENDS Well, in its present form, printed for the first time many years after, it appears highly probable that, as Love's Labour's Lost was “newly corrected and augmented” in 1597, (as we learn it was by the title-page of the first edition,) the author grafted upon his juvenile rhymed comedy many passages, in which we recognise the master-hand that had just written the MERCHAnt of Venice; so too its counterpart, “ Love's Labour Won," passed through a similar revision, at some later period.
The presumption resulting from these circumstances agrees with the evidence afforded by the style and versifi. cation. Much of the graver dialogue, especially in the first two acts, reminds the reader, in taste of composition, in rhythm, and in a certain quaintness of expression, of the Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. The comic part is spirited and laugh-provoking, yet it consists wholly in the exposure of a braggart coxcomb-one of the most familiar comic personages of the stage, and quite within the scope of a boyish artist's knowledge of life and power of satirical delineation. On the other hand, there breaks forth everywhere, and in many scenes entirely predominates, a grave moral thoughtfulness, expressed in a solemn, reflective tone, and sometimes in a sententious brevity