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ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
THE earliest version of this comedy we possess is that of the folio, 1623. If a prior edition were ever printed, a copy of it would be inestimably valuable; for of all the plays of Shakespeare this appears to have suffered most from the negligence of transcribers and compositors. Malone, in his latest chronological arrangement, upon a supposed allusion to the fanaticism of the Puritans, dates its production in 1606; but there need be little hesitation in believing that it was one of the author's youthful productions, and most probably the piece indicated by Meres, in his "Palladis Tamia," 1598, as "Love Labors Wonne;" that it was intended as a counter-play to "Love's Labour's Lost," and was originally intituled "Love's Labour's Won; or, All's Well that Ends Well."
The fable is derived from the story of "Giletta of Narbona," forming the ninth novel of the third day in Boccaccio's "Decamerone," a translation of which is given in the first volume of Painter's "Palace of Pleasure," quarto, 1566; where the argument is thus set forth :— "Giletta, a phisician's daughter of Narbon, healed the Frenche Kyng of a fistula, for reward wherof she demaunded Beltramo counte of Rossignole to husband. The counte beyng maried againste his will, for despite fled to Florence and loved an other. Giletta his wife, by pollicie founde meanes to lye with her husbande in place of his lover, and was begotten with child of two soonnes; whiche knowen to her husbande, he received her againe and afterwards she lived in greate honor and felicitie." In the leading incidents Shakespeare has closely adhered to the story; but the characters of the Countess, Parolles, the Clown, and Lafeu, as well as all the circumstances of the secondary plot, sprang from the inexhaustible resources of his own mind.
"All's well that ends well," is an English proverbial saying of great antiquity. It was used in a slightly varied form during the celebrated rebellion of Jack Straw, by one of the insurgents, in a speech recorded in the chronicle of Henry de Knyghton;-"Jak Carter prayeth you alle that ye make a gode end of that ye have begunne, and doth wele aye better and better, for atte the evyn men hereth the day, for if the ende be wele, thanne is al wele." And, in Fulwell's "Ars Adulandi," 1579, to this passage in the text:-" Wherefore, gentle Maister Philodoxus, I bid you adew with this motion or caveat; Respice Finem :" the marginal note says, "All is Well that Endes Well.”
Lords, attending on the King; Officers, Soldiers, &c., French and Florentine.
Neighbours and friends to the Widow.
SCENE,-Partly in FRANCE and partly in TUSCANY.
* According to Steevens, we should write Lefeu and Paroles.
his virtue to you, whose worthiness would stir it up where it wanted, rather than lack it where there is such abundance.
COUNT. What hope is there of his majesty's amendment?
LAF. He hath abandoned his physicians, madam; under whose practices he hath persecuted time with hope; and finds no other advantage in the process, but only the losing of hope by time.
COUNT. This young gentlewoman had a father, (0, that had! how sad a passage 'tis !) whose skill was almost as great as his honesty; had it stretched so far, would have made nature immortal, and death should have play for lack of work." Would, for the king's sake, he were living! I think it would be the death of the king's disease.
LAF. How called you the man you speak of,
LAF. I would it were not notorious.-Was this gentlewoman the daughter of Gerard de Narbon?
COUNT. His sole child, my lord, and bequeathed to my overlooking. I have those hopes of her good, that her education promises; her dispositions she inherits, which makes fair gifts fairer; for where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, there commendations go with pity, they are virtues and traitors too; in her they are the better for their simpleness; she derives her honesty, and achieves her goodness.
LAF. Your commendations, madam, get from her, tears.
COUNT. 'Tis the best brine a maiden can season
a Whose skill was almost as great as his honesty; had it stretched so far, would have made nature immortal, &c.] Mr. Collier's annotator modernizes this passage, and reads, "whose skill, almost as great as his honesty, had it stretched so far, would," &c., but the original is quite as intelligible, and far more Shakespearian than the proposed reformation.
b A fistula, my lord.] In Painter's version of Boccaccio's story, the king's disorder is said to have been "a swellyng upon his breast, whiche, by reason of ill cure, was growen to a fistula," &c.
e Her dispositions she inherits, &c.] There is scarcely a passage of importance in the earlier scenes of this comedy the meaning of which is not destroyed or impaired by some scandalous textual error. In the present instance some expression imp ying chaste or pure, before "dispositions," appears to have bee omitted. Perhaps we should read, "The honesty of her dispositions she inherits; "-honesty being understood in the sense of chastity, as in the last clause of the passage-" she derives her honesty, and achieves her goodness;" which we