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ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
THE fable of All's Well that Ends Well is derived from the story of Gilletta of Narbonne in the Decamerone of Boccaccio. It came to Shakspeare through the medium of Painter's Palace of Pleasure, and is to be found in the first volume, which was printed as early as 1566. The comic parts of the plot, and the characters of the Countess, Lafeu, &c. are of the Poet's own creation, and in the conduct of the fable he has found it expedient to depart from his original more than it is his usual custom to do. The character of Helena is beautifully drawn; she is a heroic and patient sufferer of adverse fortune like Griselda, and placed in circumstances of almost equal difficulty. Her romantic passion for Bertram, with whom she had been brought up as a sister; her grief at his departure for the court, which she expresses in some exquisitely impassioned lines; and the retiring, anxious modesty with which she confides her passion to the Countess, are in the Poet's sweetest style of writing. Nor are the succeeding parts of her conduct touched with a less delicate and masterly hand. Placed in extraordinary and embarrassing circumstances, there is a propriety and delicacy in all her actions, which is consistent with the guileless innocence of her heart.
The King is properly made an instrument in the denouement of the plot of the play, and this a most striking and judicious deviation from the novel. His gratitude and esteem for Helen are consistent and honorable to him as a man and a monarch.
Johnson has expressed his dislike of the character of Bertram, and most fair readers have manifested their abhorrence of him, and have thought, with Johnson, that he ought not to have gone unpunished, for the sake not only of poetical but of moral justice. Schlegel has remarked that "Shakspeare never attempts to mitigate the impression of his unfeeling pride and giddy dissipation. He intended merely to give us a military portrait; and paints the true way of the world, according to which the injustice of men towards women is not considered in a very serious light, if they only maintain what is called the honor of the family." The fact is, that the construction of his plot prevented him. Helen was to be rewarded for her heroic and persevering affection, and any more serious punishment than the temporary shame and remorse that await Bertram would have been inconsistent with comedy. It should also be remembered, that he was constrained to marry Helen against his will. Shakspeare was a good-natured moralist; and, like his own creation, old Lafeu, though he was delighted to strip off the mask of pretension, he thought that punishment might be carried too far. Who, that has been diverted with the truly comic scenes in which Parolles is made to appear in his true character, could have wished him to have been otherwise dismissed ?
"Though you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat."
It has been remarked, that "the style of the whole play is more conspicuous for sententiousness than imagery;" and that "the glowing colors of fancy could not have been introduced into such a subject." May not the period of life at which it was produced have something to do with this? Malone places the date of its composition in 1606, and observes that a beautiful speech of the sick king has much the air of that moral and judicious reflection that accompanies an advanced period of life:
All but new things disdain; whose judgments are
Mere fathers of their garments; whose constancies
It appears probable that the original title of this play was "Love's Labors Wonne:" at least a piece under that title is mentioned by Meres in his "Wit's Treasurie,” in 1598; but if this was the play referred to, what becomes of Malone's hypothesis relating to the date of its composition?
King of France.
Duke of Florence.
BERTRAM, Count of Rousillon.
PAROLLES, a follower of Bertram.
Several young French Lords, that serve with Bertram in the Florentine war.
Steward, } Servants to the Countess of Rousillon.
Countess of Rousillon, Mother to Bertram.
HELENA, a Gentlewoman protected by the Countess.
DIANA, Daughter to the Widow.
Neighbors and Friends to the Widow.
Lords, attending on the King; Officers, Soldiers, &c., French and Florentine.
SCENE, partly in France, and partly in Tuscany.
1 Steevens says that we should write Lefeu and Paroles.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
SCENE 1. Rousillon. A Room in the Countess's Palace.
Enter BERTRAM, the Countess of Rousillon, HELENA, and LAFEU, in mourning.
Countess. In delivering my son from me, I bury a
Ber. And I, in going, madam, weep o'er my father's death anew but I must attend his majesty's command, to whom I am now in ward,' evermore in subjection.
Laf. You shall find of the king a husband, madam; -you, sir, a father. He that so generally is at all times good, must of necessity hold 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 (O 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
1 The heirs of great fortunes were formerly the king's wards. This prerogative was a branch of the feudal law.