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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 Rossigniole 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."
KING OF FRANCE.
DUKE OF FLORENCE.
COUNTESS OF Rousillon, Mother to Bertram.
Neighbours and friends to the Widow.
Lords, attending on the King ; Officers, Soldiers, &c., French and Florentine.
SCENE,—Partly in FRANCE and partly in Tuscany.
* According to Steevens, we should write Lefeu and Paroles.
Enter BERTRAM, the COUNTESS of RousILLON, father's death anew : but I must attend his maHELENA, and LaFev, all in black. jesty's command, to whom I am now in ward, (1)
evermore in subjection. Count. In delivering my son from me, I bury LAF. You shall find of the king a husband, a second husband.
madam ;—you, sir, a father. He that so geneBkz. And I, in going, madam, weep o'er my rally is at all times good, must of necessity hold his virtue to you, whose worthiness would stir it her praise in. The remembrance of her father up where it wanted, rather than lack it where never approaches her heart, but the tyranny of her there is such abundance.
sorrows takes all livelihood from her cheek. No Count. What hope is there of his majesty's more of this, Helena, go to,-no more ; lest it be amendment ?
rather thought you affect a sorrow,
than to have." LAF. He hath abandoned his physicians, HEL. I do affect a sorrow, indeed, but I have
time with hope ; and finds no other advantage in LAF
. Moderate lamentation is the right of the
the process, but only the losing of hope by time. dead ; excessive grief the enemy to the living,
Count. This young gentlewoman had a father, Hel. If the living be enemy to the grief, the (0, that had ! how sad a passage 't is !) whose excess makes it soon mortal.e skill was almost as great as his honesty i had it BER. Madam, I desire your holy wishes. stretched so far, would have made nature im- LAF. How understand we that ? mortal, and death should have play for lack of Count. Be thou blest, Bertram! and succeed work." Would, for the king's sake, he were
thy father living! I think it would be the death of the king's In manners, as in shape ; thy blood, and virtue, disease.
Contend for empire in thee; and thy goodness, LAF. How called you the man you speak of, Share with thy birth-right. Love all, trust a few, madam ?
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy Count. He was famous, sir, in his profession, Rather in power, than use; and keep thy friend and it was his great right to be so; Gerard de Under thy own life's key: be check'd for silence, Narbon.
But never tax’d for speech. What heaven more LAF. He was excellent, indeed, madam ; the
will, king very lately spoke of him, admiringly, and That thee may furnish, and my prayers pluck mourningly: he was skilful enough to have lived
down, still, if knowledge could be set up against mor- Fall on thy head! Farewell. My lord, tality.
'Tis an unseason'd courtier; good my lord, BER. What is it, my good lord, the king Advise him. languishes of ?
LAF. He cannot want the best LAF. A fistula, my lord.
That shall attend his love. Ber. I heard not of it before.
Count. Heaven bless him !-Farewell, Bertram. LAF. I would it were not notorious.-- Was this
[Exit CountESS. gentlewoman the daughter of Gerard de Narbon ? Ber. The best wishes, that can be forged in
Count. His sole child, my lord, and bequeathed your thoughts, [To HELENA.] be servants to you ! to my overlooking. I have those hopes of her Be comfortable to my mother, your mistress, and good, that her education promises ; her dispositions make much of her. she inherits, which makes fair gifts fairer; for LAF. Farewell, pretty lady: you must hold the where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, credit of your father. there commendations go with pity, they are virtues
[Exeunt BERTRAM and LAFEU. and traitors too ; in her they are the better for HEL. O, were that all !-I think not on my their simpleness ; she derives her honesty, and
father, achieves her goodness.
And these great tears grace his remembrance LAF. Your commendations, madam, get from her, tears.
Than those I shed for him. What was he like? Count. 'Tis the best brine a maiden can season I have forgot him: my imagination
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.
Do 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 i 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 cerives her honesty, and achieves her gordness;" which we
apprehend to signify, “she is chaste by temperament, and good by the practice of benevolence."
d Lest it be rather thought, &c.] The meaning here is suffi. ciently obvious; and, though the construction of the sentence appear to us somewhat strange and harsh, it was by no means peculiar to Shakespeare.
@ If the living be enemy to the grief, the excess makes it soon mortal.) In the old copy this speech is assigned to the Countess. Tieck first suggested that it belongs to Helena; and that he is right is almost proved by Lafeu's rejoinder" How understand we that?"
And these greal tears grace his remembrance more
Than those I shed for him.) This is interpreted to mean, that her great tears," being attributed to grief for the loss of her father, do his memory more grace than those she truly shed for him; but some defect in the text may be suspected; such a meaning is very tame and unsatisfying.