Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

All's Well that Ends Well occupies twenty-five pages in the folio of 1623, viz., from p. 230 to p. 254, inclusive, in the division of Comedies. It is there divided into Acts and Scenes, but has no list of Dramatis Personæ, which it was left for Rowe to supply.

ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.

INTRODUCTION.

B

literature. It is the Ninth Novel of the Third Day of the Decameron. Paynter translated it for his Palace of Pleasure, which was published, the first volume in 1566 and the second in 1567. In that work the argument of the tale is thus given : “Giletta, a phisician's doughter of Narbon, healed the Frenche kyng of a fistula, for reward wherof she demaunded Beltramo, counte of Rossiglione, to husbande. The counte, beyng maried againste his will, for despite fled to Florence, and loved another. 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 afterwardes he lived in greate honor and felicitie.” Shakespeare followed the novelist in all respects, and preserved two of the names in the original tale, Bertram, Count of Roussillon, and Gerarde of Narbon. But he changed the name of the heroine to Helena ; and Mr. Collier has suggested that he did so " probably because he had already made Juliet the name of one of his heroines.” This, however, is to assume that Romeo and Juliet was produced before All's Well that Ends Well. To the characters in Boccaccio's story Shakespeare added the Countess, Parolles, the Clown, Lafeu, and other minor person

This is rather a paraphrase than a translation of Boccaccio's argument, which here follows: “ Giglietta di Nerbona guarisce il Re di Francia d'una fistola; domanda per marito Beltramo di Rossiglione; il quale contra sua voglia sposatala, a Firenze se ne va per isdegno; dove vagheggiando una giovane, in persona di lei Giglietta giacque con lui, e hebbene due figlioli; perchè egli poi havutala cara per moglie la tiene." Paynter's version is given by Mr. Collier in his Shakespeare's Library.

[ocr errors]

ages, – their functions being, of course, entirely imposed by him; and for the substance of his play, the flesh with which he clothed the skeleton that he took at second hand from the father of Italian fiction, he appears to have been indebted to the story only for one or two suggestions.

The incidents of the novel being all embodied in the play, and the progress of the two being the same, there are yet certain differences between them, which are worthy of notice. The heroine of the tale is rich as well as fatherless : she of the play is a poor dependant, and is thus placed in a situation from which the haughty young noble would be the more unwilling to accept a wife. The King in the tale grants his preserver's demand for the Count Beltramo "to husbande" very reluctantly, and only for his oath sake: but the King in the play, with all his devotion to the memory of Bertram's father, and his fondness for the son, seems to think that Helena is more than worthy of the latter in all respects, except that of rank — a disparity which can easily be obviated ; and this enhances our estimation of her, and begets for her some much-needed sympathy in the unwomanly stratagems by which she seeks to obtain a husband and to be made a mother. In the tale there is no hint of the martial spirit of Bertram, and he joins the Florentine army only to escape his wife: in the play he yearns for military glory before the arrival of Helena at Paris, where he frets at “creaking his shoes on the plain masonry;" and thus Shakespeare wins for a character full of moral failings an admiration which, blent with our compassion for a man who is pursued by a woman determined to make him her husband in name and in reality, whether he will or no, becomes a passport to our favor. In the tale the heroine, on arriving at Rossiglione, administers her husband's estate, which had fallen into decay, with great ability: but this incident, valueless for dramatic purposes, is made unnecessary in the play by the presence at Rousillon of the Dowager Countess and her Steward ; and in the tale, too, the heroine, instead of slipping stealthily off on her pretended pilgrimage, calls together the Count's vassals and makes a formal matter of her departure. The reappearance of the heroine in the tale with two stout boys is modified for the better in the play by showing her to the Count in a condition which would lead him to expect but one: but it is difficult to discover why Shakespeare added the incident of a projected second marriage on Bertram's part; unless it

were so to deepen the shadows of that character that the ready forgiveness accorded by Helena might cause us to forget, in a measure, the means by which she obtained the right to pardon. Certain conditions of the story which Shakespeare undertook to dramatize were inevitable; and it is to be regretted that among them were some which we most wish could have been modified or disregarded.

The date of the production of this comedy is not determinable with certainty or precision. No quarto copy, no reference to contemporary events, aids the examination of the question, which is involved with another of much interest. Meres, in the passage so often quoted from his Palladis Tamia, mentions, among those of Shakespeare's comedies which he cites for their excellence, one that he calls “ Loue labors wonne.No such title appears either in the authentic folio, or upon any quarto copy of a play.ever attributed to Shakespeare, or to any contemporary ; nd no other reference to a play of that name has been found in the literature of Shakespeare's day. But Farmer, in his Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare, supposed All's Well that Ends Well to have been sometimes called Love's Labour Wonne ;” and this conjecture, thus thrown out without support, is the foundation, or rather the starting point, of the theory with regard to the production of this comedy which has been accepted for the last three quarters of a century. It is reasonable to presume that no play of Shakespeare's is lost to us; for 80 popular were his works upon the stage, and so eagerly were they sought by the play-readers of his day, that dramas the production of which he had merely superintended, and others with which he had no connection whatever, were attributed to him by booksellers who wished to avail themselves of his reputation. It is far more probable, therefore, that we have accepted that as his which belongs to another, than that even one Scene which came from his pen has passed into oblivion. This being the case, we must look for Love's Labour's Won among the fourteen comedies of the folio. The task is brief; for of the fourteen there are thirteen to which the title cannot by any ingenuity be made to apply; and the fourteenth is All's Well that Ends Well.* As the labors by which Helena attains at first the nominal and afterward the actual fruition of her desires furnish the aciion and the dramatic progress of this play, it might with as much propriety be called Love's Labour's Won as by the name it now bears. It is true that the introduction of the adage • all’s well that ends well' in three passages, one of which is the epilogue, seems to indicate an especial and inherent propriety in the name by which the comedy has come down to us; but this consideration actually makes nothing against the supposition that Love's Labour's Won was the title by which it was known to Meres, as we shall see in the examination of another subject with which the present question is connected.

* This remark is made in the full confidence that no one except its author will adopt Mr. Hunter's notion that Love's Labour's Won was the original name of The Tempest ;- the labors being the log-piling task set by Prospero to Fer. dinand! See New Illustrations of Shakespeare.

3

If Love's Labour's Won were the name first given to this play, the hither limit of the period in which it was produced is fixed : it must have been written before 1598, when the Palladis Tamia was published. But it is especially noteworthy that many passages of the play, amounting, perhaps, to one third of all its verse, belong, upon their own evidence, to a much later period of Shakespeare's life. To this conclusion the present editor had arrived when entirely ignorant that it had been reached by others; although it seemed to him that no intelligent and reflective reader of Shakespeare could come short of it. A similar experience is alluded to by Mr. Verplanck in the following passage from his Introductory Remarks upon the play, in which the interesting question of this marked difference of style in various parts of the same work is presented with such delicacy of apprehension and clearness of statement that his successors cannot do better than to avail themselves of it:

“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 every where, and in many Scenes entirely predominates, a grave, moral thoughtfulness, expressed in a solemn, reflective tone, and sometimes in a sententious brevity of phrase and harshness of rhythm, which seems to me to stamp may passa as belonging to the epoch of Measure for Measure, or of Lear. We miss, too, the gay and fanciful imagery which shows itself continually, alike amidst the passion and the moralizing of the previous comedies.

m

« AnteriorContinuar »