Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL

Conflict between generations is a theme prevalent in many of Shakespeare's tragedies, histories, and comedies. Romeo and Juliet struggle against their parents' feud and values. Hamlet battles within himself to deal with the ethics of his father's order for revenge. Hal and his biological father, Henry IV, work out an uneasy coexistence, while the Prince simultaneously resolves his relationship with his spiritual father, Falstaff. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the mainspring of the plot is the willingness of Lysander and Hermia to go against the wishes of Egeus. In such works audience sympathy is usually with the younger generation, which often embodies a tolerance and understanding unrestricted by narrow beliefs and codes of behavior.

In All's Well That Ends Well, however, wisdom lies with the older characters, who frequently harken back to past years as a better, happier time. The younger figures, in particular Bertram, are not especially likeable or sympathetic. Indeed, one reason this play is difficult to interpret is Bertram himself, doubtless Shakespeare's least amiable hero. That the story ends with a marriage suggests the play is a comedy, but the road to this moment of contentment is so rocky and the antagonisms between characters so harsh that we enjoy little laughter, and the disentangling of the plot is far from joyous. Thus whether all "ends well" is problematic. The source of the story is "Giletta of Narbona," the ninth novella of the third day in Boccaccio Decameron ( 1353), a collection of 100 fables and folk tales ostensibly told by ten people who have taken refuge from the plague in France. Shakespeare probably read these stories in William Painter Palace of Pleasure ( 1567).

The play's opening scene communicates the gloomy tone that dominates the work. In the first line the Countess mourns that the imminent departure of her son will be like the loss of a second husband. That son, Bertram, mourns his dead father, while the King he is soon to attend is himself mortally ill (I, i, 11- 16). Furthermore, the one physician who might have cured the King, Helena's father, is also deceased. Helena, who has been raised by the Countess, reveals that she, too, is possessed by sadness (I, i, 54), but she does not publicly specify

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Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Tragedies 1
  • Titus Andronicus 5
  • Romeo and Juliet 23
  • Julius Caesar 47
  • Hamlet 69
  • Othello 105
  • King Lear 137
  • Macbeth 179
  • Antony and Cleopatra 209
  • Coriolanus 241
  • Timon of Athens 267
  • The Histories 283
  • The First Tetralogy 287
  • King John 381
  • The Second Tetralogy 399
  • The Comedies 525
  • The Comedy of Errors 529
  • The Taming of the Shrew 541
  • Two - Gentlemen of Verona 555
  • Love''s Labor''s Lost 569
  • A Midsummer Night''s Dream 583
  • The Merchant of Venice 599
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor 619
  • Much Ado about Nothing 629
  • As You like It 647
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will 665
  • Troilus and Cressida 683
  • All''s Well That Ends Well 703
  • Measure for Measure 721
  • The Romances 743
  • Pericles 745
  • Cymbeline 757
  • The Winter''s Tale 779
  • The Tempest 803
  • Appendix 1 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 823
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 826
  • Appendix 2 - The Royal Figures from the History Tetralogies 827
  • Select Bibliography 831
  • Character Index 833
  • Index 847
  • About the Author *
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