Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England

By Dennis Taylor; David Beauregard | Go to book overview

14
Paris Is Worth a Mass:
All's Well That Ends Well
and the Wars of Religion

by Lisa Hopkins

Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, England

Two OF THE THREE PLAYS that we now know as Shakespeare's problem plays are clearly focused on the present. Measure for Measure, with its portrayal of a shy, publicity-avoiding ruler who wishes to suppress brothels, is obviously a reflection on James VI and I; Troilus and Cressida, with its emphasis on the cult of chivalry, has been just as insistently read as a reflection on the Earl of Essex (Mallin 1995). By contrast, All's Well That Ends Well looks consistently to the past; but, I shall argue, it does so only in order to make a suggestion about the future. Indeed, its very title suggests a teleological and future-oriented perspective, and this proves to be abundantly borne out by the events of the play.

Despite its eschatologically oriented title, All's Well That Ends Well is a play whose focus initially appears to be firmly on what has already happened. There is, for instance, much talk of the dead in the opening scene of All's Well, with both Helena's and Bertram's late father discussed. There is the classical pull of the names of Diana and Helena, with the latter seeming particularly pointed both because it is an invention of Shakespeare's, since the equivalent character was called Gileta in the source, and also because it is made explicit in the Clown's song:

"Was this fair face the cause," quoth she,
"Why the Grecians sackèd Troy?
Fond done, done fond,
Was this King Priam's joy?"

(1.3.68–72)

-369-

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