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DATE AND ORIGINAL TITLE OF THE COMEDY--ITS MIXTURE
OF STYLES, CHARACTERISTICS, ETC.
given by Meares, in his “Wit's Treasury,” published in that year, is found
It is exceedingly improbable that this should have been the title of a popular play of Shakespeare's, well known in its day, and since entirely lost. Every drama ascribed to him was eagerly gathered up and printed in the collections of his plays, as speedily as the previous vested rights of
theatres or publishers in them would permit: his genuine and undoubted works, in the folio of Heminge & Condell, (1623;) others, either wholly spurious, or at most his only in some small part, by addition or alteration, were published in pamphlets, with his name or initials, during his life, and seven of them collected and embodied with his unquestioned works, by the editors of the two later folios, (1664, and 1685.)
Had there then been known to have existed a comedy under the title of “ Love's Labour Won,” distinct from any of those known under other namnes, it would certainly have either found its way, in an authentic shape, from the prompter's books to the press, or else we should have had a sparious counterfeit assuming the title; unless indeed the fact of its existence and loss had been universally known; in which latter case we should have had editors, critics, and contemporary poets, acknowledging the loss, and mourning for its disappearance as for a “ lost Pleiad” from the heaven of invention. Thus the inference is irresistible, that “ Love's Labour Won" could only have been the original or the popular title of some comedy since known under another name, or at least the title of some youthful production, in its chrysalis state, which we now possess in a more mature form. The title of course cannot apply to any one of the others in Meares’s list, nor can it apply to others of which we are enabled to trace the dates and original titles, by means of the earliest editions, and the mentiou made of them by contemporary writers. But the plot of All's Well that Ends Well turns entirely on the single interest of Helena's labours of despised love, at last triumphing over the impediments of humble birth and station, and winning its almost hopeless object. There is no other of its author's dramas so devoted as this to the single subject of unwavering love overcoming scorn and difficulty, in the persevering confidence that none
To show her merit, that did miss her love. There are, indeed, several allusions in this play to its present title, but these may be additions contemporary with the change of name, or rather they may indicate that, like Twelfth-Night, or What You Will, this play also, at first, bore the double title of “ Love's Labour Won, or All Well that Ends Well;" which would correspond precisely with the lines at the conclusion :
The king's a beggar, now the play is done.
All is well ended, if this suit be won. In itself, the solution of this question is of little importance, but the main interest of the inquiry, as to the identity of the comedies bearing these distinct titles, is the light that it throws upon the literary and intellectual history and character of All's WELL THAT Ends Well, and its author, by proving it to be in some parts a youthful work, afterwards revised; thus confirming the strong probabilities afforded by the variety and contrast of its style and manner, in different passages, that it was written at distant periods of the author's career, and contains examples of his most distinct manners in composition. If this comedy, under another title, was produced not very long after the first representation of Love's Labour's Lost, and as a sort of counterpart to it, painting the energy inspired by love, as the other play depicted “ love in idleness," and ending in nothing; then, since we find All's Well That Ends Well, in its present form, printed for the first time many years after, it appears highly probable that, as Love's Labour's Lost was “newly corrected and augmented" in 1597, (as we learn it was by the title-page of the first edition,) the author grafted upon his juvenile rhymed comedy many passages, in which we recognise the master-hand that had just written the MERCHANT OF VENICE; so too its counterpart, “ Love's Labour Won," passed through a similar revision, at some later period.
The presumption resulting from these circumstances agrees with the evidence afforded by the style and versifi. cation. Much of the graver dialogue, especially in the first two acts, reminds the reader, in taste of coin position, 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 everywhere, 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 many passages as belonging to the epoch od 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.
This sterner and more meditative cast is so predominant, that the whole play may be remarked as being con. paratively of a gray and sober hue, uncoloured by those rainbow tints of fancy, or fiercely bright flashes of passivo, that give such diversity of splendour to many other dramas. The reason of this cannot be that which Schlegd assigns, that “ the glorious colours of fancy could not have been introduced into such a subject;" for it is not easy to find any reason, in the subject itself, why Helena’s subdued, yet cherished and absorbing passion, might but have been clothed by Shakespeare in thoughts and words as tender as those of Imogen, as intense with passionate beauty as those of Juliet. The only intelligible reason is, that such was not the prevailing mood of the author's mind at the time, nor congruous with the main objects on which he had fixed his attention—that the play wa thrown into its present shape, and assumed its present expression, at a time when the author's moral and reflective faculty was more active and engrossing than his poetic fancy, or his dramatic imitative power.
The contrast of two different moods of thought and manners of expression, here mixed in the same piece, mas be evident to all who have made the shades and gradations of Shakespeare’s varying and progressive taste ani mind at all a subject of study. At any rate, the opinion just expressed was formed before the writer learned, froen Mr. Collier's information, that “it was the opinion of Coleridge, an opinion which he first delivered in 1813, and again in 1918, though it is not found in his · Literary Remains,' that All’s WELL that Ends Well, as it hras come down to us, was written at two different, and rather distant periods of the Poet's life. He pointed out very clearly two distinct styles, not only of thought, but of expression; and Professor Tieck, at a later date, adopted and enforced the same belief." Whether Coleridge regarded the additions as belonging to the same period of the author's manner,
to which it has been here assigned, I am unable to say. Tieck appears to ascribe to an earlier period, some of the darker and thought-burdened passages which I should assign to that later period, when the Poet's mind brooded habitually, in pity or in anger, over man's vices and misery. Still the contrast of diction and thought struck the acute German as much as it must do the student of his own native language.
Nevertheless, the changes of a great writer's habits of thought and choice of expression, however wide apart those changes may be, are yet, like the workings of other minds, subject to the revival of old associations and former mental habits, breaking in upon and mixing with those of after acquisition. To this principle I must refer some few passages of exceeding beauty, which may possibly have been in the original sketch, but which I rather infer, from the diction and versification, to belong to the revision, though not in its general taste and spirit. Such are those lines of intense beauty and feeling, when Helena breathes forth her hopeless passion :
It were all one,
And think to wed it,and pleases herself in her fond imagination
to sit and draw
In our heart's table, etc. And again the passage in the third act, in which she pours forth her sorrows and takes upon herself the guilt of her husband's desertion, where the very exaggeration of imagery and language speak the truth of nature and passion.
Most readers would wish that this high empassioned poetry of sentiment, had been breathed throughout all that Helena utters; and the plot itself would authorize and might have prompted dialogue and soliloquy, as fervid and fanciful as any that even Juliet had uttered.
But this did not happen to accord with the author's temper and disposition at the time of his maturer labours upon this theme, nor with the object he had proposed to his own mind in the composition.
The purely dramatic spirit, the identification of the writer's own feelings with those of the personages and scenes he exhibits, had here given place to a moralizing thoughtfulness, so that the Poet himself became the expounder and commentator of the truths involved in his dramatic fable, instead of leaving the reader to extract them for himself, from the vivid representation of human nature and passion.
In this play, he, throughout the whole, labours to impress on the audience a great and simple truth, too much forgotten at all times in the pride of life, but which in his own age and nation of strongly marked distinction and prejudices of birth and rank, must have been startling from its novelty and boldness. It is the great truth lying at the foundation of all real and practical social freedom, that moral and intellectual worth is the only solid ground of distinction between man and man. The graver part of his plot and dialogue is one continued rebuke of the harshness, injustice, and want of human sympathy of the rich and powerful toward the humble and dependant. As Shakespeare, in his historical and more political dramas, has delineated the caprices of the mob as faithfully as the vices and crimes of the great, Coleridge and other critics have thence deduced the theory that he was in opinion “a philosophical aristocrat,” who reverenced rank and power, and regarded the vulgar with good-natured contempt; a theory which is not only incongruous with the sympathy he everywhere expresses for man as man, and his indignant rebukes of the “supertluous and lust-dieted man—that will not see because he cannot feel ;" but is directly contradicted in every scene of this comedy.
Burns himself, in an age of revolutions, did not pour forth his own spirit of independence more freely in bis animating strain of
The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man's the goud for a' that;
than Shakespeare inculcated, upon the subjects of the Tudors and Stuarts, over and over, alike in the groundwork of his table, and in weighty apothegms, that
From lowest place when virtuous things proceed,
Is good, without a name; etc. He has, perhaps, as a poet, even sacrificed something of his dramatic interest to this purpose, by making the noble and accomplished Bertram inferior to the low-born Helena, in every truly honourable quality; so that most readers will concur in Jobnsou's honest regret that “this man noble without generosity, and young without truth," should be at last “ dismissed to happiness ;"—
-an impression which could have been prevented, by giving to the noble soldier a few redeeming touches of shame and penitence.
Besides this prominent and conspicuous moral lesson, other brief, sententious observations, filled with profound sense and truths humbling to human pride, are scattered through the drama, more in the shape of general reflection than as the utterance of individual emotion or sentiment, as is elsewhere the Poet's wont.
Paradoxical as the criticism may seem, the result of all this is that this is one of the least pleasing of the author's comedies, and yet one that does as much honour as any of his works to his mind and his heart.
The language approaches in many places to the style of MEASURE for MEASURE, as if much of it had been written in that season of gloom which imparted to the Poet's style something of the darkness that hung over his soul. In addition to these inherent difficulties, there are several indications of an imperfect revision, as if words and lines intended to be rejected, had been left in the manuscript, together with these written on the margin or interlined, for the purpose of being substituted for them. We have not the means afforded in several other plays where similar misprints have been found, of correcting them, by the collation of the old editions, as there is no other than that in the folio, which is less carefully printed than usual, not being even divided into scenes. From all these concurring causes, there are many passages of obscure or doubtful meaning, some of which would perhaps remain so, even if we had them as the author left them; while others are probably darkened by typographical errors. Some of these difficulties have been perfectly cleared up, by the ingenuity or antiquarian industry of the later commentators; as to others, we must be content with explanations and conjectural corrections, which are only probable until something more satisfactory can be presented.
SOURCE OF THE PLOT.
The story is drawn from Boccaccio's “ Decameron,” which was the great storehouse of romantic and humorous narrative for the poets and dramatists of his own and the succeeding age. But though it cannot well be doubted that Shakespeare, at the time when this play received its present form, could read Italian, and was probably well acquainted with the “ Decameron,” as we know him to have been with the less attractive and less popular novels of Cinthio and Bandello; yet as this play seems to have been originally sketched in his younger days of authorship, when it is less likely that he had any knowledge of the Italian language, I agree with Dr. Farmer and others, that he probably used the very literal version of the tale contained in “ The Palace of Pleasure," by William Painter, of which the first volume was published in 1566, and the second in 1567. In the “Decameron," it bears this title:—“ Giglietta of Narborn cures the King of France of a fistula, (a painful swelling on the breast, as it is explained in the tale,) and in reward claims Beltramo of Rousillon, for her husband. He having married her by compulsion goes off in anger to Florence; there falling in love with a young lady, he cohabits with Giglietta, personating her. She bears him twin boys. In consequence of this she becomes dear to him, and he receives hier as his wife.” The English versiou by Painter may be read in Collier's Shakespeare's Library. The Poet, says Mr. Collier, was only indebted to Boccaccio for the mere outline of his plot, as regards Helena, Bertram, the Widow, and Diana. * All that belongs to the characters of the Countess, the Clown, and Parolles, and the comic business in which the last is engaged, were the invention of Shakespeare. The only names Boccaccio (and after himn Painter) gives are Giglietta and Beltramo: the latter Shakespeare anglicised to Bertram, and he changed Giglietta to Helena, probably because he had already made Juliet the name of one of his heroines. Shakespeare much degrades the character of Bertram, towards the end of the drama, by the duplicity, and even falsehood, he makes him display: Coleridge (Literary Remains, ii. 121) was offended by the fact, that in act iii. scene 5, Helena, “Shakespeare's loveliest character," speaks that which is untrue under the appearance of necessity; but Bertram is convicted by the king of telling a deliberate untruth, and of persisting in it, in the face of the whole court of France. In Boccaccio the winding up of the story occurs at Rousillon, as in SHAKESPEARE, but the king is no party to the scene.”
He has moreover varied from his original, whether in Italian or English, in making Helena poor and dependant, instead of being as Boccaccio represents her, though fatherless, yet rich, and courted by many lovers acceptable to her friends. Could this variation have been for any other purpose than to make the story convey the moral instruction he has himself indicated, in the contrast of humble virtue, and high-born profligacy? It may be on the same account that the Poet keeps up Bertram's wayward and heartless falsehood to the last, whilst in the original the busband is overcome by his own better feelings, and receives and acknowledges his wife without compulsion.