SHAKESPEARE, THE EARL AND THE JESUIT
All’s Well that Ends Well
Is it true, as
which scholarly opinion now
with greater and greater assurance dates at the beginning of the reign
no likelier purpose than to celebrate the earl of
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Suppos’d as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endur’d
And the sad augurs mock their own presage,
Incertainties now crown themselves assur’d,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since spite of him I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes;
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.
moon,” Elizabeth, has died and left behind her tyrant’s crest; despite
and prophecies that her death would result in civil war, a new “age” of
been inaugurated; the balm that anointed a new ruler at his crowning
its drops given “fresh” life to one whose “confined doom” had
forfeiture of love and life.
well as looking forward, the poet looks back to “fears” and misguided
prophecies--and, perhaps hoping that
We need not
assume that the new writing
ended with this poem. Looking at the plays that Shakespeare produced
suggested a number of ways in which
Shakespeare could have had
correspondences are intriguing; but All’s
Well is most strikingly relevant to
To search those purposes requires first that we consider All’s Well as a set of recapitulations. Although Shakespeare often repeats himself, he seems in this play to have deliberately planted numerous traces of his former writings, as though offering a new gift that contained recognizable parts of old presents. In a single scene, for example, he reaches back across a decade to introduce names from the past: “Sebastian [Twelfth Night] . . . Corambus [Hamlet, Q.1, Corambis] . . . Jaques [As You Like It] . . . Ch[ris]topher [Taming of the Shrew], Vaumond (Hamlet, Voltemand) . . . Dumaine [Love’s Labor’s Lost]” (4.3.162-76). Elsewhere in All’s Well we find Rinaldo (3.4.19; cf. Hamlet’s Reynaldo), the mysteriously silent “Violenta” (3.5, s.d.; cf. Viola in Twelfth Night, named “Violenta” in Folio 1, 1.5..166, s.d.), Antonio (one of Shakespeare’s favorite names) and Escalus (3.5.75-76; cf. Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet), Diana Capilet (5.3.147; cf. Capulet in Romeo and Juliet), and of course Helena (whose antecedents appeared in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and, with “Cressid’s uncle,” Pandarus [AW 2.1.97], in Troilus and Cressida).
More than names
are recalled. Love’s
Labor’s Lost has a troop of false “Muscovites,” as does All’s
5.2.121; AW 4.1.69). Both plays have sun-worshipers:
Berowne is one who
“like a rude and savage man of Inde,” bows his head and is blinded by
Rosaline’s heavenly majesty ; Helena confesses to being “Indian-like”
idolatrous worship of Bertram, her “sun” (LLL
1.3.204-6). Pandulph in King John argues the
invalidity of improperly
sworn oaths: “It is religion that doth make vows kept, / But thou hast
against religion, / But what thou swear’st against the thing thou
Diana Capilet is no theologian, but she shares the churchman’s views on
swearing: “This has no holding, / To swear by Him whom I protest to
love / That
I will work against Him” (KJ 3.1.279-81; AW
4.2.27-29). In A
Midsummer Night’s Dream we hear of the “red-hipp’d
humble-bee”; in All’s
Well the “humble-bee” is also “red-tail’d” (MND
4.5.6). Shylock tells us that some persons “are mad if they behold a
Bertram is among them (MV 4.1.48; AW
4.3.237). Parolles, a lesser
Falstaff--liar, coward, corrupter of youth, and somehow pardonable--has
his predecessor a great scene in which the truth about him is exposed;
it he contemplates giving himself “some hurts” as Falstaff had done,
that he “got them in exploit” (1HIV 2.4.261-2,
4.1.37-38, 4.3). In Henry V Captain Fluellen seems
much conversant with
“the true disciplines of the wars,” with “the ceremonies of the wars,
cares of it, and the
forms of it”;
Captain Parolles, self-proclaimed “militarist,” professes to know the
“the whole theoric . . . and the practice” (HV 3.2.72,
4.1.72-73; AW 4.3.141-43).
Henry’s soldier Michael Williams, having been assured by the disguised
that the cause of war in
of Shakespeare’s earlier work
in All’s Well that Ends Well is
quite conspicuous in the
parallels between the play and the poems, especially the Sonnets and Venus
and Adonis. Critics have been especially struck by the
anticipation of important elements of All’s Well.
Sheldon Zitner, like
others, has noted that
[the] “I” of the Sonnets is himself a kind of
If she be
All that is virtuous--save what thou dislik’st,
A poor physician’s daughter--thou dislik’st
Of virtue for the name. But do not so.
The love of the
poet is “religious,” almost unto “idolatry”
Sonnets All’s Well
thou art much too fair He is too good and fair for death and me
To be death's conquest
You had a father, let your son say so This young gentlewoman had
a father--O, that “had”
stell’d draw [his beauteous features] In our heart’s
Thy beauty's form in table of my heart; table
from far where I abide, I am Saint Jaques' pilgrim . . . .
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee I from far
His name with zealous fervor sanctify
the grave . . . on every grave
Hung with the trophies A lying trophy
Thou dost love her, because thou knowst I He that comforts my wife is the cherisher
love her, of my flesh and blood; he that cherishes my
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me, flesh and blood loves my flesh and blood; he
Suff’ring my friend for my sake to approve that loves my flesh and blood is my friend:
her. ergo, he that kisses my wife is my friend
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But here's the joy; my friend and I are one;
Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.
This thought is as a death, which cannot her whose state is such that cannot choose
choose But lend and give where she is sure to lose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose
blunt the sharp'st intents, what sharp stings . . .
Divert strong minds . . . . . . . . .
I could well have diverted her intents
lust in action . . . Is . . .despised . . . so lust doth play
With what it loathes
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious, he fleshes his will in the spoil of her honor
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
We cannot be sure what part the Sonnets played in the relationship between Shakespeare and Southampton. If the poet addressed pieces to the “friend” as verse letters (comparable to Donne’s verse epistles to his friends), not all of them may have been “sent.” There is so much repetition in the Sonnets, so much that sounds like private complaint which the speaker only imagines making public, so much that is impolitic or even insulting, that they seem like journal entries which may on occasion have turned into messages. If the poems were part of a fiction that derived inspiration or incident from life, and as such were (according to the testimony of Francis Meres in 1598) passed around to Shakespeare’s “private friends,” among whom Southampton may have been numbered, the earl may have had for any number of reasons special insights into their meaning. It appears that the lyrics were composed in several different groups, with a range of different purposes, and across a long period of time--from the early “Anne Hathaway” poem (145) to at least the “Southampton” sonnet of 1603 (107). What is proposed here is that the Sonnets, whatever their origins, became part of the large store of literary capital that underwrote the making of All’s Well that Ends Well, a play which reminded the earl of Shakespeare’s early declaration that “What I have done is yours, what I have to doe is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.”
Venus and Adonis All’s Well
203-4, 763-5, 752, 768: 1.1.136-44:
O, had thy mother borne so hard a mind, To speak on the part of virginity, is to
She had not brought forth thee, but died accuse your mothers; which is most
unkind. . . . infallible disobedience. He that hangs
So in thyself thyself art made away, himself is a virgin: virginity murders itself
A mischief worse than civil home-bred strife, and should be buried in highways out of all
Or theirs whose desperate hands themselves sanctified limit, as a desperate offendress
do slay. . . . against nature. . . . Besides, virginity is
Love lacking vestals, and self-loving nuns . . . peevish, proud, idle, made of self-love . . . .
. . . gold that’s put to use more gold begets out with't! within ten year it will make itself
ten, which is a goodly increase; and the principal itself not much the worse.
Compare Venus and Helena as they solicit a kiss:
Venus and Adonis All’s Well
And all is but to rob thee of a kiss. I . . .
Rich preys make true men thieves. . . . . . . like a timorous thief, most fain would steal
What law does vouch mine own. . . .
Strangers and foes do sunder, and not kiss.
Compare Venus and a French Lord on life’s imperfect mixtures:
Venus and Adonis All’s Well
And therefore hath she brib’d the Destinies The web of our life is of a mingled yarn,
To cross the curious workmanship of Nature, good and ill together
To mingle beauty with infirmities,
And pure perfection with impure defeature. . . .
There are many other verbal likenesses, among them:
Venus and Adonis All’s Well
Dedication: 5-6: 1.3.44-45:
I shall . . . never after eare so barren a land, He that ears my land . . . gives me leave to
for fear it yeeld me still so bad a harvest inn the crop
Sick-thoughted Venus [Helen’s] eye is sick on’t
his . . . palm, takes all livelihood from her cheek
The president of pith and livelihood
[Mars’s] drum Great Mars . . . ,
. . . I shall prove
A lover of thy drum
Titan . . . , the horses of the sun shall bring
With burning eye . . . , Their fiery torcher his diurnal ring
Wishing Adonis had his team to guide
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock the pin-buttock, the quatch buttock, the
And from her twining arms . . . Spending his manly marrow in her arms,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . Which should sustain the bound and high curvet
Away he springs, and hasteth to his horse . . . Of Mars’s fiery steed
The strong-neck’d steed
[and 142, “marrow,” 219, “fiery”]
he starts at stirring of a feather every feather starts you
that hard heart of thine, heart too capable
Hath taught them scornful tricks Of every line and trick
the lamp that burns by night “Let me not live,” quoth he,
Dries up his oil to lend the world his light “After my flame lacks oil. . . .”
full of forged lies swear the lies he forges
the merciless and pitchy night the pitchy night
she humbly doth insinuate; the mere word’s a slave
Tells him of trophies, statues, tombs Debosh’d on every tomb, on every grave
A lying trophy
Upon the wide wound that the boar had his cicatrice . . . on his sinster cheek; it was
trench’d this very sword entrench’d it
She bows her head, the new-sprung flow’r If thou beest yet a fresh uncropped flower
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
She crops the stalk. . . .
What likelier purpose could all of these recollections serve than that of the poet’s signalling a new artistic beginning created out of an old one, to correspond with the patron’s embarkation upon a new life?
All’s Well retells the
story of Venus and Adonis after a
tumultuous decade for Southampton, who would see the original narrative
for him appropriately and therefore drastically revised. After flirting
disaster himself, he might welcome the transformation of the comic
a story in which all’s well that ends well.
last play that Shakespeare had
Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none. Be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
Under thy own life's key. Be check’d for silence,
But never tax'd for speech.
We soon learn
that Helena loves Bertram,
but sees him as “a bright particular star . . . above [her] sphere,” as
she had heard Polonius tell Ophelia, “Hamlet is a prince out of thy
1.1.86-9; Ham 2.2.141). The difference in rank will
matter for the young Frenchwoman, because she is shrewd and
despite social protocols, the countess of Rossillion desires
Hamlet continues to
appear in All’s Well beyond the
comedy’s first scene, and not just in the names of characters mentioned
dramas. In both plays we hear of wrongdoers whipped or escaping
horses being wagered, of “woodcocks”
being caught, of “tragedians,”
nowhere else in Shakespeare) of the game of “hoodman-blind,” to which
is actually subjected.
From Venus and Adonis, then, to Hamlet, from a mythical-comical-tragical-pastoral poem to a historical-comical-tragical play, and through lyrics, histories, comedies, and tragedies that fell in between, Shakespeare ranged for material of his own that would help him construct All’s Well that Ends Well. His remembrance, however, would have been drastically incomplete, on his own and on Southampton’s behalf, had it not included the written remains of Robert Southwell, which had occasioned so much of what Shakespeare had wished to say to himself and to his patron. The hidden conversation between Shakespeare and the earl often concerned religion, with Southwell’s words and thoughts the medium of exchange. Shakespeare’s part of the dialogue continued in All’s Well, and through the same means.
Well, as in many of his
other works (The Comedy of Errors, The
Merchant of Venice, and Measure
for Measure, for example), Shakespeare introduces into an
secular narrative source a surprisingly large number of religious
Usually the additions can be shown to serve specific purposes; but in All’s
Well they might seem particularly gratuitous. Why are there
appeals to the
remote power of “heaven” in explaining the King’s cure, when the
curative force of earthly medicine would seem sufficient for a story
becomes religious in itself? Why are there allusions to contemporary
conflicts between Papists and Protestants in a drama set in Catholic
All’s Well 1.1.82-98 MMFT
My imagination 64r: imagination
Carries no favor in't but Bertram's. 64v: favour
I am undone, there is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. 'Twere all one
That I should love a bright particular star 61v: starres . . . Sphers
And think to wed it, he is so above me. 64v: I must be contented to . . . take
In his bright radiance and collateral light down my desires to farre meaner hopes,
Must I be comforted, not in his sphere. sith former favors are now too high
The ambition in my love thus plagues itself marks for me . . .O my eyes why are you
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . so ambitious . . . ? He is now too bright
’Twas pretty . . . a sunne for so weake a sight
To see him every hour, to sit and draw
[His likeness] In our heart’s table. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . My idolatrous fancy 58v: fansies
Must sanctify his reliques. 66r: sanctified.
Marie too knew of “loves ambition” (MMFT, 28v). Without her Lord, she said, who was the “life of her soule. . . , any other life would be death” (cf. “no living, none, if Bertram be away”). The image of her love Marie “had limm’d in her heart,” a “Table” which she feared to break, and to which she had entrusted the last “relique” of her happiness (MMFT 5r; and 13v: “it is all one”).
of the most painful moments in All’s Well is that
in which the newly
All’s Well 3.2.100-14: EC
. . . no wife!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Poor Lord, is’t I
That chase thee from thy country, and expose 46r: exiled from her native country . . .
Those tender limbs of thine to the event 40r: venture life and limme; 48r: if a
Of the none-sparing war? And is it I younge spouse tenderlye affected, and
That drive thee from the sportive court . . . deeplye enamoured upon her new husbande
. . .to be the mark see him assaulted by . . . enemyes . . . , what
Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers, a multitude of frightful passions oppresse
That ride upon the violent speed of fire, her . . . Of every gun that is discharged, she
Fly with false aim, move the still-[piecing] air feareth that the pellet hath hitt his bodye. . . .
That sings with piercing, do not touch my Lord. 45v-46r: with so many perils is our breast
Whoever shoots at him, I set him there; assaulted . . . [our soul] exiled like a caytive
Whoever charges on his forward breast, (also: 49v: warre 43r: dryven; 51r:
I am the caitiff that do hold him to’t disporte; 37v: marke; 41v: fire; 37r-v: my
Lorde . . . touchinge; 40r: I set him)
Helena and Southwell both present themselves as physicians, one of the body, the other of the soul; they both risk “vildest torture” and the loss of their lives to perform their service (AW 2.1.174); and they speak of their work in closely parallel terms.
All’s Well 1.3.221-25, 242-45 Southwell
my father left me some prescriptions EC, 89r: prescript
Of rare and prov’d effects, such as his reading EC, 82r, 86v: rare . . . proofe . . . effectes
And mainfest experience had collected EC, 88v, 90r: manifestly . . . experience
For general sovereignty; and that he will’d EC, 85v: some medicines . . . have a generall
me and common force aga[i]nst all [diseases]
In heedfull’st reservation to bestow them. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
There’s something in’t EF, 5-6: I have . . . brought . . . medicinable
More than my father’s skill, which was the receipts. . . . I have studied maladies and
greatest medicines. . . . and make you a present of my
Of his profession, that his good receipt profession. . . . EC, 87r: these [miracles]
Shall for my legacy be sanctified surpass the habilitye of any creature. .
To the King’s
initial refusal of
He that of greatest works is finisher
Oft does them by the weakest minister:
So holy writ in babes hath judgment shown,
When judges have been babes. . . .
Southwell the physician of souls is also a Daniel come to judgment:
My desire is that my drugs may cure you. . . . Despise not . . . the youth of your son, neither deem that God measureth his endowments by number of years. . . . Daniel, the most innocent infant, delivered Susanna from the iniquity of the judges. . . . God revealeth to little ones that which he conceals from the wisest sages (EF, 5-6).
It is not just
Helena who benefits from
Shakespeare’s recollection of Southwell. In his weakness, the brooding
feels that his “flame lacks oil”
(AW 1.2.59); Southwell
had used the same image (EC, 56v:
“the oyle, to
nourishe and feede his flame”). When the monarch is
restored to health,
his deficiencies turn into a superflux (as he sees it) of creative
can create” a new
Both the piety of Lafew and the irreverence of the clown Lavatch draw forms of expression from Southwell’s prose. Lafew states his belief in miracles, for example, in lines that might have come from the Epistle of Comfort:
All’s Well 2.3.1-6: EC, 82r, 86v, 88v:
They say miracles are past, and we have our Philosophers . . . went about to compasse
philosophical persons, to make modern and our faith in their bare reason . . . God [is]
familiar, things supernatural and causeless. the only author of these supernatural
Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, effectes . . . to doubte whether these
ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, [contemporary] miracles be true . . . is
when we should submit ourselves to an only to allow that whereof our owne
unknown fear. sight and sense doth acertaine us (and 169r-v:
submit themselves unto . . . feare . . .
In a bit of verbal sparring with Lafew and the countess (AW 4.5. 20-55), Lavatch has a mouth full of the bible. He is, he says, “no great Nebuchadnezzar,” for he has “not much skill in grass” (with a pun on “grace”; cf. Daniel 4:28-30). He serves the “prince of darkness, alias the devil . . . , the prince of the world” (cf. Ephesians 6:12). Yet in clownish inconsistency he claims to be “for . . . the narrow gate” that leads to heaven, not “for the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and the great fire” (cf. Matt. 7:13-14). These biblical allusions came together easily for Shakespeare, because they are all near one another in Southwell’s Epistle of Comfort: “grace”; “Nabuchodonozor’s image”; “the prince of darcknesse . . . the princes and powers . . . of the worlde of this darcknesse”; “lowe is our waye . . . to heaven. . . . the wide waye . . . onlye leadeth to perdition. . . . The path to heaven is narrowe” (EC, 52r; 54r; 43v, 49v; 52v-53r). The Epistle may even help to explain how Lavatch got his name. After writing again of Nebuchadnezzar and the “narrowe . . . waye, that leadeth to lyfe” (EC, 149v, 146v), Southwell says of Catholic martyrs: “Well may they be called, the neat or kine of the church . . . , feeding uppon grasse and wilde hearbes unfitt for mans eatinge [to] turne them into sweete mylke . . . for the benefitt of mankinde” (152r). Lavatch the Cow (“neat,” “kine,” “la vache”) and self-styled “prophet” (AW 1.3.58), who claims to have little skill in “grass” or in “grace” (which were phonetically the same) and is averse to suffering in the “flesh” for any kind of principle (AW 1.3.29), feeds only for himself. Thus from Southwell’s perspective he would be an anti-martyr, with a name that suits him with an apt irony.
cacophony of miscellaneous
memories, when added to the other elements that have made All’s
into a “problem play”--its ambiguous tone, its unusual blend of generic
conventions, its perplexing ethic--turns the drama into an
challenge. Shakespeare, if writing it especially, did not write it
for an audience of one. Yet no audience could have been aware of all of
that ends well” is a maxim
often embraced by those who feel the need to forget the failure that
success, or the pain through which happiness is achieved, but who may
have to live in an imperfect oblivion. The play’s psychological realism
competes on such even terms with its folk-tale elements that it is not
an audience to forget the character flaws in the married couple that
qualify (though without wholly undermining) a happy ending. If all is well, it could
have been and may
yet be better, and may be worse. This is a truth of which
“All’s well that ends well”:
this aphorism is another one, “the end justifies the means,” which can
philosophy of ethical adventurousness or of ethical opportunism. Does
Shakespeare accept or renounce such a principle in his play?
Helena lies and manipulates her way to a success that is hard to
especially if she is as “good” as almost everyone in the play believes,
she is as “good for” Bertram as he seems finally, if abruptly, to
yet Helena herself does not “justify” her actions very well.
“Ambitious” in her
love (AW 3.4.5), she believes that she deserves
Bertram: “Who ever
strove / To show her merit, that did miss her love?” (AW
She gains a husband, however, not by “showing” her worth but by using
coercive power of a King, in a ploy whose justice she never questions.
regains Bertram by lying about her death, by persuading a priest to do
same, and by resorting to the bed-trick in which she substitutes
the woman her husband thought he had seduced.
Let us assay our plot, which if it speed,
Is wicked meaning in a lawful deed,
And lawful meaning in a lawful act,
Where both not sin, and yet a sinful fact.
intention (“meaning”) may be
“wicked” yet “lawful,” since he intends adultery but in having
his wife does not physically commit it. The civil law is concerned here
behavior, not intentions (a point of importance in the much more richly
casuistical Measure for Measure). Religious law,
however, does consider
intention in defining the morality of an act. Adultery may be committed
“heart” alone (Matt. 5:28-29), and Bertram is guilty of it. It is not
then, that “both” do “not sin.” Indeed, a theologian might convict
If faults matter in the play, however, they do not matter utterly. The unsavory melancholy and cynicism of the clown is tolerated by the countess, who does not like him but keeps him in her employ. Though “honesty be no puritan,” Lavatch insists, it will “do no hurt”; pure perfection, he implies, would do hurt, and a less radical goodness does well to temporize with the ideal, as even proud puritans do with the authorities over the “surplice” (AW 1.3.93-95). No one gainsays him or provides a confuting example. Higher on the scale of iniquity is Parolles, who is shallow, posturing, deceitful, and corrupting, guilty of personal and political treason. He raises laughs, unintentionally, but has little wit to cover his multitude of sins. Yet even the Lord Dumaine, whom he slanders, says with a generosity at least partially ingenuous that he begins to “love” Parolles,” and finds that “rarity redeems him” (AW 4.3.262, 274). What saves Parolles, in fact, is his stripping down to essentials: “Simply the thing I am / Shall make me live” (AW 4.3.333-34). He is “simply” a fool, but has to be even more simply a man to be so, and Lafew’s contemptuous anger toward him after the knave’s humiliation changes to pity: “though you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat” (AW 5.2.53-54).
No one in the
play but Helena herself
believes that she needs to be forgiven for anything. She herself feels
when she learns that Bertram has fled from “the dark house and the
wife” to a war that may kill him: “Whoever shoots at him, I set him
(2.3.292, 3.2.90-129). Her sense of guilt, however, does not survive
penitential pilgrimage that she makes, perhaps not to Compostela as she
announced, but certainly to Bertram’s
a man noble without generosity, and young without truth; who marries Helen as a coward, and leaves her as a profligate: when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks home to a second marriage, is accused by a woman whom he has wronged, defends himself by falsehood, and is dismissed to happiness.
critic’s grievances against
I cannot reconcile my heart to Helen: a woman who pursues and captures, not once but twice, a man who doesn’t want her; uses trickery in order to force herself on him sexually; and finally consolidates her hold on her husband to a chorus of universal approbation.
actress may considerably
lessen the severity of such a judgment (Angela Down managed to do so in
Moshinsky’s BBC production) but cannot suppress it entirely.
All’s Well may be read,
however, as though Shakespeare, characteristically,
wishes in this play to solicit mercy especially
when granting it seems
most shocking to a conventional or complacent moral sense, as in the
Bertram. The playwright changes Boccaccio’s Beltramo into his own
ways that make the young count of Rossillion seem unforgiveable. There
nothing in the Decameron like Bertram’s ugly
descent, in the play’s
final scene, into suave arrogance, false remorse, self-interested
desperate lying, and slanderous abuse. And yet Bertram is “dismissed
happiness” anyway--or rather, into the “hope” of happiness, since the
ending is deliberately made to appear provisional: “All yet
says the King, “and if it end so meet, / The bitter
past, more welcome
is the sweet” (5.3.333-34; emphasis added). Bertram’s words of
terse and few; he does not say or do enough to conform to the
stereotype of the
prodigal who is forgiven because of his ostentatious compunction.
is forgiven not so much because of what he has become but because of
may, but will not necessarily, be; and thus he is shown the most
would say, irresponsible) kind of mercy. The ending of All’s
not, then, reveal an inept Shakespeare, hastily closing down a play
failing, or a cynical Shakespeare, debunking comic formulas on which he
relied for too long,
a radical Shakespeare, advancing a long-held and deeply felt ethic.
vision was embodied not only in the playwright’s “comedies of
which Measure for Measure with all of its
resemblances to All’s Well
in situation and theme would prove the most notable example--but in Venus
a clear prototype of All’s
Well and the first poem that
Shakespeare dedicated to the earl of
In All’s Well, however, the future is more an hypothesis than a vision, and it cannot escape its origins. As Helena and Bertram, the new generation, strain toward independence, they are tied to the past that created them. Helena claims to have forgotten her father, but her ambition would have come to nothing without the gift of knowledge she had received from him; and that ambition, of course, is nothing else than to marry the man presented to her by her childhood. She is a young (not a “new”) woman, intelligent and aggressive, who makes use of the “old” institution of wardship to achieve her great desire, and is comforted and abetted by her elders. The King is indebted to the young, but he is suspicious of new ways that he believes lack the authentic nobility of the old ones, which was evident in the greatness of the dead count of Rossillion. If Bertram is to be saved, it is by being brought back into conformity with the ideals of his father and mother, and thus made worthy of the “blood” he has inherited. Such is the power of the past in Shakespeare’s story, and its influence makes “all end well,” if the play provides an acceptable meaning for each of these terms.
As we have
seen, however, the tale itself
is also an accumulation of memories woven like a “mingled yarn” out of
history that has left traces of itself in literature. These copious
are of several kinds. Some are surely the inevitable repetitions of a
cannot forget all that he has said when he ventures to say something
seem deliberately to recreate the “Shakespeare” who wrote works “for”
Southampton: poems or plays that fulfilled in a general way a promise
dedicate “all” to a patron and friend; or, like Venus and
Adonis, Lucrece, Julius
and Sonnet 107, that spoke to
Southampton’s situation or state of mind. Others are reminiscences of
Southwell, the dead Jesuit whose legacy Shakespeare held onto
spite of the many reasons he had to resist or forswear it. What is the
this kind of “past” as it exhibits itself in a play with special
insofar as it had not vanished,
had become what
past-made-present was also Robert
Southwell, spokesman for the Old Faith that would never cease to
Jesuit cousin of Shakespeare and Southampton had challenged both men
before All’s Well was written. Shakespeare
inscribed the Jesuit’s words
on his “heart’s table” and would not erase them. Southwell was present
and Adonis and Lucrece when those poems
The other part of Southwell’s message that the play recalled was the uncompromising commandment, “seeke not . . . good by evill” (EC, 53r). As already suggested, All’s Well that Ends Well tests the principle that the end may justify the means and stops short of endorsing it. Shakespeare emphasizes forgiveness rather than acquittal. And yet, if forgiveness is granted generously and promiscuously, the rigorous axiom that ends may not justify means seems mitigated. When forgiveness is the end, who is to say that all does not end well? Not Robert Southwell himself.
Notes to Chapter 5
. See Kerrigan, ed., Shakespeare: The Sonnets and a Lover’s Complaint, 313-20; Evans, ed., The Sonnets, 216-17; Duncan-Jones, ed., Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 21-24, 324.
. If “my true love” is interpreted as “the one whom I love” (the person who “looks fresh”), the “confined doom” would mean the loved one’s imprisonment. In 1603-4, this would more likely refer to
. Evans (217) notes other reminiscences of Hamlet in the sonnet, concentrated in the first scene: for example, “the most high and palmy state” (1.1.113; cf. “this most balmy time” ); “the moist star . . . / Was sick almost to eclipse” (1.1.118-20; cf. “mortal moon hath her eclipse endur’d” ); “the like precurse of fear’d events, / As harbingers preceding still the fates / And the prologue of the omen coming on” (1.1.121-23: cf. “presage” , “fears . . . [of] things to come” [1-2], “prophetic soul” and “augurs” [1,6]).
. MacDonald P. Jackson’s recent stylometric studies of the Sonnets, building upon the work of other scholars, has led him to the conclusion that most of the poems were written later than is usually assumed, “at least . . . three years” after the period 1593-1596. This fact,
The Sonnets, whatever their dates, should not be read naively. It is hard to imagine how either the countess of
. Dating All’s Well is difficult, but the more persuasively argued educated guesses place it ca. 1603-4, preceding Measure for Measure. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor believe, mainly on the basis of stylistic tests, that All’s Well is the later play, and suggest 1604-5 (A Textual Companion, 126-27).
. Akrigg, Southampton, 256. In Romeo and Juliet, the “county”
. Akrigg, Southampton, 50-51.
. Akrigg, Southampton, 134-35.
. On the Touchstone-Lavatch parallels, see Price, The Unfortunate Comedy, 147, 153.
. All’s Well that Ends Well, 30. See also, among other studies, Bradbrook, “Virtue is the True Nobility: A Study of the Structure of All’s Well that Ends Well,” 290; Warren, “Why Does It End Well?
. Hamlet 2.2.529-30, All’s Well 2.2.50-56; Hamlet 5.2.147-48, All’s Well 2.3.59; Ham 1.3.115, All’s Well 4.1.90; Hamlet 2.2.238, All’s Well 4.3.267; Hamlet 3.4.77, All’s Well 4.3.118; Hamlet 3.2.155-58, All’s Well 2.1.161-167; Hamlet 1.3.50, All’s Well 4.5.54-55; All’s Well 2.3.1-3, Hamlet 1.5.166-67. Cf. also “the table of my memory” (Hamlet 1.5.98) and “draw . . . In our heart’s table” (All’s Well 1.1.93-95); “man and wife is one flesh” (Hamlet 4.3.52) and “He that comforts my wife is the cherisher of my flesh and blood” (All’s Well 1.3.44-45); “in the cap of youth” (Hamlet 4.7.77) and “in the cap of the time” (All’s Well 2.1.53); “when honor’s at the stake” (Hamlet 4.4.56) and “honor’s at the stake” (All’s Well 2.3.149); “take him in the purging of his soul” (Hamlet 3.3.85) and “took him at’s prayers” (All’s Well 2.5.41-42); “the woundless air” (Hamlet 4.1.44) and “the still-piecing [i.e., “constantly closing itself up again] air” (All’s Well 3.2.110 and Riverside note); “some enterprise / That hath a stomach in it” (Hamlet 1.1.99-100) and “you have a stomach, to’t . . . , in the enterprise” (All’s Well 3.6.64-67).
. See above, Chapter 2, note 31.
. This part of the Funeral Teares Shakespeare had recalled in some detail in composing A Midsummer Night’s Dream 5.1.90-105. See Chapter 1, above.
. “The still-[piecing] air” recalls a line from the Wisdom of Solomon, 5.12: “like an arrowe . . . whose tracte the ayre sodaynlye closeth”--which Southwell quotes in EC, 117r.
. In the stichomythic exchange between Lafew and Parolles that follows All’s Well 2.3.6, the textual parallels continue.
All’s Well 2.3 EC
learned and authentic fellows grave and authenticall authors
a novelty to the world to the worldes . . . noveltyes
23-24: 88v, 93v:
a heavenly effect in an earthly actor God the onlye author of these supernatural effectes;
. On these and other allusions to the bible in All’s Well, see Shaheen, Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays. Shaheen notes that among all of the Tudor and Stuart translations, only the Catholic Rheims (like Southwell) has the “narrow” gate, all others reading “straite” (279). The “flowery” way to perdition (as also in Hamlet 1.3.47-50 and Macbeth 2.3.18-19) is extra-biblical; but note Southwell’s “If the way had bene besett . . . with flowers” (EC, 54r).
. In the Humble Supplication, Southwell turns martyr-quellers into kine and the martyrs into their food: “We are made . . . common forage for all hungry Cattle” (see 43-44).
Of many other verbal parallels between the play and Southwell’s works, the following might be noted:
All’s Well Southwell
1.3.25-6: “The Complaint of the B. Virgin . . .,” 64:
barnes are blessings blessed barne
1.3.217: EC, 29v:
But riddle-like lives sweetly where she dies! Sampsons ridle . . .out of the stronge issued
2.1.171: HS, 41:
a divulged shame devulged . . . shame
2.3.44: EC, 29r:
Mort du vinaigre by his [Christ’s] vinagre and gall . . . , by
his . . .death
2.3.163: EC, 129v, 131r, :
staggers and the careless lapse carelesse . . . lapsed . . . stagger
2.3.195-99: MMFT, 25r:
Count’s master is of another style . . . so many proofes would persuade thee
I must tell thee, sirrah, I write man; to . . . unworthy of that stile, and we can
which title age cannot bring thee afford thee no better title then a Woman
4.3.71: “Times goe by turnes,” 10:
The web of our life is of a mingled yarn [Fortune’s] Loome doth weave the fine and coursest webbe
4.3.90: MMFT, 24v:
parcels of dispatch parcell . . . dispatcheth
4.3.182-86: HS, 33:
answer to the particular of the Interrogatories . . . answer . . . Some are
inter’gatories . . . he was whipt whipped
. Susan Snyder examines the implications of every word in the play’s title, including the suggestion that end justifies means. See the Introduction to her edition of All’s Well, 49-51.
. On the disputes over Helena’s character and what she finally does or does not deserve, see the critical history of the play given in Price, The Unfortunate Comedy, 75-129.
. Maurice Hunt believes that Shakespeare had Helena make a pilgrimage first to Spain (where she “persuades the priest of St. Jaques to write Bertram of her ‘death,’”) and has her discover Bertram by accident later as she wanders into Florence, a place now associated with her husband, without expecting to find him there (Shakespeare’s Religious Allusiveness, 59). Such an interpretation makes it difficult to understand why
. Snyder, ed., All’s Well that Ends Well, 27-30
. Robert Gans Hunter’s study, Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness, insists too strongly that the quality of mercy is constrained by the sinner’s need to conform to a penitential formula. Shakespeare is often faulted for giving Bertram, as well as Angelo in Measure for Measure, too little to say to make repentance convincing. Are, however, all the rhetorically more copious penitents of Marston’s Malcontent (with which Measure for Measure is often compared) more, or less plausible in their conversions?
. Anne Barton, in her Introduction to Measure for Measure in the Riverside Shakespeare, suggests that at this stage in his career, Shakespeare seems to have become “disillusioned with that art of comedy which, in the past, had served him so well.”
. See Klause, “Venus and Adonis: Can We Forgive Them?”
|Copyright © John Klause 2013.|