Sh, Earl, Jesuit


Oxquarry Books


Acknowledgments Introduction








Bibliography  Index   


John Klause


All’s Well that Ends Well


Is it true, as Sidney might have said, that Shakespeare “never lieth” because he “nothing affirmeth”? Shakespeare did, in fact, affirm some things. The author of Lucrece professed to the earl of Southampton, “What I have done is yours, what I have to doe is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.” How sincere were the asseveration and the promise? The poet himself, in Sonnet 115, acknowledged that “Time” might “Creep in ’twixt vows, and . . . blunt the sharp’st intents”; but blunted intents are initially real. Shakespeare may have meant to write for his patron into an indefinite future. Few scholars, however, have looked for signs that he did. It is more usual to speculate about a moment or moments of rupture between the two men (as may be signaled, for example in the Sonnets) and to guess when and why they might have occurred. Akrigg, the most consulted of Southampton’s biographers, imagined that Shakespeare left his patron’s service well-rewarded in mid-1594 and soon felt that the “bloom was off . . . the relationship.” Still “involved emotionally” with the young earl, the poet became “increasingly critical” of him over several years, registered complaints in sonnets that were never shown to their addressee, and by 1599 “felt intensely a break in the friendship.” Estranged from Southampton before the Essex Rebellion, Shakespeare “sought to renew his friendship” with the earl after King James pardoned and released the imprisoned traitor, Sonnet 107 being the poet’s olive branch. Terms of affability were re-established and maintained until the publication, in 1609, of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, whose unflattering suggestions about the earl led him to “terminate” the relationship.[1] This narrative is hardly definitive, but it has the virtue of assuming that Shakespeare’s writing for or about his patron and “friend” may have continued after the brief public notices in Venus and Lucrece of the poet’s dedication and the dedicatee’s acceptance.

Sonnet 107, which scholarly opinion now with greater and greater assurance dates at the beginning of the reign of King James,[2] has no likelier purpose than to celebrate the earl of Southampton’s release from imprisonment at the new monarch’s ascension:

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.


The “mortal moon,” Elizabeth, has died and left behind her tyrant’s crest; despite fears and prophecies that her death would result in civil war, a new “age” of peace has been inaugurated; the balm that anointed a new ruler at his crowning has with its drops given “fresh” life to one whose “confined doom” had threatened forfeiture of love and life.[3] As well as looking forward, the poet looks back to “fears” and misguided prophecies--and, perhaps hoping that Southampton will remember Hamlet, quotes from the Prince himself, “O my prophetic soul” (1.5.40).[4] A sense is given of a recent encounter: “My love looks fresh”; and the poet is writing for his friend again: “thou in this shalt find thy monument.”[5]

We need not assume that the new writing ended with this poem. Looking at the plays that Shakespeare produced soon after Southampton’s enfranchisement, we might wonder if he had decided to repeat but radically transform in drama what he had done in his “dedicated” poems, paying new tributes by recalling old ones, as well as subjecting to revised analysis persistent issues that time and circumstance had cast in a new light. The first of these plays is All’s Well that Ends Well.[6]

Akrigg suggested a number of ways in which Shakespeare could have had Southampton in mind when fashioning the character of Bertram, count of Rossillion. Twice in All’s Well the playwright “slips” and calls the count an “earl” (3.5.12, 18). As was the young Southampton, Rossillion is a royal ward who resists an arranged marriage. In Ireland, Essex appointed Southampton General of the Horse; in Italy, the Duke of Florence makes Bertram “general of our horse” (3.3.1).[7] Other connections of the play to Southampton, none of which originates in the source-tale written by Boccaccio, may be noted. The earl’s eagerness for military service abroad in the mid-1590’s, frustrated by Elizabeth when she forbade his soldiering in France and Spain, may be reflected in Bertram’s hunger for the “brave wars” in Tuscany and the King of France’s refusal to allow him to join his comrades’ expedition  (the young Rossillion’s angry sense that he is kept from the wars to be “forehorse to a smock” [2.1.30] was probably shared by Southampton); and Southampton’s later disobedience to the Queen, when in Ireland he accepted the generalship of the horse against her orders, foreshadowed Bertram’s flouting the commands of his King.[8] Southampton’s brother-in-law, Thomas Arundel, was another soldier who sought glory in wars on the Continent. He fought for the Emperor Rudolf against the Turks, and in one battle managed to wrest away the Turkish banner with his own hands.[9] His courage defined by negation the cowardice of Parolles, who failed to recapture his regiment’s drum. Southampton’s private as well as his public life seems to have offered Shakespeare ideas for his play. All’s Well features a countess who ignores rules of social hierarchy in desiring a match between her son and a physician’s daughter, just as Mary, countess of Southampton, violated such protocols in (perhaps) choosing an early lover and, to a lesser extent, a third husband. The non-fictional countess was of course in the position of receiving as her daughter-in-law her son’s bride, Elizabeth Vernon, who though a cousin of Essex, was far beneath her son in rank and wealth, and whom the countess had to be persuaded to accept. Vernon’s ultimate claim on Southampton was her pre-marital pregnancy; Helena’s on Bertram, her post-nuptial pregnancy.[10] Helena’s case had its model in The Decameron, and only obliquely in Southampton’s life; but a playwright may often choose a narrative source because it already provides him with much of, if never exactly, what he wants to say.

These correspondences are intriguing; but All’s Well is most strikingly relevant to Southampton’s life in its central concern with the meaning and significance of “merit.” After his conviction and imprisonment, Henry Wriothesley lost not only his freedom, but his honor, his title, and his wealth. He was reduced to a “nothing” out of which King James was able to create him anew: he became again earl of Southampton (with the precedence due to his former status), wealthy through crown-granted monopoly, honored in royal circles, restored to authority in his territories, given new offices and power.[11] The King of France in All’s Well self-confidently (and self-consciously) declared at length that “Virtue” was authentic merit, that “Good alone, is good, without a name” and should be judged by its property or essence, “Not by the title.” Yet like King James he believed in his power to create “honor” ex nihilo: Of Helena he tells Bertram “If thou canst like this creature as a maid, / I can create the rest. Virtue and she / Is her own dower; honor and wealth from me. . . . / It is in us to plant . . . honor where / We please to have it grow” (2.3.128-57). The play is about Helena’s elevation, not in virtue, but in “honor,” by royal fiat. In witnessing it, Southampton could not miss the parallel with his own situation. It is wrong, then, simply to see the earl shadowed in the count of Rossillion, whose shortcomings could offend Southampton only if attached allegorically to him. Shakespeare’s purposes in the play, which are in part biographical without being allegorical, will not sustain naive readings.

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 Well (LLL 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” in her idolatrous worship of Bertram, her “sun” (LLL 4.3.218-24; AW 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 sworn against religion, / But what thou swear’st against the thing thou swear’st.” 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 4.1.12; AW 4.5.6). Shylock tells us that some persons “are mad if they behold a cat”; 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 like his predecessor a great scene in which the truth about him is exposed; before it he contemplates giving himself “some hurts” as Falstaff had done, and saying that he “got them in exploit” (1HIV 2.4.261-2, 309-11; AW 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, and the cares of it, and  the forms of it”; Captain Parolles, self-proclaimed “militarist,” professes to know the wars, “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 king that the cause of war in France is “just” and the “quarrel honorable,” still harbors doubts: “if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning” (HV 4.1.127-35). In All’s Well, a French Lord assures the Duke of Florence, though with a qualifying “seems”: “Holy seems the quarrel / Upon your Grace’s part; black and fearful on the opposer” AW 3.1.4-6). The arch-realist Cassius in Julius Caesar famously observes: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves that we are underlings” (JC 1.2.140-41). In this sentiment he is echoed by Helena: “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, / Which we ascribe to heaven” (AW 1.1.216-17). As You Like It’s Touchstone is a “courtly jester who goes to the country” whereas Lavatch, in All’s Well, is a “country clown who is sent to Court.” Touchstone “woos a country maiden and decides to wed her.” Lavatch “loses interest in his country maiden and forsakes her after he has been to Court,” all the while displaying features of other Shakespearean clowns who season plays with the spice of wit, melancholy, and cynicism.[12]  The final remedy that Helena chooses in order to win over her husband includes her pretending to die. This ruse was not in Boccaccio’s tale but invented by Shakespeare, who had already used it in Much Ado about Nothing.

The resonance 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 Sonnets’ 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 Helena, a provincial gaining entrée to court circles by virtue of a rare skill, forming passionate attachments “beyond his sphere.” Like Helena he seems to have encountered a variable welcome, as the sonnets addressed to the Young Man indicate. The minutiae of class and caste are detailed with exquisite knowledge in All’s Well. Moreover, in both Helena and the poet of the sonnets social barriers are interiorised as moral dilemmas.[13]

Helena receives from her prototype in the Sonnets an interiority, private thoughts and anguish, that she tries at times to keep hidden, a self-abnegation coexisting with tactical self-seeking and self-defense, a willingness to dissemble to gain her ends. Like the Sonnets’ poet she loves a “lascivious boy,” filled with “Lascivious grace” (AW 4.3.220; Sonnet 40.13), whose lovableness must be (like Helena’s “honor”) created if it is to exist. As if to emphasize affiliations, the language of the Sonnets is often reproduced in the play. In Sonnet 36, for example, the poet reflects on the social proscriptions that make love between “unequals” almost impossible to acknowledge and tells his friend, do not “with public kindness honor me, / Unless thou take that honor from thy name. / But do not so . . .” (11-13). The King in All’s Well uses the same simple words in urging Bertram to ignore social inequalities:

                                                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” (31.6, 105.1); Helena’s love, “Religious in [her] error,” is bred of “idolatrous fancy” (AW 1.3.205; 1.1.97). The echoes are not accidental, for there are too many more of them to allow for accident:

                   Sonnets                                                                    All’s Well
6.13-14:                                                                3.4.16:
                        thou art much too fair                   He is too good and fair for death and me
To be death's conquest
13.14                                                                    1.1.17-18:                                                  
You had a father, let your son say so                    This young gentlewoman had
                                                                                            a father--O, that “had
24:                                                                        1.1.93-95
                                    stell’d                               draw [his beauteous features] In our heart’s
Thy beauty's form in table of my heart;                                        table
27.5-6:                                                                  3.4.4-11
            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
31.9-10:                                                                2.3.138-39:
                   the grave . . .                                                         on every grave
Hung with the trophies                                         A lying trophy
42:                                                                        1.3.46-50:
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.
64.13-14:                                                               1.3.214-16:                                    
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        
115:                                                                       3.4.18,21:
                       blunt the sharp'st intents,                                              what sharp stings . . .
Divert strong minds                                                .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
                                                                             I could well have diverted her intents
129.2-5:                                                                 4.4.24-25                                       
lust in action . . . Is . . .despised . . .                                         so lust doth play          
                                                                             With what it loathes
135.5-6:                                                                 4.3.16-17:
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.”

If Southampton was to notice the Sonnets in the fabric of the play, he was surely to see in it as well the first of Shakespeare’s poetic diptych publicly dedicated to him, Venus and Adonis. Shakespeare found in Boccaccio a source that helped him reprise the motif of a passionate female pursuing much against his will a young man who breaks away from her to give himself to an idealized form of male aggression, Adonis’s hunting, Bertram’s war. The play alludes to the poem not just in its plot but in its conceits and forms of expression. Compare, for example, Venus and Parolles on the unnaturalness (“unkindness”) of virginity:

            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
723-4:                                                                   2.5.80-86:
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
733-36:                                                                      4.3.71-72:
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
5:                                                                           1.3.136:
Sick-thoughted Venus                                            [Helen’s] eye is sick on’t
25-26:                                                                     1.1.51:
            his . . . palm,                                                takes all livelihood from her cheek
The president of pith and livelihood
107:                                                                        3.3.9-11:
[Mars’s] drum                                                        Great Mars . . . ,
                                                                                                . . . I shall prove
                                                                               A lover of thy drum
177-79:                                                                    2.1.161-62:
 Titan . . . ,                                                                  the horses of the sun shall bring
With burning eye . . . ,                                              Their fiery torcher his diurnal ring
Wishing Adonis had his team to guide
298:                                                                         2.2.18-19;
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock                        the pin-buttock, the quatch buttock, the
                                                                               brawn buttock
256-263:                                                                   2.3.281ff:                                                  
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”]
302:                                                                          5.2.232:
he starts at stirring of a feather                                                every feather starts you
500-1:                                                                       1.1.95-96:
            that hard heart of thine,                                             heart too capable
Hath taught them scornful tricks                                Of every line and trick
755-56:                                                                     1.2.58-59:
     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. . . .”
804:                                                                         4.1.23:
full of forged lies                                                     swear the lies he forges
821:                                                                         4.4.24:
the merciless and pitchy night                                  the pitchy night
1012-13:                                                                   2.3.137-39:
            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
1052:                                                                       2.1.43-5:
Upon the wide wound that the boar had                    his cicatrice . . . on his sinster cheek; it was
     trench’d                                                             this very sword entrench’d it
1171-75:                                                                  5.3.327:
She bows her head, the new-sprung flow’r                If thou beest yet a fresh uncropped flower
     to smell,
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
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 written for him appropriately and therefore drastically revised. After flirting with disaster himself, he might welcome the transformation of the comic tragedy into a story in which all’s well that ends well. Helena has become a more respectable Venus, and more cunning, so that she might avoid catastrophe. Like Venus, Helena besieges and retreats from her beloved, but much more subtly, strategically, and successfully. Helena has within her both self-interest and altruism, but she is shrewd enough to believe that they need not be at odds, whereas for Venus, who was both predatory and maternal in her “love,” doubleness led nowhere. Adonis has become Bertram, a young man no longer prepubescent and incompetent, though maintaining some of the boy’s naïveté and petulance; still requiring freedom, but for different reasons; now needing redemption from his own inflexibility, wayward lust, and mendacity; and in a fairy tale ending, Bertram is redeemed. Southampton had escaped being gored by the enemies from whom, Adonis-like, he had rashly courted disaster. Now a married man, “caught” by a woman whom he loved, he could well appreciate the turn of his tale toward marriage. Whatever pressures from Southampton’s family were suggested in Venus have been transformed into the benignant exhortations of the countess of Rossillion. The specter of Burghley, who had tried to force upon Southampton an unwanted match has shaded into the King of France, who tyrannically insists that a young count marry a woman not of his liking; but such a threat was in Southampton’s past, and the play’s monarch, in his new-fashioning of Helena, assumes features of the new King of England who has just remade Henry Wriothesley.

Probably the last play that Shakespeare had meant Southampton to see before the ill-fated Essex Rebellion was Hamlet. If All’s Well represented an attempt at large scale recapitulation, reminding the earl of a decade-long relationship in which the poet, on at least some occasions, wrote for his patron works that offered not only entertainment but serious reflection on themes of greater and lesser moment, we should expect that Hamlet would be vividly recalled in the comedy. It is. Readers and audiences have been quick to recognize how from the beginning of All’s Well, Hamlet is brought immediately and almost flagrantly into the picture--but Hamlet, of course, with a difference. All of the mourners in the opening scene are dressed in black, unlike the courtiers in Elsinore, where the young prince is singular in his dark costume. One of the bereaved is a widow, the countess of Rossillion, who speaks of a “second husband,” and is told that she “shall find of the King a husband,” but who, no second Gertrude, remains in her widowhood. Her son, Bertram, will “weep o’er [his] father’s death anew,” but, much more forgetful than Hamlet, never again recalls his dead parent. The King, Bertram’s new guardian, will become the young man’s “father” in a relationship that Hamlet had resisted. Helena, an orphan whom the countess has raised, is urged by Lafew, a king’s counsellor less foolish than Polonius, to control the grief she feels for her dead father: “Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living.”  Lafew sounds like Gertrude and Claudius when they try to persuade Hamlet that the “filial obligation for some term / To do obsequious sorrow” for a dead father should not become “obstinate condolement” (AW 1.1.55-56; Ham 1.2.68-106). Then the widow, like Polonius but more succinctly, gives her son precepts to follow as he leaves (as Laertes left) for Paris:

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 though she had heard Polonius tell Ophelia, “Hamlet is a prince out of thy star” (AW 1.1.86-9; Ham 2.2.141). The difference in rank will not ultimately matter for the young Frenchwoman, because she is shrewd and strong-willed; despite social protocols, the countess of Rossillion desires Helena as a daughter-in-law. Gertrude had wished that Hamlet would marry Ophelia, who was beneath him in rank; but Ophelia, Helena’s opposite, submitted helplessly and without question to the authority of her father when he insisted that stars and spheres be kept separate. Ophelia went mad when her father was killed by her lover; she blurred the distinction between the two men in the song of the Walsingham pilgrim. Helena thinks only of her lover, and after her father’s death she coldly, shockingly remarks, “I think not on my father. . . . What was he like? I have forgotten him” (Ham 4.5. 23-32; AW 1.1.79-82). As if to give a final and comic emphasis to the differences between Ophelia and Helena, near the end of the first scene of All’s Well Parolles denigrates virginity, calls it suicidal, and declares that dead virgins should be buried “out of all sanctified limit”--just as the “churlish priest” in Hamlet protested that Ophelia should have been interred “in ground unsanctified” (AW 1.1.138-40; Ham 5.1.229). Parolles then presses Helena to be “Out with’t! . . . Off with’t. . . . Get thee a good husband” (AW 1.1.146, 154, 214; ). Surely his words are meant to recall Hamlet’s exclamations of opposite tenor to Ophelia: “Get thee to a nunn’ry. . . . we will have no moe marriage” (Ham 3.1.120, 147).

Hamlet continues to appear in All’s Well beyond the comedy’s first scene, and not just in the names of characters mentioned in both dramas. In both plays we hear of wrongdoers whipped or escaping whipping, of horses being wagered, of  “woodcocks” being caught, of  “tragedians,” and (as nowhere else in Shakespeare) of the game of “hoodman-blind,” to which Parolles is actually subjected. Helena’s incantatory speech about the diurnal rounds of the horses of the sun resembles the Player King’s about the annual journey of “Phoebus’ cart.” Lavatch’s “flow’ry way . . . to the great fire” is Ophelia’s “primrose path.” Lafew believes in miracles: “They say miracles are past, and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless.” Hamlet believes in mysteries: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”[14]

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.

In All’s 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 essentially secular narrative source a surprisingly large number of religious references. 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 proximate curative force of earthly medicine would seem sufficient for a story that never becomes religious in itself? Why are there allusions to contemporary religious conflicts between Papists and Protestants in a drama set in Catholic France and Italy? Why is so much biblical religion mouthed by Lavatch, who is in fact comically cynical about religious politics and less than serious about religious doctrine? Has Shakespeare decided to make religion merely entertaining? It may have simply amused many in his audience, but the earl of Southampton would probably have looked more seriously on matters that his personal history had never allowed him to take lightly. Scaramelli, secretary to the Venetian ambassador, reported in 1603 (when All’s Well was in the making) that the “Catholic” Southampton had recently announced a divine touching of his “heart,” that “the example” of the King had now “more weight” with the earl “than the disputes of theologians.”[15]  Southampton’s declaration sounds latitudinarian, but does not suggest a loss of religious seriousness. Whatever his beliefs at this point, he could not have forgotten the religion preached by his kinsman Southwell; and Shakespeare’s nostalgic play provided a lot of Southwell to be recalled.

The character of Helena, as Shakespeare developed her beyond the lightly sketched Giletta of Boccaccio, owes something to the Jesuit’s writing. When the playwright wants his heroine idealized, he recalls Southwell’s description of the sanctified soul. Helena possesses “Youth, beauty, wisdom, courage, all / That happiness and prime can happy call” (AW 2.1.181-2). The saints in heaven, Southwell proclaims, enjoy the “fulnesse of felicity . . . courage . . . , perfect intelligence . . . , bodyes . . . bewteous . . . , alwais in youth . . . and prime of theyr force . . . wisdome . . .  (EC 190v-191v, 194r). When Helena is made to seem less severely perfect, honestly acknowledging to herself her unfilial feelings toward her dead parent--“I think not on my father.  .  .  . I have forgot him”--she falls short of the ideal asserted by Southwell when he addresses his father: “I am not of so unnatural a kind . . . as . . . to forget my secondary maker and author of my being” (AW 1.1.79-82; EF, 3).

 Helena’s soliloquy about the “ambition” in her love seems written out of musings on the same theme by Southwell’s Marie Magdalen:

            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.[16]


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”).

 One of the most painful moments in All’s Well is that in which the newly married Helena asks for a kiss from her new husband and is refused. Marie Magdalen had also been rebuffed when she sought to kiss the resurrected Jesus (“noli me tangere”; MMFT 60v-61v), and her story, as told by Southwell, gave Helena her language of request: “like a timorous thief, [I] most fain would steal / What law does vouch mine own. . . . / Faith, yes: / Strangers and foes do sunder, and not kiss“ (AW 2.5.81-86). Compare, in the Funeral Teares, “timerous . . . stealing . . . theefes”; “recover a right”; “avoucheth” “my interest would averre him to be mine”; “stranger . . . sunder . . . faith . . . kisse” (MMFT 40v-41v; 41r; 43r: 42r; 43v, 48r-v, 51v).

In another solitary meditation, Helena’s fears that Bertram might be wounded in battle have verbal and imagistic precedents in Southwell’s Epistle of Comfort:


            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[17] 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 Helena’s offer to cure him, “Doctor She,” as Lafew calls her, responds by appealing to the example of the young Daniel, wise beyond his years in “judgment,” victor over Susanna’s “judges”:

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. . . .
                                                                                                (AW 2.1.136-39)

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 King 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 power. “I can create” a new Helena, he tells Bertram; “It is in us to plant . . . honor where / We please to have it grow” (AW 2.3.143, 156-7). In his potency he resembles Southwell’s God: “the young grouth of Gods planting should to its glory shewe it selfe”; “if God of a childe that cometh naked out of his mothers wombe . . . , the poorest bratt that is borne in the worlde, can make . . . mightye Emperours . . . , how much more able is he to advaunce the most impotent wretch to a greater dignitye” (EC, 157v and 190r).  Southwell’s words may also lie behind the criticisms leveled against Bertram by his acquaintances: “He hath perverted a young gentlewoman,” one of the Lords observes, “and fleshes his will in the spoil of her honor”; compare “spoyle . . .our flesh . . . perverse . . .honours” (AW 4.3.14-17; EC 42r, 44v-45r, 46r). Parolles, once defeated, will not surrender to despair: “Captain I'll be no more; / But I will eat and drink, and sleep as soft / As captain shall” (AW 4.3.331-3). He thus stands in sharp contrast to David’s Captain, Uriah, whom Southwell offers as a model of heroic virtue: “Urias . . . answered . . . shall I goe into my house to eate, drinke and have the companye of my wyfe . . . ? He thought it, an odious thinge, to have better lodginge than . . . his captaine . . . , to sleepe in a softe bedd” (EC, 27r).

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).[19] 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.[20]

This apparent cacophony of miscellaneous memories, when added to the other elements that have made All’s Well into a “problem play”--its ambiguous tone, its unusual blend of generic conventions, its perplexing ethic--turns the drama into an extraordinary challenge. Shakespeare, if writing it especially, did not write it exclusively, for an audience of one. Yet no audience could have been aware of all of its subterranean echoes. Southampton would have appreciated more of them than anyone else, and he would have been better able than most to understand how (as remains to be demonstrated) so many converged into a unified choric effect. We must ask, of course, whether Shakespeare would have offered this difficult and even troubling work to Southampton in the wake of the devoutly simple celebration voiced in Sonnet 107? The answer is yes, if the earl had the honesty and depth to appreciate the complexities that his own experiences had contributed to it, and if he were willing to acknowledge that in at least two respects, a good ending might not make all well.

“All’s well that ends well” is a maxim often embraced by those who feel the need to forget the failure that precedes success, or the pain through which happiness is achieved, but who may in fact 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 easy for an audience to forget the character flaws in the married couple that might 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 Southampton must have remained aware even in the glow of his new good fortune, and it would have been foolish of Shakespeare to deny it.

 “All’s well that ends well”: lurking behind this aphorism is another one, “the end justifies the means,” which can embody a philosophy of ethical adventurousness or of ethical opportunism. Does Shakespeare accept or renounce such a principle in his play?[21] Helena lies and manipulates her way to a success that is hard to begrudge her, especially if she is as “good” as almost everyone in the play believes, and if she is as “good for” Bertram as he seems finally, if abruptly, to recognize.[22] And 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 1.1.226-27). She gains a husband, however, not by “showing” her worth but by using the coercive power of a King, in a ploy whose justice she never questions. She regains Bertram by lying about her death, by persuading a priest to do the same, and by resorting to the bed-trick in which she substitutes herself for the woman her husband thought he had seduced. Helena assures Diana’s mother that the ruse is “lawful” (AW 3.7.30), but the casuistry she offers in defense of the deed is faulty:

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.
                                                                                                (AW 3.7.44-47)


Bertram’s intention (“meaning”) may be “wicked” yet “lawful,” since he intends adultery but in having intercourse with his wife does not physically commit it. The civil law is concerned here with 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 in the “heart” alone (Matt. 5:28-29), and Bertram is guilty of it. It is not true, then, that “both” do “not sin.” Indeed, a theologian might convict Helena too of sinning, because she suborns Bertram’s transgression.

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).

 Helena had seen through Parolles from the beginning, but decided to “love” him for Bertram’s sake, and saw that his “evils” might find a fit “place” when “virtue’s steely bones / Looks bleak i’ th’ cold wind” (AW 1.1.99-104). Such an unconventional attitude allows the heroine to love Bertram, whose “evils” accumulate alarmingly but never with the direst consequences. Helena is not the only tolerant one. The countess of Rossillion is so infuriated by her son’s behavior toward Helena that at one point she would disown him: “He was my son, / But I do wash his name out of my blood” (AW 3.2.66-67); but not long afterwards, with nothing to spur a change of mind, she is a loving mother again: “Which of them both / Is dearest to me, I have no skill in sense / To make distinction” (3.4.38-40). Bertram’s friends understand that he is guilty of much “blame” and has betrayed himself to “abhorr’d ends”; yet they do not abandon him, making allowances for the “mingled yarn” that constitutes life, “good and ill together” (4.3.6, 23,71-71). In the final scene, the King grants Bertram forgiveness, takes it back, and bestows it again.

No one in the play but Helena herself believes that she needs to be forgiven for anything. She herself feels remorse when she learns that Bertram has fled from “the dark house and the detested wife” to a war that may kill him: “Whoever shoots at him, I set him there” (2.3.292, 3.2.90-129). Her sense of guilt, however, does not survive the penitential pilgrimage that she makes, perhaps not to Compostela as she had announced, but certainly to Bertram’s Florence, where scruples seem forgotten in her energetic attempts to win back her wayward husband.[23] An audience, however, may find much for which to blame her. As early as the eighteenth century, when Dr. Johnson offered his by now notorious censure of Bertram, Charlotte Lennox found Helena “cruel, artful, and insolent.” Johnson could not “reconcile his heart” to Bertram,


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.

A “typical” critic’s grievances against Helena can be summarized (as they have been by Susan Snyder) in Johnson’s rhetorical mold:

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.[24]

A sympathetic actress may considerably lessen the severity of such a judgment (Angela Down managed to do so in Elijah Moshinsky’s BBC production) but cannot suppress it entirely. Helena is not beyond the need for forgiveness. The end does not, at least not entirely, justify the means. A resort to unjustifiable means, however, may be pardoned. There is much in the play to encourage a generous leniency toward Helena: the honesty of her passion; her astringent eloquence in expressing it; the pain she suffers as well as her sorrowful acknowledgment of the pain that she inflicts; the frequent testimony about her “goodness,” and the general sense conveyed by the play that Bertram is a fool to despise her, would do well to accept her, and seems at last to understand his good fortune in being loved by a woman who (as Mariana would say of Angelo) will “crave no other, nor no better man” (MM 5.1.426). In spite of these encouragements, many have refused to pardon Helena. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult and controversial of virtues.

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 case of Bertram. The playwright changes Boccaccio’s Beltramo into his own Bertram in ways that make the young count of Rossillion seem unforgiveable. There is nothing in the Decameron like Bertram’s ugly descent, in the play’s final scene, into suave arrogance, false remorse, self-interested ingratiation, desperate lying, and slanderous abuse. And yet Bertram is “dismissed into happiness” anyway--or rather, into the “hope” of happiness, since the play’s ending is deliberately made to appear provisional: “All yet seems well,” 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 repentance are 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.[25] He is forgiven not so much because of what he has become but because of what he may, but will not necessarily, be; and thus he is shown the most powerful (some would say, irresponsible) kind of mercy. The ending of All’s Well need not, then, reveal an inept Shakespeare, hastily closing down a play that was failing, or a cynical Shakespeare, debunking comic formulas on which he had relied for too long,[26] but a radical Shakespeare, advancing a long-held and deeply felt ethic. This moral vision was embodied not only in the playwright’s “comedies of forgiveness”--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 and Adonis,[27] a clear prototype of All’s Well and the first poem that Shakespeare dedicated to the earl of Southampton. And as the play was staged, what issue could have been more important to the newly pardoned Southampton than mercy that is fully aware of past unworthiness but looks ahead to future deserving?

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 a history that has left traces of itself in literature. These copious vestiges are of several kinds. Some are surely the inevitable repetitions of a poet who cannot forget all that he has said when he ventures to say something new. Some seem deliberately to recreate the “Shakespeare” who wrote works “for” Southampton: poems or plays that fulfilled in a general way a promise to dedicate “all” to a patron and friend; or, like Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Sonnet 107, that spoke to Southampton’s situation or state of mind. Others are reminiscences of Robert Southwell, the dead Jesuit whose legacy Shakespeare held onto tenaciously, in spite of the many reasons he had to resist or forswear it. What is the power of this kind of “past” as it exhibits itself in a play with special meaning for Southampton?

The past, insofar as it had not vanished, had become what Southampton now was. Shakespeare the man and “Shakespeare” the work were not only in Southampton’s mind and heart; they were part of his essential character, not to be removed by ignoring or forgetting. It is not entirely fanciful to speculate that All’s Well implies as much, especially since Shakespeare himself in the dedication to Lucrece, after declaring to Southampton that his “love” was “without end,” spoke to him the language of spiritual sharing: “What I have done is yours, what I have to doe is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.” The writer suggests not only that “you are part of all I have done,” but “what is mine is yours because you are part of me.” The idea of such unity can be mocked in Shakespeare, as it is by Lavatch and the poet of the Sonnets (AW 1.3.44-50; Sonnet 42, 13-14); but the concept is derided only insofar as it can be abused. Some of the doubts about the relationship of Helena and Bertram arise precisely because the couple seem for almost all of the play to have achieved no union of souls. Sharing means “you are part of me,” and also, of course, “I am part of you; what I have done is part of you.” What the poet has “done” is widely advertised in the play, apparently in commemoration, perhaps as a sign of continuing oneness.

The past-made-present was also Robert Southwell, spokesman for the Old Faith that would never cease to importune. The Jesuit cousin of Shakespeare and Southampton had challenged both men long 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 in Venus and Adonis and Lucrece when those poems ushered Southampton into his majority; he was in the play that recovered the years that had served as a prologue to the earl’s new life. In All’s Well as before, Southwell the writer can be seen as a source of literary inspiration; but again, he also seems to stand for something, for a set of ideals as hard and bright as steel that may shine when brought close to heaven’s sun and yet look “bleak i’ th’ cold wind” of an unholy world. Because Shakespeare kept repeating for Southampton this assessment of Southwell’s ideal, it is reasonable to believe that the “worldlings,” nobleman and playwright, were united in their attitude toward it--aware as they were of its hardness, which might either invigorate or crush a spirit, and of its bleak brilliance that confounds the eye of conscience. Southwell would always stand for martyrdom, from which Southampton in 1603 had claimed to have distanced himself more than ever before, placing “king” before “theologians.” Southampton would have laughed at Lavatch, who in the play was the comic opposite of Southwell’s martyred “kine” and an agent of religious satire; but the clown was hardly an ethical model or a privileged voice, and the earl was surely able to see the limitations of Lavatch’s character and point of view. Southampton could leave martyrdom to the martyrs without despising them. Otherwise an utterly incongruous topic in All’s Well, martyrdom must have been alluded to because it belonged to the memories that the play was meant to revive; and the resurrected past was too complex for a simple response.

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

[1]. Akrigg, Southampton, 266-67.
[2]. 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.
[3]. 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 Southampton’s incarceration than to the earl of Pembroke’s brief stay in the Fleet prison in 1601, after his getting Mary Fitton pregnant. If the “love” is the poet’s for his friend, it would wrongly, the poet says, be thought of as unable to survive the separation that a “confined doom” (or imprisonment) created.
[4]. 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” [9]); “the moist star . . . / Was sick almost to eclipse” (1.1.118-20; cf. “mortal moon hath her eclipse endur’d” [5]); “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” [6], “fears . . . [of] things to come” [1-2], “prophetic soul” and “augurs” [1,6]).
[5]. 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, Jackson claims, would make their address to Southampton as an unwilling bridegroom and a “sweet” and “lovely boy” highly unlikely, and their relevance to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, much more plausible. Jackson’s thesis, which relies primarily on the linking of “rare words” in the Sonnets with their counterparts in plays from different chronological periods in Shakespeare’s career, can be challenged on its own terms; but there is not here the space required to offer a detailed refutation. One might in general compare, however, the more sophisticated and more persuasive method that Jackson employs in his study of the authorship of Pericles with his procedures in dating the Sonnets. In his book-length analysis of the play, he combines stylometrics with traditional stylistics, source-study, and other approaches that do not eschew “content.” His almost exclusive concern with vocabulary and rhymes in the pieces on the Sonnets leads him to posit that poems which clearly belong together formally and conceptually are divided from one another by long periods of time. Thus Sonnets 1-17 are divided into separate groups, in which at least six of the poems (2, 6, 8, 11, 13, and 15) seem to be contemporaneous with plays written in the first half of Shakespeare’s career, and at least three poems (3, 4, and 12) seem to have been composed in the last half. By avoiding a discussion of the content of these sonnets, Jackson fails to explain why Shakespeare, after developing a set of poetic arguments that attempt to persuade a young man to marry and beget an heir, would return to the subject (and in the same style) many years later. Nor does Jackson consider that “what is said and meant” in Sonnet 107 (which his statistics suggest was composed in the early seventeenth century) seems much more pertinent in 1603-04 to the situation of Henry Wriothesley than (as even the Pembrokist Katherine Duncan-Jones seems to admit) to that of William Herbert. It was to the earl of Southampton, not the earl of Pembroke, that the author of Lucrece publicly dedicated a “love . . . without end.”
 The Sonnets, whatever their dates, should not be read naively. It is hard to imagine how either the countess of Southampton or the countess of Pembroke would have summoned a lowly poet to her residence with the expectation that he might persuade by his verse a recalcitrant young nobleman to carry out his duty to family and world through marriage and procreation. It is harder still to believe that in the course of (one assumes) such a brief enterprise the poet would fall in love with the aristocratic young man, address him familiarly as his “love” (Sonnet 13; cf. Sonnets 10 and 15), and write him verse letters meant to be read soon after composition. The “biography” that many readers sense in the poems (and with good reason) must surely be embedded deep in fiction; and the dating of sonnet groups, like that of the conventional “three year” relationship suggested in the poems, is no certain way into personal truth. As for the word “boy” in the sonnets, it may be no more literally intended than when applied to the eponymous hero of Coriolanus.
See Jackson, “Rhymes in Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Evidence of Date of Composition”; “Vocabulary and Chronology: The Case of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.” Also, Sarrazin, “Wortechos bei Shakespeare”; Eliot Slater, The Problem of “The Reign of Edward III: A Statistical Approach; Hieatt, Hieatt, and Prescott, “When Did Shakespeare Write Sonnets 1609?”; Duncan-Jones, ed. Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 1-28, 45-69.
[6]. 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).
[7]. Akrigg, Southampton, 256. In Romeo and Juliet, the “county” Paris is referred to as an “earl” (3.4.21). The count Beltramo in Boccaccio’s Decameron (Shakespeare’s source for All’s Well) is a King’s ward and protests his arranged marriage, but in Italy he is only, as Paynter translates, a “captaine” (Hunter, ed., All’s Well that Ends Well, 148).
[8]. Akrigg, Southampton, 57-58, 77-84; All’s Well 2.1.27-28; 2.3.273.
[9]. Akrigg, Southampton, 50-51.
[10]. Akrigg, Southampton, 13-15, 58, 70-74.
[11]. Akrigg, Southampton, 134-35.
[12]. On the Touchstone-Lavatch parallels, see Price, The Unfortunate Comedy, 147, 153.
[13]. 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? Helena, Bertram, and the Sonnets”; Wheeler, Shakespeare’s Development and the Problem Comedies, 57-75; Snyder, ed., All’s Well that Ends Well, 44-48.
[14]. 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).
[15]. See above, Chapter 2, note 31.
[16]. 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.
[17]. “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.
[18]. 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
          12:                                                            88v:
          learned and authentic fellows                   grave and authenticall authors
          20:                                                            80v:
          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;
                                                                           chiefe actour


[19]. 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).
[20]. 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
[21]. 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.
[22]. 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.
[23]. 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 Helena would say in Florence that she is “bound” for “St. Jaques le Grand” (3.5.33-34). Did she intend to visit a less famous shrine to the Saint in Italy? It is true that the Widow sees nothing unusual in Helena’s arrival in Florence as a French “pilgrim” (3.5.32-46); but the hostess has been given no details of the pilgrim’s past or future itinerary.
[24]. Snyder, ed., All’s Well that Ends Well, 27-30
[25]. 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?
[26]. 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.”
[27]. See Klause, “Venus and Adonis: Can We Forgive Them?”

Copyright © John Klause 2013.