All's Well That Ends Well Background

All's Well That Ends Well Background

Composed sometime between 1595 and 1603, the first recorded performance of William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy All’s Well That Ends Well took place on November 8, 1623. That the next recorded performance did not occur until 1741 provides some indication of its popularity within the Shakespearean canon. The lack of a public embrace for the play may well have stemmed from the author’s own dissatisfaction: the final product was almost certainly the result of extensive revisions from an earlier draft.

Shakespeare’s looked back to Boccacio’s Decameron as the inspiration for his plot through the translation of William Painter's Palace of Pleasure. Nevertheless, it has been the subplot concerning the Falstaff-in-training soldier whose only exhibitions of courage are in the words which tumble forth through his mouth which has most captured the imagination of producers throughout history. For much of its existence, All’s Well that Ends Well would actually be performed in a heavily edited version which pushed this subplot to the forefront. Today’s audiences would likely find such corruption less than pleasing; although Parolles definitely has a psychic link to great Falstaff, his cowardly exhibitions of bravado manifest none of the older character’s wit. The result is that Parolles is as repulsive as Falstaff himself would be were he not equipped with such profound wit.

Although long categorized as one of William Shakespeare’s comedies, All’s Well that Ends Well has since Frederick S. Boas coined the term in 1896 usually been identified as one of the Bard’s “problem plays.” Along with Measure for Measure The Merchant of Venice, Timon of Athens, Troilus and Cressida, and The Winter’s Tale, these are plays existing in a kind of limbo state between tragedy, comedy, and history in which they belong fully to none of those genres, but may intrude deeply into the conventions of one or all of them.

The play is also notable for its strong emphasis on female autonomy and agency. Helene, the heroine of the play, is at first a ward of the Countess of Rousillon, and then of the King of France. Despite the fact that she is a woman in a world of men, she takes control of her own life and happiness, marrying the man she loves despite his initial rejection of her. This is a radical idea for the time, and it has resonated with audiences and readers ever since, who have been inspired by her determination and courage in the face of adversity. Shakespeare’s play also contains a strong message of equality and has been celebrated by feminist scholars and readers alike. Ultimately, All’s Well that Ends Well is a play of joy and hope, as Helene’s courage and independence are rewarded with a happy ending.

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