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[Boccaccio.]

INTRODUCTORY NOTICE.

STATE OF THE TEXT, AND CHRONOLOGY, OF ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.

THIS Comedy was first printed in the folio collection of 1623; and it was entered at Stationers' Hall by Blount and Jaggard, on the 8th November, 1623, as being one of those "not formerly entered to other men." In the original copy the play is divided into acts, but not into scenes. There are several examples of corruption in the text; but, upon the whole, it is very accurately printed, both with regard to the metrical arrangement and to punctuation.

We have already expressed an opinion as to the date of this comedy. "Meres has also mentioned, amongst the instances of Shakspere's excellence for comedy, Love's Labour Won. This is generally believed to be All's Well that ends Well; and probably, in some form or other, this was an early play." * After this opinion was expressed by us, Mr. Hunter's 'Disquisition on the Tempest' was published, in which he repudiates the notion that Love's Labour Won and All's Well that ends Well are identical. Mr. Hunter states that a passing remark of Dr. Farmer, in the Essay on the Learning of Shakspere, first pointed out this supposed identity; and he adds, "the remark has since been caught up and repeated by a thousand voices. Yet it was made in the most casual, random, and hasty manner imaginable. It was supported by no kind of argument or evidence ; and I cannot find that any persons who have repeated it after him have shown any probable grounds for the opinion." It is not in the spirit of controversy that we are now about to show

some probable grounds for the opinion." In supporting our view of this question we must necessarily dissent from Mr. Hunter's theory; but we shall endeavour to enforce our own "argument" without being betrayed into the spirit which too often has degraded Shaksperian criticism, and which we described in our original Prospectus as "doubly disagreeable in connexion with the works of the most tolerant and expansive mind that ever lifted us out of the region of petty hostilities and prejudices."

The remark in Farmer's Essay to which Mr. Hunter alludes was certainly made in a

Merchant of Venice. Introductory Notice, p. 388.

"casual"

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manner; because Farmer's object was not to establish the identity of Love's Labour Won and All's Well that ends Well, but to show that Shakspere did not go to the Italian source for the plot of the latter play. The passage is as follows:-" The story of All's Well that ends Well, or, as I suppose it to have been sometimes called, Love's Labour Wonne," (and here Farmer inserts a reference to Meres'' Wits' Treasury,' 1598,) "is originally indeed the property of Boccace, but it came immediately to Shakspere from Painter's 'Giletta of Narbon.' Now this remark, although passing and casual, is not of necessity "random and hasty." Farmer might have well considered this question of identity without entering upon it in his Essay. Malone, in the first edition of his Chronological Order of Shakspeare's Plays,' assigns the date of this comedy to 1598, upon the authority of the passage in Meres. He says, "No other of our author's plays could have borne that title (Love's Labour Won) with so much propriety as that before us; yet it must be acknowledged that the present title is inserted in the body of the play :

'All's well that ends well: still the fine 's the crown.

"This line, however, might certainly have suggested the alteration of what has been thought the first title, and affords no decisive proof that this piece was originally called All's Well that ends Well." We shall presently recur to Malone's different opinion in the posthumous edition of his 'Chronological Order.' He certainly, in the first edition, adopted the title of Love's Labour Won as identical with this comedy, and not without showing "probable grounds for the opinion.” "No other of our author's plays could have borne that title with so much propriety." This is, in truth, the real argument in the matter; and when Coleridge, therefore, describes this play as "originally intended as the counterpart of Love's Labour's Lost," when Mrs. Jameson, with reference to the nature of the plot and the suitableness of the title found in Meres, states, complainingly, Why the title was altered, or by whom, I cannot discover,”—and when Tieck says, "The poet probably first called this play Love's Labour Won,"- -we may add the opinions of these eminent writers on Shakspere to the original opinion of Malone, in opposition to the assertion of Mr. Hunter, (which is also unsupported by "argument,") that "the leading features of the story in All's Well cannot be said to be aptly represented by the title in Meres' list."

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When Coleridge described this play as the counterpart of Love's Labour's Lost, we do not think he spoke in a "casual, random, and hasty manner." Shakspere's titles, in the judgment of our philosophical critic, always exhibit “great significancy." The Labour of Love which is Lost is not a very earnest labour. The king and his courtiers are fantastical lovers. They would win their mistresses by "bootless rhymes” and “speeches penn'd," and their most sincere declarations are thus only received as "mocking merriment." The concluding speeches of the ladies to their lovers show clearly that Shakspere meant to mark the cause why their labour was lost-it was labour hastily taken up, pursued in a light temper, assuming the character of "pleasant jest and courtesy." The princess and her ladies would not accept it as "labour," without a year's probation. It was offered, they thought, "in heat of blood;"- theirs was a love which only bore " gaudy blossoms." What would naturally be the counterpart of such a story? One of passionate, enduring, all-pervading love, of a love that shrinks from no difficulty, resents no unkindness, fears no disgrace, but perseveres, under the most adverse circumstances to vindicate its own claims by its own energy, and to achieve success by the strength of its own will. This is the Labour of Love which is Won. Is not this the story of All's Well that ends Well?

When Helena, in the first scene, so beautifully descril es the hopelessness of her love

"It were all one That I should love a bright particular star, And think to wed it, he is so above me "

could she propose to come within "his sphere" without some extraordinary effort? "Hic labor, hoc opus est." She does resolve to make the effort; it is within the bounds of possibility that her labour may be successful, and therefore her "intents are fix'd:"

"The mightiest space in fortune nature brings
To join like likes, and kiss like native things.
Impossible be strange attempts to those
That weigh their pains in sense, and do suppose
What hath been cannot be."

Inferior natures that estimate their labours by a common standard-"that weigh their pains in sense" that are not supported in their labours by a spirit which rejects all fear and embraces all hope, confound the difficult with the impossible; they know that courage has triumphed over diffi. culty, but they still think "what hath been cannot be" again. Helena is not of their mind :

This is the purpose avowed from the commencement of the dramatic action; which marks every stage of its progress; which is essentially "Love's Labour" whether it be won or be lost. How beautifully does Shakspere relieve us from the feeling that it is unsexual for the labour to be undertaken by Helena, through the compassion which she inspires in the good old Countess :

Again :

"My project may deceive me,
But my intents are fix'd, and will not leave me."

How delicately, too, does he make Helena hold to her determination, even whilst she confesses to the Countess the secret of her ambitious love :

"It is the show and seal of nature's truth,
Where love's strong passion is impress'd in youth."

She succeeds :

"My friends were poor, but honest ; so's my love.
Be not offended; for it hurts not him

That he is lov'd of me: I follow him not

By any token of presumptuous suit;
Nor would I have him, 'till I do deserve him.

not for the cure of the King only, but for the winning of her labour. To obtain the full advantage of her legacy no common qualities were required in Helena. "Wisdom and constancy are her - characteristics, as Lafeu truly describes. The " constancy" with which she enforces her power upon the mind of the incredulous King is prominently exhibited by the poet. Her modesty never overcomes the ruling purpose of her soul. She indeed says,

"I will no more enforce mine office on you;

and

"There's something hints,

More than my father's skill, which was the greatest
Of his profession, that his good receipt
Shall, for my legacy, be sanctified
By the luckiest stars in heaven"—

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"Methinks in thee some blessed spirit doth speak."

The reward, however, which she seeks is avowed without hesitation. to admit of that timidity which might have clung to a feebler mind :—

"Then shalt thou give me, with thy kingly hand,
What husband in thy power I will command."

Up to this point all has been "labour"-the conception of a high and dangerous purpose-the carrying it through without shrinking. When the cure is effected, and she has to avow her choice, comes a still greater labour. The struggle within herself is most intense :"Now, Dian, from thy altar do I fly;"

"The blushes in my cheeks thus whisper me,—
'We blush, that thou should'st choose,'"-

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Her will was too strong

"That you are well restor'd, my lord, I 'm glad;
Let the rest go."

these expressions sufficiently give the key to what passes within her.

Her feelings amount almost to agony when Bertram refuses her, and for a moment she abandons her fix'd intent :

"But shall she weakly relinquish the golden opportunity, and dash the cup from her lips at the moment it is presented? Shall she cast away the treasure for which she has ventured both life

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