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ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
The fable of this comedy is taken from a novel, of which Boccace is the original author; but which was immediately derived by Shakspeare from the tale of Giletta of Narbonne, in the first volume of William Painter's Palace of Pleasure, printed at London in 1566. To this novel, however, the poet was only indebted for the leading features of the more serious parts of his drama: the comic characters, and especially that of Parolles, appear to be intirely of his own formation.
A supposed allusion to the fanaticism of the puritans induced Malone to assign the date of 1606 to the composition of this play ; but the many passages of rhyme scattered throughout seem to mark it as an earlier production. In 1598 Meres refers to a play of Shakspeare, called Love's Labor Wonne, which very accurately applies to this, but to no other of our author's productions: we have reason therefore to conclude that it was intended as a counter-title to Love's Labor's Lost; and that the present proverbial appellation was suggested in consequence of the adage itself being found in the body of the play.
This play,' says Dr. Johnson, ‘has many delightful scenes, though not sufficiently probable ; and some happy characters, though not now, nor produced by any deep knowlege of human nature. Parolles is a boaster and a coward, such as has always been the sport of the stage ; but perhaps never raised more laughter or contempt than in the hands of Shakspeare. I cannot reconcile my 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 ne has wronged; defends himself by falshood ; and is dismissed to happiness.'
Helena, the daughter of a celebrated physician, conceives a
violent attachment to Bertram, count of Rousillon, who on the death of his father repairs to Paris, as a ward of the king of France, at this time languishing under the influence of a distemper which has been pronounced incurable. Di. rected by the medical knowlege she has received from her father, Helena procures an audience of the monarch, and undertakes to effect his cure, on condition of choosing for herself a husband, with reservation only of the royal family. The king is restored to health, and the lady fixes her choice on Bertram. Unable to resist, the young count reluctantly consents to the nuptials, which are no sooner performed, than he dismisses his bride to her home, and sets out for Florence, whence he sends her a letter intimating his determination of never cohabiting with her till she obtains a ring which he wears on his finger, and is pregnant by him. The receipt of this epistle induces Helena to quit the castle of Rousillon, and proceed to Italy, where she hears of her husband's attempts on the chastity of a widow's daughter, on whom she prevails to procure her admirer's ring, and is afterwards introduced in her stead to the bed of Bertram, who soon after, having received intelligence of the death of his wife, returns to France, and is reconciled to the king, who is about to consent to his union with the daughter of a favorite courtier, when he detects a ring in his possession, which he had formerly presented to Helena, who had contrived to place it on ber husband's finger during his supposed assignation with his Italian mistress. Failing to give any satisfactory account of the means by which he obtained it, he is suspected of having murdered his wife, when Helena appears, satisfies her husband of the fulfilment of his requisitions, and is publicly acknowleged by the repentant Bertram.