Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Andrew Griffin
Peer Reviewed

All's Well That Ends Well: Textual Introduction


This edition of All's Well is derived from F1 (1623), the only authoritative text of the play and the source for all subsequent editions, though the provenance of the underlying manuscript is unclear. On the one hand, as W. W. Greg argued, the underlying manuscript seems to be authorial: the stage directions seem "too literary" to be derived from a playbook and must come instead "from an author's plot or scenario" [352]). On the other hand, however, the play is marked by a relative paucity of "Shakespearian" spellings and some speech prefixes in F1 identify actors who were not part of the King's Men when the play was (likely) first composed, which suggests that the underlying MS was a text used in the theatre.

2To explain this strange hybrid text, some editors and critics have imagined an intermediate text, somewhere between authorial holograph and a playbook, or have imagined playhouse practices that alter authorial foul papers. Explaining the textual strangeness of All's Well,E. K. Chambers, for instance, claims that All's Well's hybridity is due to an "annotator," probably the King's Men's book holder Edward Knight (1.450). According to such a scenario, F1 was printed from the foul papers with relative fidelity, though those foul papers had been put to work in the theatre. G. K. Hunter, skeptical of Chambers' hypothesis, argues that all the emendations might be Shakespearian, while Wells and Taylor appreciate its explanatory force. Wells and Taylor recognize, as Hunter does, that an intermediate text probably did not exist because it "would have served no known purpose" (492), and they claim that the "theatrical annotations" within the play instead point to a more plausible scenario: "the original prompt-book for All's Well was lost (as happened to Winter's Tale and Fletcher's Bonduca, for instance), and . . . prior to the preparation of a new prompt-book for a revival the foul papers were read and sporadically annotated by the book-keeper (as happened to Fletcher's The Mad Lover)" (492). In this account of the play's textual provenance, the absence of Shakespearian spelling is the result of scribal intervention. While such arguments about provenance rely heavily on conjectured scenarios, they help to make clear the text's general character: it seems to be derived, as far as internal evidence will tell us, from lightly re-touched or amended foul papers, preserving a conspicuously "literary" pre-performance version of the play while also bearing the marks of a King's Men performance.

Dating All's Well

3When establishing a date for the composition of All's Well, the evidence with which we might work is generally ambiguous and often contradictory. Because there are no clear external references to the play before it was licensed for the Folio – references in the Stationers' Register, say, or in theatrical account books, or in extant letters – attempts to pin down the play's date are based on evidence derived from the text itself and from more or less impressionistic judgments about the characteristics it shares with plays for which we have more concrete dates. When working with such slippery evidence, scholars often combine a variety of strategies to arrive at plausible dates of composition; these strategies include:

  • locating the play among thematically "similar" plays in Shakespeare's corpus, and using the dates of those plays to approximate the date of All's Well;
  • locating the play among other plays in Shakespeare's corpus according to its style, and using the dates of those plays to approximate the date of All's Well;
  • discerning historically specific topical references that will set a "no-earlier-than" date for the play's composition;
  • discerning topical references that locate the play in a historically specific milieu;
  • identifying the actors for whom a role was likely written and using the dates during which they were with the Lord Chamberlain's Men or the King's Men in order to set dates for the play's composition.

4Each of these strategies for dating the play is both helpful and inexact, relying for the most part on critical and interpretive arguments that are often compelling but rarely "scientific" in their precision or in the clarity of the answers they provide.

5When the play's themes and tone are thought to indicate the period of the play's composition, All's Well is often located within Shakespeare's oeuvre alongside Hamlet and the so-called "problem comedies," all of which were written between 1601 (for Hamlet) and 1604 (for Measure for Measure). The argument that All's Well "fits" with this group of plays is generally made by appeal to its relatively dark tone, its preoccupation with paternal mortality (as in Hamlet), its skeptical vision of monarchical moral authority, its almost vulgar preoccupation with female erotic virtue, its general moral pessimism, and its ambiguously "comedic" conclusion.

6Within this group of plays, All's Well is generally allied most closely with Measure for Measure, a play that shares these characteristics with All's Well and that also shares a variety of character types and dramatic devices. In such readings of the play, Helena and Isabella are considered similar characters in that they are both virtuous virgins on a potentially providential mission, and Angelo and Bertram are considered similar characters where their morally repugnant erotic deceptions are publicly exposed. The dénouements of these plays – handled "legalistically" (Hunter xxiv) after a bed trick – are also seen to be quite similar. This presumed close relationship between Measure for Measure and All's Well often leads critics and editors to date All's Well in 1603 or 1604, prior to the production of Measure for Measure because Measure for Measure seems more "mature" at many points of this comparison. In Hunter's words, "If All's Well is earlier than Measure for Measure it cannot be later than 1604 – the date normally assigned to Measure for Measure. . . . The close interconnection of the two plays also implies that it is not much earlier" (Hunter xxv). Fraser generally agrees with Hunter (despite Fraser's divergent dating of the play's composition as c. 1605) when he points out that "[a]ffinities in tone and idea with Hamlet and Measure for Measure are often remarked, and since these plays date ascertainably from the early years of the seventeenth century, it seems reasonable to locate All's Well in that period, too" (4). What seems "reasonable" to Fraser here is far from certain, however, and it provides only a tenuous date for the play's composition. Such a method for discerning the date of the play relies most problematically about on perhaps problematic assumptions about Shakespeare's relation to his plays, as if his general mood at one point in his life determines the content of his plays and as if he would be unable to return to themes or issues a few years after he first engaged with them.

7This attempt to date the play by pointing to thematic similarities also seems problematic considering thematic parallels with Shakespeare's late romances and recent debates about Middleton's co-authorship of the play (discussed at length in the introduction to this edition). As Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith point out in their essay on Middleton's co-authorship, All's Well "begins where Pericles ends – with a maiden healing the sick patriarch – and ends where The Winter's Tale begins – with the legible body of a pregnant wife." Similarly intriguing is their recognition that both All's Well and The Winter's Tale conclude with the "resurrection" of a woman presumed dead by her husband. Gordon McMullan's observation that late romances foreground the relationship between mothers and their children further puts All's Well in this group of later plays (16). With these observations in mind, the "thematic parallel" method for dating plays puts the date of composition in 1606 or 1607 just as readily as it puts the play in 1603.

8Where one might turn to All's Well's thematic concerns to derive its date of composition, one might also turn – as many critics and editors have – to the play's "style." Presuming a generally teleological development of Shakespeare's poetic, intellectual, and dramaturgical capacities throughout his career, one can interpolate the date of a play by parsing its characteristics and subsequently situating it along the trajectory of Shakespeare's artistic growth. Until machine-reading became possible in the middle of the twentieth century, such discussions of style were fairly impressionistic, leading to conclusions that seem generally unreliable. Nineteenth-century critics and editors such as Coleridge and Collier, for instance, often pointed up Helen's couplets when speaking to the king in 2.1 and argued that the apparently "immature" verse-form situates the play at an early moment in Shakespeare's career, sometime prior to 1598. Buttressing their argument by conflating All's Well with the Love's Labour's Won mentioned in Francis Meres' 1598 commonplace book Palladis Tamia, these critics often offered an argument for Shakespearean revision: the play seems stylistically "mature" at some points but it seems stylistically "immature" at others, and so it seems that Shakespeare returned to it. For Collier, who followed Coleridge's lead after attending Coleridge's 1811-12 lectures, it seems clear that the play was amended after its early composition, apparently "written at two different, and rather distinct periods of the poet's life" (529).

9Of course, questions of stylistic maturity, particularly in regards to Helen's couplets, are imprecise, and one might read these couplets differently. Hunter, for instance, claims that there is "a complete dramatic justification for the couplets. . . . In II.i the verse begins at the point at which a higher note of exaltation is required, just where Helena begins to enforce the claim to divine sanction and encouragement. The dialogue assumes an incantatory, liturgical tone" (xxi). Fraser similarly finds a "dramatic justification for the couplets" claiming that for "this kind of reminiscence [about Helen's father's quasi-magical medical gifts] . . . we want the recurring rhyme and metronomic beat" – a form that he reads as potentially mature rather than immature (2). Depending on one's reading of Helen, one might also argue that these couplets are dramatically justified as a sign of her selfish scheming: she might here be conspicuously faking an incantatory tone after previously declaring, in a gesture of sheer calculation, that "Our remedies oft in our selves do lie, / Which we ascribe to heaven" (TLN 223-24). If we read Helen as a schemer, then we might in fact find a sign of a relative "lateness" or dramatically sophisticated "mature ambivalence" rather than a sign of "earliness" or "immaturity" in the couplets Helen delivers. Regardless of our readings of the scene or of Helen's character, however, such debates only emphasize the imprecision that is characteristic of such impressionistic readings of Shakespeare's style and the problems that plague "maturity" as a data point.

10While such impressionistic readings of style mean little when we attempt to date the play, one can also follow a variety of critics and editors who parse "style" in more compelling, formally precise, and empirical ways. After subjecting Shakespeare's corpus to a variety of formal tests – for metrical habits, for rare (to Shakespeare) vocabulary, for colloquialisms, for sense-pauses that measure the relation between speech-endings and line-endings – scholars engaging with All's Well tend to locate the play between 1604 and 1608. This latter date, later than the usual late date of 1605, comes from an unpublished metrical analysis of the play by John Livingston Lowes who dates the play between 1606 and 1608. Hunter and Taylor both mention this analysis, but Lowes' findings and methods are not, as far as we can find, available. Though Brian Vickers has recently called into question the validity of such empirical stylometric analyses in Shakespeare, Co-Author (112-115), they seem more compelling when combined with thematic analyses that tie the play to Measure for Measure and arrive at a similar date between 1603 and 1605 for the composition of All's Well. Making this more empirical strain of stylometric criticism more knotty, however, is the recent authorship debate between Maguire and Smith, on the one hand, and Vickers and Marcus Dahl on the other. Drawing on what they identify as characteristically Middletonian linguistic markers, Maguire and Smith argue for a later date based on what they identify as Middleton's contributions to the play: collaborating late in his career with Middleton on Timon, it makes sense, they suggest, that another collaboration with Middleton would be late in his career, around 1607 or 1608. Vickers and Dahl argue that the evidence is unconvincing and that the linguistic markers that Maguire and Smith identify are far less characteristic of Middleton than they suggest, with Vickers going so far as claiming, in a comment on the Oxford Center for Early Modern Studies blog, that the Middleton attribution is a "hopeless project." As of 4 September 2013, the debate is unsettled, but the critique of Maguire and Smith's position by Vickers and Dahl makes their surprising claims of a later date for All's Well feel particularly uncertain.

11This use of stylometric and thematic analyses of All's Well to determine its date is certainly imprecise, but it seems generally more reliable than other forms of dating analysis that rely on questions of historical topicality, a category that is often troubled by interpretive ambiguities unless topical references are explicit. When dealing with presumed topical references in All's Well, critics and editors have regularly pointed up potential allusions to Queen Elizabeth I in the play's preoccupation with virginity or in lines about "woman's command" (TLN 413). In a similarly suggestive reach, Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson find veiled allusions to the Jacobean Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in references to "underminers" and "blowers up" (TLN 125, 126), thus moving the date of the play's composition some time beyond 1605 (122). Most recent editors and critics have dismissed the idea that the play refers to the Gunpowder plot (see DeSomogyi, xlix), and the arguments for allusions to Elizabeth seem unconvincing. These imagined allusions to Elizabeth are found in a single scene near the end of 1.1 as Helen and Paroles discuss virginity, the nonfecundity of virginity, and the threat that men pose to female erotic virtue. In this context, and considering the broad thematic interests of the All's Well, the specific historical topicality of such allusions is hardly obvious: the play is concerned with chastity and virtue and discussions of chastity and virtue are dramatically justifiable without reference to the virgin Queen, just as a trope that allies military and erotic conquests (the source of the "blowing up" and "undermining") is hardly new and hardly specific to a post-Gunpowder Plot world (see, for example, the similar references in Henry V). Even more problematic, as Snyder points out, the implications of an allusion to Elizabeth are unclear if we hope to use this presumed allusion to determine the date of composition: Does a snide allusion to virginal non-productivity indicate that the play was written in relation to a sitting monarch, or does a critical vision of mature female chastity mean that the play was written after her death in 1603, when such critique would be more politically safe? (24) Where Snyder wrestles with the allusions to Elizabeth – eventually deciding that such a derogatory reference to Elizabeth indicates that the play is post-Elizabethan – it remains unclear that the play invokes the Queen at all, even obliquely. Again, that is, Paroles' derogatory descriptions of mature virgins fit within the play's thematic framework, diffusing their potential allusiveness by rendering them dramatically suitable to the play as a whole.

12The attempt to set a date for the play's composition by looking at presumed casting choices is also a project beset interpretive imprecision, though it seems to provide fairly consistent results in the case of All's Well. When attempting to decide which actor was cast in which role, and thus to set external dates on the play's composition, critics and editors generally turn to the character of Lavatch, the play's clown. Making such a move seems, in some respects, a safe one: if Shakespeare was writing a clown part, then he would likely remember the specific and unique skills of the clowns with whom he was working in the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the King's Men: Will Kemp prior to 1600 and Robert Armin sometime after the start of 1600. Accepting Leslie Hotson's original distinction between the styles of Kemp and Armin, recently seconded by David Wiles, we can set a terminus ad quem for a play's composition by appeal to the nature of its clown: if the clown seems more physically boisterous, then it was likely played by Kemp prior to 1600; if the clown is more ironically foolish, then it was likely played during or after 1600 by Armin. According to such a logic, and as many editors and critics have noted, we need to put All's Well in the latter camp because Lavatch is clearly more akin to Lear's fool or Feste than he is to Dogberry or Launce (Fraser 2; Hunter xxi; Somogyi xxx; Wiles 65-66, passim). Certainly this strategy for dating the play may be troubled by assorted impressionistic distinctions ("How different is Kemp's clown from Armin's fool? Would either actor have been hamstrung by a different role?") but the post-1600 date seems convincing when combined with the rest of the evidence which strongly suggests a date after the turn of the century. One might, of course, be leery of using the clown to make any more specific claims about the play's date: it seems problematic, for instance, to follow Fraser, who moves the play close to 1606 simply because Lavatch is quite similar in some ways to Apemantus in Timon or to the fool in Lear. If Armin can play Lavatch, Thersites, Lear's fool, Apemantus, and Feste, then such calculations are troubled by the assumption that Shakespeare was writing one type of clown at a certain point in his career when he would be unable or unwilling to write a different type of clown. Such an assumption – plausible or not – remains too uncertain to help us date the play with certainty.

13Considering the evidence that has been marshaled in attempts to date the play, we are left, then, with a date around 1603 or 1604; 1605 remains an unlikely but not impossible outlier, though setting the play's composition in 1605 would date the play after Measure for Measure, a move that many critics find problematic by assuming (on the basis of style and tone) that Measure for Measure is more "mature" than All's Well. Again, such a dating seems reasonable given the ambiguity of the evidence with which we are able to work and the paucity of precise methods we have at our disposal; it also seems compelling because it is a dating derived according to a variety of criteria that count different sorts of data as evidence. In the absence of any radically new methods for dating Shakespeare's plays, in the absence of any new evidence about Shakespeare's compositional practice, and in the absence of any external evidence that would fix the date of composition, 1603-1604 is still the most compelling date we can discern for the composition of All's Well, especially after Skinner has challenged the later date offered by Jackson – a later date on which Taylor's, Smith's and Maguire's later dates are based. Of course, as of 2013, as we deal with lively debates about Middleton's hand in the play, the question remains too open to offer a solid conclusion. Indeed, the openness of these debates speaks to the play's resistance to current critical methods for dating early modern plays. This strangeness is, as Maguire and Smith observe, often clear in the sense of "doubleness" that characterizes criticism on the play: the play often feels Shakespearean and often, in some ways, Middletonian; if written wholly by Shakespeare, then it often feels "early" in its style (as Collier argues), and often feels late (as McMullan argues); the folio often follows typically Shakespearean spellings and conventions, and often it refuses to follow these typically Shakespearean conventions; F1 seems printed from an odd sort of underlying manuscript that exists between foul papers and playbook.

Textual Problems

14F1's All's Well is notoriously troubled by a number of cruxes and textual confusions that necessitate editorial intervention. Generally, our interventions have followed standard modern conventions: we have attempted to produce a text that is accessible to modern readers while editing with a light hand and remaining true to F1's textual idiosyncrasies wherever possible. Because this is a digital edition, the ideal of editorial minimalism is easier to approximate. Thanks to the affordances of web browsers in which our editions are presented, for instance, our edition presents the reader with a variety of editorial choices whenever it negotiates a crux that might be resolved in two or more equally plausible ways. Such a strategy for representing textual possibility is liberating for editors, who are often compelled to make decisions that rely on potentially dubious or decidedly ambiguous ground. Also contributing to these editorial ends, this edition is linked to the Internet Shakespeare Editions' digital transcription of F1's All's Well. By providing readers with a ready-to-hand transcription of the copytext, this edition enables them to evaluate – on the fly – the editorial choices made in the modern edition. Such tools ultimately make editing a less invasive project because they help to open up rather than foreclose textual possibilities. Because some editorial decisions were, however, too involved to be resolved easily and transparently in the text itself, we spell out below some of the more fraught editorial decisions that this edition has taken.

15Among the textual problems in F1, the problem of the brothers Dumaine is the most vexing. Even if one agrees with Wells and Taylor that the "extent" of this problem "has been exaggerated" (492), the resolution of the problems requires, at bottom, a more or less capricious editorial intervention. The brothers Dumaine cause editorial consternation primarily because of the contradictory speech prefixes and ambiguous, "literary" stage directions that are common in the F1version of All's Well. When the brothers are first introduced, for instance, they are distinguished doubly in their speech prefixes: first, they are "1 Lord" and "2 Lord," and they are also "Lord G" and "Lord E." The tradition generally assumes – though Hunter, Snyder, and Fredson Bowers dissent from this opinion – that the original foul papers included "1 Lord" and "2 Lord," and that the "G" and the "E" were subsequently added, perhaps by a book holder, to indicate the actors who played these roles (Gough and Ecclestone have been widely accepted proposals). The primary problem with these speech prefixes, however, is that "E" and "G" are not consistently attached to "1 Lord" or "2 Lord." In their first appearances in 1.2 and 2.1, for instance, we find "1.Lo.G." and "2.Lo.E." thus associating "1 Lord" with "E" and "2 Lord" with "G." Later, however, these roles are reversed so "1.Lo." is allied with "E" and "2.Lo." with "G." The speech prefixes for the brothers Dumaine also cause problems for editors because they might indicate characters who are not Dumaines. It is unclear, for instance, if "I. Lo. G." and "2.Lo.E." from 1.2 are identical with "Fren. E.," "1.G." and "Fren.G" in 3.2 when the stage direction identifies them as "two Gentlemen." Similarly, in 3.1, the stage direction referring to the "two Frenchmen" might not refer to the same "two Gentlemen." And one might similarly wonder whether 3.1's "French.G." (also identified as "1.Lord") and "French.E." are identical with "Cap.E." and "Cap.G.," also identified as "the Frenchmen" in a stage direction. Finally, "the two French Lords" in a stage direction in 5.3 might be with the "two Gentlemen" in 2.3 might not be the same characters as those identified with a "Lord" in their speech prefix because the gap between "Lords" and "Gentlemen" is considerable, producing three very different sets of characters.

16Such inconsistencies have predictably led to various critical interpretations of the brothers Dumaine, as when William T. Hastings identified three groups of characters where modern editors tend to see only the brothers Dumaine. Unlike most modern editions, this edition takes Hastings – in part – seriously, specifically refusing to identify the brothers Dumaine with the two gentlemen who visit Helen with Bertram's letter in 3.2. We have chosen to distinguish these two gentlemen from the brothers Dumaine because to conflate these two groups engenders a variety of dramatic complexities and logical inconsistencies. In terms of dramatic action and characterization, it seems easy to assume a distinction between the two gentlemen and the brothers Dumaine because there is no reason to believe that they, like the brothers Dumaine, are intimates of Bertram. Second, and more substantially, the two gentlemen of 3.2 claim to have been returning from Florence, even though the two brothers have just left for Florence – in the previous scene – with Bertram: "Madam," the two gentlemen of 3.2 say to Helen, "[Bertram's] gone to serve the Duke of Florence. / We met him thitherward, for thence we came, / And, after some dispatch in hand at court, / Thither we bend again (TLN 1455-1458). If we want to read these two gentlemen as the friends of Bertram who have just convinced him to trek to Florence, we have to imagine a strange bit of action: the two lords Dumaine have left for war with Bertram, have ridden to Florence, have been engaged in battle, and have returned to court on business; on their way home to Roussillon, they ran into Bertram on his way to Florence (even though they left with him?) and they have done all of this before Helen has noticed that her new husband has left.

17The modern editorial tradition – identifying the two gentlemen with the brothers Dumaine – disagrees with the logic of this edition's decision. Snyder, for instance, looks to the narrative mess of this moment and claims that it is one glitch in a play full of such glitches: the play's "time-logic," according to Snyder, "will not bear close scrutiny" (61). Hunter agrees in part with Snyder by suggesting that the confusion results from the foulness of the foul papers from which All's Well was printed: he speculates that Shakespeare initially established a "distinction" between two different groups of men – the gentlemen and the Dumaines – though this distinction "later vanished and the two groups coalesced in the author's mind" (xvii). Snyder concurs here, arguing that "at some point as the writing proceeded, Shakespeare reviewed the text with an eye to dramatic economy and found that these pairs of lesser characters could be amalgamated with the French lords" (61). Unlike Snyder and Hunter, however, we have maintained a distinction between the brothers Dumaine and these gentlemen for two reasons: first, we are uncertain that the two groups coalesced in the author's mind (How would we know?), and second, we disagree with the theatrical rationale for the identification of these two groups as a single group. According to this theatrical rationale, the two gentlemen are likely the brothers Dumaine because the King's men would have been unable to use "the same actors . . . to play different but easily confused roles" (Hunter xvii). We assume that such a switch could, in fact, be undertaken easily. A change of beard or a change of jerkin could easily mark two distinct groups of men, and such a switch could be undertaken rather quickly with a fairly sophisticated audience recognizing exactly what was going on, even if the two actors played all four roles. Certainly, it is one of the Dumaines that delivers to Bertram the message that his mother sent by way of the gentleman, but that seems to be a less egregious and more readily explicable dramatic issue than the problem that emerges when we identify the brothers Dumaine with the two Gentlemen.

18The other textual problems inspired by the brothers Dumaine are more easily resolved. The characters identified in speech prefixes as "Fren.G." and "Fren.E." – "the two Frenchmen" from a stage direction in 3.1 – are clearly the brothers Dumaine: "Fren.G." is switched for "1.Lord" in 3.1, thus establishing the identity. Similarly, the two speech prefixes which distinguish between "Cap.1" and "Cap.2." are preceded by a stage direction that identifies them as "the two Frenchmen," thus conflating these various characters into a single, multifaceted duo.

19The speech prefix inconsistencies – whereby "1 Lord" is variously associated with "E" and "G" – are also readily explained, though the explanation for these inconsistencies is less certain and less felicitous. The problem seems ultimately to bespeak a relative indistinguishability between the two brothers Dumaine, meaning that either of them can deliver the other's lines while remain characterologically coherent. Shakespeare's disinterest in their relative distinction poses considerable problems, however, when their actions and locations make them seem like decidedly different characters, as in the notorious problems between 3.6 and 4.3. In 3.6, E and G both discuss with Bertram the ambush of Paroles; E speaks as if to exit, but then G exits to lay the ambush, while E stays with Bertram as the two plan to visit Diana together; in 4.1, however, it seems that E is directing the ambush of Paroles – an ambush that G was supposed to direct. Further confusing the issue, E tells G in 4.3 about Bertram's meeting with Diana, and he subsequently tells Bertram about what is going on with Paroles after the ambush. In this scenario, E is at both at the meeting of Diana and at the ambush of Paroles, though G takes the lead of Paroles' interrogation subsequently in 4.3 as if it was G, rather than E, who had led the ambush originally.

20While such confusion indicates the relative similarity of the two brothers Dumaine, it also necessitates editorial intervention. As is the case with the gentlemen of 3.2, the action described here is fundamentally problematic rather than simply awkward, leading Wells and Taylor to point out that the "awkwardness of this arrangement can hardly be overlooked" (493). By emending 3.6, however, so that E (Lord 2 here) rather than G (Lord 1 here) leaves to lead the ambush of Paroles, the problems are quickly and readily resolved. Certainly, it seems strange that E rather than G would know more about Bertram's dalliances with Diana, but it is not impossible at all that he would have this knowledge second-hand from Bertram because neither of the brothers appears when Bertram meets Diana. Indeed, it remains unclear what role a Dumaine is expected to play at a moment of seduction. The confusion here makes for dramatically awkward action, but the awkwardness it engenders is not a dramatic impossibility. To effect this change, we need also to attribute G's exit line at TLN 1844 to E or 2 Lord. In this scenario, E speaks two exit lines, one ambiguous ("I must go look my twigs . . .") and one conclusive ("I'll leave you"). Subsequent lines in the scene are then attributed to the remaining Dumaine (G/1) who becomes the Dumaine who – though never appearing – escorts Bertram to see Diana.

21Ghost and silent characters that appear throughout F1 All's Well pose complicated editorial problems. Notoriously, the play may or may not stage a character named Violenta, who may or may not appear in a stage direction. Violenta's ambiguous status in the play is the result of a confusing stage direction as 3.5 opens: Enter old Widdow of Florence, her daughter Violenta / and Mariana, with other / Citizens" (TLN 1603-1605). The ambiguity surrounds the relationship imagined by this syntax between the "old widow of Florence" and "Violenta." Throughout the rest of the play, the daughter of the old widow of Florence is named "Diana," so it seems unlikely that "Violenta" is the name of "her daughter" unless Shakespeare subsequently made a change to Violenta/Diana's name and left this shadow of an original name for Diana. But if Violenta is not an ur-Diana, then she is mostly invisible to an audience because never speaks a line in the rest of the scene, because her name is never mentioned, and because her silent, unnamed body is likely to dissolve into the collective identified as "other Citizens." While a silent woman named "Violenta" might seem particularly evocative in this play – a play partly about varieties of female exploitation – such evocation is available only to a reading audience for which Shakespeare presumably was not writing when he wrote All's Well. Despite Violenta's apparent invisibility vis-à-vis the audience, we have retained her name here rather than letting her disappear in to the group of "other citizens." Such a decision seems best because, though invisible to the audience, Violenta would remain visible to the stage audience, producing ambiguous but nonetheless meaningful effect. The name, that is, is something with which a director might conjure, whether or not this director imagines her as a silent presence on stage or as the (subsequently superseded) identity of Diana (see Snyder, "Naming Names"). According to the same logic, we have maintained the silent presence of other characters on the stage, as in the case of Paroles, who enters and remains uncharacteristically silent in 3.3. Such silent characters may indicate early possibilities that Shakespeare subsequently ignored, but they might be just as reasonably understood as warm bodies remaining meaningfully, and perhaps pointedly, silent.

Other Cruxes

22While all decisions regarding textual cruxes are explained in detail in the collation and commentary notes, some specific and notorious cruxes warrant special mention here.

  1. "Helen" v. "Helena" TLN xxx. This edition uses "Helen" as the heroine's name. As Wells and Taylor point out, using "Helen" seems to be the only reasonable editorial choice, even though "Helena" appears in the play's first stage direction. While "Helena" appears first, it re-appears only three times throughout the play, and the disyllabic form of the name appears 25 times. See also Susan Snyder, "Naming Names" (271), where she comes to the same conclusion, pointing out that Shakespeare seems to settle into the name Helen as the play proceeds and that the name "Helen" ramifies throughout the play (if only ironically) in reference to the classical Helen over whom the Trojan war was fought.
  2. "Paroles": The character is clearly allied with the French paroles – emphasizing his characteristic talkativeness – so we have chosen to use this spelling. Other spellings found in F, including "Parrolles" and "Parolles," are attractive because they make clear that the name is tri-syllabic, concluding with a long "e," but they conceal the obviously crucial pun. Indeed, we might recognize "Parrolles" and "Parolles" as typically early modern variances of spelling, so using "Paroles" is also a function of editorial standardization and modernization.
  3. The "still-peering aire": When Helen receives word of Bertram's departure to the wars, she imagines bullets flying around him and she addresses these bullets in an apostrophe:

O you leaden messengers
That ride upon the violent speed of fire,
Fly with false aim, move the still-'pearing air
That sings with piercing, do not touch my lord!
(TLN 1517-1520)

30The obscurity of this passage, specifically where Helen asks in F1 that the bullets "moue the still-peering aire," has often perplexed editors and a number of emendations have been offered. Two specific questions arise here: What does it mean to "move" air or "moue" air? What does it mean to describe air as "still-peering"? Suspecting some corruption in the printing shop when reading from an authorial MS, Wells, Taylor, and Snyder offer "cleave" for "move" because they suggest that "move" makes no sense. It seems curious to say that "move" makes no sense, and to quickly assume "cleave" as the intended word, when "move" can readily be made to make sense: Helen is here asking the bullets to transform the medium through which they fly – to alter it or "move" it – so that they miss their target. The "still-'pearing" also makes sense, as Werstine and Mowat suggest, if we read the phrase as a poeticized version of "still appearing." In this sense, "still-'pearing" describes air that appears to be still (or immobile) even while it sings and rushes with piercing bullets that fly through it. Reading the noisiness of air seems typical of early modern thought, as Carla Mazzio points out.

314. "Bajazeth's Mute" (TLN 1955): F1 has "Bajazeth's mule" and editors have often tried to make "mule" make sense in terms of silence or "muteness" that the context requires. Sisson, as Wells and Taylor point out, claimed that the association between mutes and mules was proverbial, but he provides no evidence to support the link and evidence of this proverbial link has proven impossible to find. Of course, when providing "Bajazeth's mute" as a reading of this passage, one is left with another question: Who is Bajazeth's mute? The record offers no specific identity for the person about whom Paroles speaks here, though the relationship between Turkish rulers and mutes was well known (or at least often imagined) in early modern Europe. According to letters of a French ambassador to the Ottoman court, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, mutes were "a class of servant highly valued by the Turks" (32). In an English, theatrical context, the quiet-loving Morose in Jonson's Epicoene also mentions "the Turk" as a love of silence: "The Turk, in this divine discipline [of silence], is admirable, exceeding all the potentates of the earth; still waited on by mutes" (2.1.24-45). Wells and Taylor point out that muteness and Turks are allied in Henry V, demonstrating concretely that Shakespeare knew of this historical relation. In light of this evidence, it seems reasonable to presume that F1's "mule" should, in fact, read "mute." Such the confusion between "mule" and "mute" in F1 can readily be explained as a printing house misreading of the MS.

325. "Insuite comming": When, at the end of the play, Bertram struggles to explain how Diana got his family ring, he dishonestly blames, according to F1, Diana's "insuite comming": "Her [insuite comming] with her modern grace / Subdued me to her rate: she got the ring . . ." (TLN 2943-2944). The phrase is perplexing, and this perplexity has led to a number of interpretations, several of which we provide here where they seem viable. Walker suggests "inf'nite cunning," which seems perhaps the most plausible, especially considering what Hunter calls "the virtual identity of 'insuite' and 'infnite' in Elizabethan writing – and even typography." Thiselton suggests that "insuite" works because it anglicizes the Latin "insuetus," or "unusual"; Fraser follows Thiselton here. The suggestion is somewhat compelling – or at least interesting and viable – though it is certainly not the most plausible explanation. A stronger reason to keep F1's "insuite," found through LEME, comes from Thomas Cooper's Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae (1584), where "insuite" is defined as "Full of strife or contention … contentious … [referring to] A peece of land insuite or controuersie." Another possibility is "ensuant coming", appropriately based on a French etymology (ensuivre, to follow after), referring to Diana's subsequent approach to Bertram, after teasing him with her cool restraint, bargaining for a better financial arrangement. Another possibility not yet argued for is that 'insuite' actually means 'in-suit', from 'in-suitor,' a term in Scottish law, now obsolete, referring to a person bringing a suit in a baronial court and living within the barony. In this context, Diana's 'in-suit coming' sues for Bertram's love (the 'court' here is the court of love, not law) and wins, to the extent that he gave her his ring in return for a sexual encounter. Showing some awareness of Scottish law might have seemed appropriate at the start of James's reign. "Inf'nite conning" – for infinite trickery – might also work, though the OED curiously has no entry for the verb "con" (as in, "I was conned by a hustler in Chicago"), and it recognizes "con" as a short form of "confidence game" no earlier than 1875. If "inf'nite conning" works, it might appeal to the sense of "con" as "to steer a ship," which makes some sense in context if we imagine that Bertram is figuring Diana as the helmsman who bossily steered the ship of their affair, forcing him along for the ride, though the OED records its first usage of "con" in this sense in 1626. Any of these latter suggestions might be better than accepting a rewriting as "inf'nite cunning" despite this reading's surface logic. Because "inf'nite cunning" is not recorded in F1, and because other readings are more or less plausible, we have decided to include a variety here.


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