Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: All's Well That Ends Well: Textual Introduction
  • Author: Andrew Griffin
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-432-5

    Copyright Andrew Griffin. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Andrew Griffin
    Peer Reviewed

    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.

    To 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.