“All’s Well that Ends Well”: Keep telling yourself that When Things Look Hopeless.
I just finished All’s Well that Ends Well, and if I remember accurately, this play wins the prize so far for the most mentions of the title in the actual play with Heroine Helena repeating it several times—I suppose to keep her spirits up when things weren’t working out well.
This was my 11th comedy, and I’m wearing out on comedies, and look anxiously forward to tragedy–first time I’ve ever said that. (If I had to do it over again, I would rotate through the three types of plays–comedy, tragedy, history–but I’m taking them in the order of the edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare I’m using, and since I’ve only got three more comedies before a history play, so I’ll stick with the plan.)
Themes and words that came to mind as I read it were agency and choice (We like it best when we can do our own choosing.); coercion creates an equal resistance (direct or indirect); thwarted evil intent—so it can be a comedy; a virtuous, capable woman using her cunning and wisdom can get what is “rightfully” hers; and most importantly, I was reminded that we don’t really control the ends, so the means are the only part we can choose—so chose well; then if it ends poorly, at least you have your self-respect.
What I liked best about this play was I found a quote that I will probably use at the end of the sequel to Beyond the Wood. At this point, I think the quote’s perfect. Since Beyond the Wood ends with a Shakespeare quote, I thought it’s sequel should as well.
All’s Well that Ends Well earns a middling three Bards:
Quotes that appealed to me for various reasons:
Lafeu: Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead; excessive grief the enemy to the living.
Countess of Rousillon: Love all, trust few, do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy rather in power than use; and keep thy friend under thy own life’s key: be check’d for silence, but never tax’d for speech.
Helena: He that of greatest works is finisher oft does them by the weakest minister.
Helena: …It is presumption in us when the help of heaven we count the act of men.
King of France: …Honours thrive, when rather from our acts we them derive….
Lafeu: The soul of this man is his clothes; trust him not in matter of heavy consequence….
Mariana: The honour of a maid is her name; and no legacy is so rich as honesty.
Diana: I would he lov’d his wife: if he were honester he were much goodlier…. (great reminder for all husbands as we continue to hear of news of marriage infidelity at high levels of the military.)
Diana: ‘Tis not the many oaths that make the truth, but the plain single vow that is vow’d true.
1 Lord: …What things are we! 2 Lord: Merely our own traitors. And as in the common course of all treasons, we still see them reveal themselves, till they attain to their abhorred ends; so he that in this action contrives against his own nobility, in his proper stream o’erflows himself.
Parolles: Who knows himself a braggart, let him fear this; for it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass.
Helena: O strange men! That can such sweet use make of what they hate, when saucy trusting of the cozen’d thoughts defiles the pitchy night! So lust doth play with what it loathes.
King of France: Our rash faults make trivial price of serious things we have, not knowing them until we know their grave….
Lafeu: Mine eyes smell onions; I shall weep anon…
Next Up (if you’re reading along): The Taming of the Shrew