All’s Well That Ends Well

All’s Well that Ends Well is a First Folio play inspired from Giovanni Boccacio’s Decameron (1353) by way of either William Painter’s own expurgated version “Palace of Pleasure” (1566) or another version by Antoine le Maçon. This collection of stories appeared during 1348 when a plague swept through Florence and ten storytellers were enlisted to entertain and relieve the gruesome horrors with ten tales a day at the noble’s court, hence its title. Several academics are inclined to think that this play was formerly known as Love’s Labours Won and was written as a counterpart to Love’s Labours Lost. This was not the only play in Shakespeare’s folio that was influenced or derived largely from the Florentine school, the history of Cymbelline was another and Chaucer’s work “The Canterbury Tales” was also greatly influenced by Boccaccio’s own classic collection. The occultist and astrologer John Florio only completed a translation of Decameron in 1620, so we can be certain that Painter’s play was the original source for Shakespeare’s own version in dramatic form. Indeed, he may have borrowed much from Painter’s plays in the early years of his career, for example in the development of the plot in Romeo & Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Merchant of Venice. With the adaptation provided by the role reversal the play itself highlights the virtues of female persistence and constancy, despite the scorn and neglect of a lover, and of course a rendition of the familiar “bed-trick”. Here, the heroine’s reward is the man of her dreams, who is himself uneasy about being regarded merely as the object of her desires.

It is a peculiar hybrid of folk tale and morality play and yet it is set within a realistic social environment. The folkloric leitmotif is that of the King who is cured by the magic potency of the Virgin Maiden who awakens the powers or status of the father figure (Fisher King & Cinderella). In many of these popular fairy tales the heroine represents a clever wench who fulfils some impossible conditions imposed on her by some authority figure eg: Rumpelstiltskin and in the final analysis, as in Cinderella, she manages to marry her high born prince. A study in the ravages of time or change and the inherent conflict between two generations, one in decline, the other in ascendancy are reminiscent of the end of the Elizabethan era itself? In Greek mythology it parallels the story of Perseus and Andromeda – the helpless maiden who was chained to a rock. From the Arthurian narrative strand it mirrors the tale of Sir Gareth who, while in search of a dragon, encounters a lady in need of assistance in the forest.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows:


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