"All's Well That Ends Well" (Arden Shakespeare)

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Classified as one of William Shakespeare's 'problem plays' for its unique mix of comedy and tragedy, All's Well that Ends Well is a masterpiece of irony and subtle wit. This Penguin Shakespeare edition is edited by Barbara Everett with an introduction by Janette Dillon.

'All's well that ends well; still the fine's the crown

Whate'er the course, the end is the renown'

Helena, physician's daughter of humble birth, cures the King of France, and in return is promised the hand of any nobleman she wishes. But the man she chooses, the proud young Bertram, Count of Rosillion, flees to Florence, refusing to consent to the forced marriage unless Helena can pass two seemingly impossible tests. But with the help of the virginal Diana and her mother, Helena uses her wits and wiles to coerce Bertram into submission. Depicting the triumph of trickery over youthful arrogance, All's Well that Ends Well is among Shakespeare's darkest romantic comedies, yet it remains a powerful tribute to the strength of love.

This book contains a general introduction to Shakespeare's life and Elizabethan theatre, a separate introduction to All's Well that Ends Well, a chronology, suggestions for further reading, an essay discussing performance options on both stage and screen, and a commentary.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden some time in late April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. He wrote about 38 plays (the precise number is uncertain), many of which are regarded as the most exceptional works of drama ever produced, including Romeo and Juliet (1595), Henry V (1599), Hamlet (1601), Othello (1604), King Lear (1606) and Macbeth (1606), as well as a collection of 154 sonnets, which number among the most profound and influential love-poetry in English.

If you enjoyed All's Well that Ends Well, you might like Much Ado About Nothing, also available in Penguin Shakespeare.

'He was not of an age, but for all time'

Ben Jonson

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Product Description:

"All's Well That Ends Well" is one of Shakespeare's most poetic and subtle comedies. When the clever and appealing Helena cures the ailing king of France of an illness, she asks for the hand of Bertram (a proper young Englishman) in return. Her efforts to win Bertram's love are rendered with wit and verve by a distinguished cast, including Claire Bloom, John Stride, Dame Flora Robson, Eric Portman and Jack MacGowan. This performance brings to life this surprisingly modern play.

Review:

All's Well That Ends Well has generally been considered one of Shakespeare's most difficult and unpopular plays. Labelled a "Problem Comedy", editors believe that the play was written between 1604 and 1605, and exhibits a darkening of Shakespeare's interest in comedy. The play deals with the complicated relationship between Helena, the daughter of a famous physician, and Bertram, the arrogant son of the Countess of Roussillon. Helena is secretly in love with Bertram, and when she miraculously cures the ailing King, she asks for Bertram's hand in marriage, to which the grateful sovereign happily agrees. Bertram bitterly opposes marriage to Helena, who he regards as a social inferior. After reluctantly agreeing to the marriage, Bertram flees to the wars in Italy with his companion Parolles.

What ensues is Helena's increasingly desperate and complex attempts to retrieve her errant husband, which involves various machinations and a piece of mistaken identity and an infamous "bed-trick" which has never fully convinced audiences or critics. More recently critics have been kinder to the play, seeing its cynical disillusionment with romance as reflecting contemporary social and political anxieties about warfare and commerce, and feminist critics have been keen to celebrate Helena as a particularly complex heroine. The play is also fascinated by language, encapsulated in the character of Parolles (or "words"), and his memorable line for which the play is chiefly remembered: "Simply the thing I am / Shall make me live". --Jerry Brotton

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