Sell Me on All’s Well

So, Commonwealth Shakespeare of Boston is doing All’s Well That Ends Well this year.

Quite frankly I know almost nothing about it.  I’ll do some research before I go, familiarize myself with the plot of course.  But I’m curious to see if it holds up to a certain test.  Namely, the “What’s it famous for?” test.

When I saw As You Like It a few years ago, I don’t think it really had the audience’s attention.  That is, until Jaques started in on “All the world’s a stage…” and you could have heard a pin drop, as everybody in the audience simultaneously thought, “Oh, wait, I know that speech!” and stopped to listen.

Twelfth Night has a similar moment when Orsino gives us “If music be the food of love, play on!” although, naturally, that occurs too early to be a head turning moment.  But it certainly gets the play started with even the most casual fan’s attention!

So, somebody sell me on All’s Well.  What line, speech or scene is going to show up here that I’m going to recognize and say, “Oh, *that’s* where that comes from?!”

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4 thoughts on “Sell Me on All’s Well

  1. I love All's Well. I saw it last year, in fact, at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and it was great. It works best, I think, if done straight up. I'd have to see it to believe it, if it were done in a "modern" fashion, that is.

    Helena is one of my favorite Shakespeare ladies, and I think you'll enjoy her. Hopefully she'll be played by a great actress. The jokes are great, especially during one of the initial scenes where Helena and Perolles are debating the merits of virginity. I think you'll enjoy it.

    As far as, "what is it famous for?" goes, I really can't say. It has that great twist of an ending. I always found it interesting that Helena doesn't disguise herself as a boy, like say, Viola, when she's traveling to Spain. A female carries the piece from beginning to end.

  2. The character Parolles is one to watch, including (seconding High Tide Productions) his advice to Helena concerning virginity, and his actions when he believes he has fallen into enemy hands. The play's ending has the potential to be a stirring one, depending on how it's handled. When Judi Dench played the Countess of Rossillion, Bertram's mother, and was reunited at the end with Helena, many critics said there was not a dry eye in the house. Helena also has some great lines–"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to heaven," for example, when she decides to pursue Bertram.

  3. Act 4-3-69 My favorite:
    The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not, and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.

  4. I am also fond of All's Well and saw a wonderful production by Theater for a New Audience in NYC a few years ago. The play has received mixed reviews over the years, as exampled by these comments by Dr. Samuel Johnson:

    "Parolles has many of the lineaments of Falstaff and seems to be the character which Shakespeare delighted to draw, a fellow that had more wit than virtue. Though justice required that he should be detected and exposed, yet his vices sit so fit in him that he is not at last suffered to starve….
    "General Observation. This play has many delightful scenes, though not sufficiently probable, and some happy characters, though not new, nor produced by any deep knowledge of human nature. Parolles is a boaster and a coward, such as has always been the sport of the stage, but perhaps never raised more laughter or contempt than in the hands of Shakespeare.
    "I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram; a man noble without generosity, and young without truth; who marries Helen as a coward and leaves her as a profligate; when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks home to a second marriage, is accused by a woman he has wronged, defends himself by falsehood, and is dismissed to happiness.
    "The story of Bertram and Diana had been told before of Mariana and Angelo, and to confess the truth, scarcely merited to be heard a second time. The story is copied from a novel of Boccaccio, which may be read in Shakespeare Illustrated, with remarks not more favorable to Bertram than my own."

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