By Harold Bloom,Paul Gleed
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Additional info for All's Well That Ends Well
Shakespeare would most likely be fascinated by the critical reception and trajectory of this strange and wonderful play. It is, after all, critics who shaped the play as a failure for centuries, and, at last, a later generation of commentators who “rescued” the play in the twentieth century. But when the ﬁ rst critics who appear in this volume were writing, such a critical salvaging of All’s Well That Ends Well might have seemed unfathomable. Broadly speaking, they were convinced that the play was unsuccessful, even oﬀensive or ugly, and that that the reasons for its failure lay primarily in Shakespeare’s inexplicably and prominently featuring such morally unattractive characters.
There is indeed in Boccacio’s serious pieces a truth, a pathos, and an exquisite reﬁnement of sentiment, which is hardly to be met with in any other prose writer whatever. Justice has not been done him by the world. He has in general passed for a mere narrator of lascivious tales or idle jests. This character probably originated in his obnoxious attacks on the monks, and has been kept up by the grossness of mankind, who revenged their own want of reﬁnement on Boccacio, and only saw in his writings what suited the coarseness of their own tastes.
By midcentury, Charles Cowden Clarke writes an account of Helena’s mind and motivations unprecedented in its detail. Several decades later at the century’s close, Frederick S. Boas also wrestles with the complexity of the play, this time urging readers to look at the work’s genre and form rather than its morality as a means of characterizing the play. His categorization of All’s Well That Ends Well as a problem play has helped shape critical debate about it ever since. These advances were made, of course, alongside continuing declarations and assertions of the play’s limits.