Tag Archives: All’s Well that Ends Well

My Latest Post for BloggingShakespeare.com: All’s Well that Ends Well!

Apologies for the delay, possums! All’s Well that Ends Well is a problematic play as well as a problem play, as we shall see here oh, around 2019, but it still offers rewards. Check out the post to see what they are.

The picture of Ian Richardson is not the one I chose; I assume there were rights problems with that one. Since he was great in whatever he did, it doesn’t matter that much. Enjoy this one on Shakespeare’s Birthday!


A Stern Article from Tiffany

You’ll remember that at the end of his introduction to the Arden edition of  the faux Shakespeare Double Falsehood, Brean Hammond mentions that he had heard a lecture by Professor Tiffany Stern of Oxford University that made even him doubt the attribution of this play to Shakespeare in any degree:

Tiffany Stern’s keynote lecture was the most openly skeptical contribution. Her study of the various ways in which plays could be plotted in Shakespeare’s period—in particular her contention that co-writing might not actually involve two hands being present in the finished article because one of the authors might be responsible only for the “plot” or narrative content—paves the way for saying that both Shakespeare’s and Fletcher’s hands need not be found in a collaborative play by them. . . . Stern built up a case convincing enough to render any editor of the play cautious. And “cautious” is what I hope this edition has been.

(True to form, Hammond did not address her criticisms or his doubts.) Professor Stern’s paper (at 40 pages, it cannot be the lecture she delivered) appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly last year (“’The Forgery of Some Modern Author’? Theobald’s Shakespeare and Cardenio’s Double Falsehood,Shakespeare Quarterly 62:4 (2011), 551-93)and I am finally catching up with it. (Here is a link that, alas, works only if you have access to Project MUSE

I might not have wanted to return to the subejct of Double Falsehood in this blog–I wouldn’t blame you for thinking I’ve already run it into the ground–but I’m the more impelled to do so because of this news. Professor Gary Taylor has long, long had a reputation as a Bad Boy among Shakespeare scholars, but he finally seems to have gone full Theobald, unabashedly adding his own writing to what he takes to be Shakespeare’s. Perhaps he should bear in mind that if Theobald is remembered at all outside the narrow world of Shakespeare editors, it’s for being the main target of The Dunciad.

Taylor is notorious for his challenges to traditional attributions of Shakespeare. His edition of Middleton, as this article proclaims, includes Macbeth, Measure for Measure, and Timon of Athens. Because he has spent much of his career as a provocateur, one takes his claims with the needed boxcar of salt; but this paper claiming that All’s Well That Ends Well was cowritten with Middleton has been getting serious attention. (Yes, serious attention, although for convenience I am linking to the Telegraph.) Serious enough attention to have drawn this stinging refutation from Brian Vickers and Marcus Dahl (best known, at least to me, for this critique of Taylor’s claims about the authorship of 1 Henry VI).

I find all this distressing. Just a year ago I was praising the potential of stylometric analysis to illuminate the conditions of English Renaissance playwriting, specifically to educate us about the realities of collaboration. Yet even then I qualified my praise with the reservation “properly applied.” As I understand stylometric analysis, it is a statistical technique that requires large corpora to compare authorial styles. Elloitt and Valenza would not, if I understand them, claim to discern how Shakespeare starts a single scene, hands off to Middleton, and then comes back for the ending, as Maguire and Smith do. So perhaps I should speak of attribution studies here, a broader category. In any event, given the now-untraceable intervention of scribes and compositors, we don’t (and can’t) have a technique for making the kinds of fine-grained distinctions Maguire and Smith make so blithely. It’s not so different from the idea that we can chisel away the barnacles of eighteenth-century revision to get to the original Cardenio.

Have attribution studies jumped the shark so soon, then? (Has the phrase “jumped the shark” jumped the shark? Probably. But you know what I mean.) I’ll be coming back to this subject.

Summer is icumen in!

And we all know what that means—Shakespeare in the Park! In the real Park, the one and only Central Park, the tone looks a little higher than usual. The Public Theater will present Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well in repertory. The Public deserves kudos for putting on these dark plays together, especially during the summer. They’re often linked—they’re two of the three “problem plays,” after all—but is it mere coincidence that the last time they were presented in the Park was together, fully eighteen years ago in 1993?

My one visit to Shakespeare in the Park was to that Measure for Measure, which I consider Shakespeare’s most underrated play. I recall an A-list cast (Kevin Kline as the Duke, Andre Braugher as Angelo) losing a valiant struggle to a misguided reggae/Caribbean staging. When you see a production of Measure for Measure that ends with the whole cast prancing offstage in a conga line, you know something’s gone very wrong. This interview with David Esbjornson, the director of this year’s production, holds forth hope that it’ll be far superior, even without a name performer in the cast, although I wouldn’t expect it to efface the 2005 all-male staging by the Shakespeare’s Globe company; Mark Rylance’s performance as the Duke, like his Cleopatra, almost made me forgive his Oxfordianism.

All’s Well is a tougher crack because the hero, Bertram, gives Coriolanus a stiff run for his money as Shakespeare’s least likeable main character. The production notes clearly look like this staging will take the logical course, focusing on Helena instead of Bertram, though this brings the sticky question what she could possibly see in him front and center. (Both sets of production notes—here is Measure for Measure’s—are hilariously overwritten; do have a look.)

The only thing I wonder about: when did Central Park start closing between 1 and 6 a.m.? Yes, possums, people really do queue half a day in advance for those precious tickets, though I know from experience—not mine, alas—that it’s possible to sashay in at the last minute and get a seat. I think you just have to look sexy enough. (I do recall some feeble efforts to keep Washington Square Park closed during those hours back in Giuliani Time, but never Central Park.)

Meanwhile, Toronto’s counterpart to Shakespeare in the Park, the Dream in High Park series, is tackling The Winter’s Tale, the only play of Shakespeare’s as underrated as Measure for Measure. I may see it, since I hope to be discussing the Winter’s Tale with you some time this summer, but I’ve been underwhelmed by the Comedy of Errors and Midsummer Night’s Dream I’ve seen there. Word of mouth on their Romeo and Juliet last summer was so bad I didn’t even think about going. Any company that can screw up The Comedy of Errors has no business within shouting distance of late Shakespeare, but we’ll see. I only wish the wonderful Shakespeare in the Rough had not dropped off the face of the Earth.