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This comedy was first printed in the folio collection of 1623. In the original copy the play is divided into acts, but not into scenes. There are several examples of corruption in the text; but, upon the whole, it is very accurately printed, both with regard to the metrical arrangement and to punctuation.
In an early number of the ‘Pictorial Edition of Shakspere we expressed an opinion as to the date of this comedy :—“Meres has also mentioned, amongst the instances of Shakspere's excellence for comedy, • Love's Labour Won.' This is generally believed to be · All 's Well that Ends Well;' and probably, in some form or other, this was an early play." Malone, in the first edition of his “Chronological Order of Shakspeare's Plays,' assigns the date of this comedy to 1598, upon the authority of the passage in Meres. He says, “ No other of our author's plays could have borne that title (“ Love's Labour Won') with so much propriety as that before us.” This is the real argument in the matter; and Coleridge, therefore, describes this play as “ originally intended as the counterpart of Love's Labour 's Lost.' Shakspere's titles, in the judgment of that philosophical critic, always exhibit “ great sig
nificancy.” The Labour of Love which is Lost is not a very earnest labour. The king and his courtiers are fantastical lovers. They would win their mistresses by “bootless rhymes” and “ speeches penn'd," and their most sincere declarations are thus only received as "mocking merriment.” What would naturally be the counterpart of such a story? One of passionate, enduring, all-pervading love,—of a love that shrinks from no difficulty, resents no unkindness, fears no disgrace, but perseveres, under the most adverse circumstances, to vindicate its own claims by its own energy, and to achieve success by the strength of its own will. This is the Labour of Love which is Won. Is not this the story of All 's Well that Ends Well??
Of the characters we may say a few words.
Mrs. Jameson quotes a passage from Foster's “Essays' to explain the general idea of the character of Helena : “To be tremblingly alive to gentle impressions, and yet be able to preserve, when the prosecution of a design requires it, an immoveable heart amidst even the most imperious causes of subduing emotion, is perhaps not an impossible constitution of mind, but it is the utmost and rarest endowment of humanity.” This “constitution of mind” has been created by Shakspere in his Helena, and who can doubt the truth and nature of the conception ?
Bertiam, like all mixed characters, whether in the drama or in real life, is a great puzzle to those who look without tolerance on human motives and actions. In z one-sided view he has no redeeming qualities. Johnson says, “I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram ; a
man noble without generosity, and young without truth; who marries Helena 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 whom he has wronged, defends himself by falsehood, and is dismissed to happiness." We have no desire to reconcile our hearts to Bertram ; all that we demand is, that he should not move our indignation beyond the point in which his qualities shall consist with our sympathy for Helena in her love for him. And in this view the poet, as it appears to us, has drawn Bertram's character most skilfully. Without his defects the dramatic action could not have proceeded; without his merits the dramatic sentiment could not have been maintained.
“Parolles has many of the lineaments of Falstaff.” We think that this opinion of Johnson exhibits a singular want of discrimination in one who relished Falstaff so highly. Parolles is literally what he is described by Helena :
“I know him a notorious liar, Think him a great way fool, solely a coward.” Is this crawling, empty, vapouring, cowardly representative of the off-scourings of social life, to be compared for a moment with the unimitable Falstaff? The comparison will not bear examining with patience, and much less with painstaking.
KING OF FRANCE. Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act II. sc. 1; sc. 3. Act V. sc. 3.
DUKE OF FLORENCE.
Appears, Act III. sc. 1; sc. 3.
BERTRAM, Count of Rousillon. Appears, Act I. sc. 1; sc. 2. Act II. sc. I; sc. 3; sc. 5. Act III. sc. 3; sc. 5; sc. 6. Act IV. sc. 2; sc. 3. Act V, sc. 3.
LAPEU, an old Lord.
Act IV. sc. 5. Act V. sc. 2; sc. 3.
PAROLLES, a follower of Bertram. Appears, Act I. sc. 1 ; sc. 2. Act II. sc. 1; sc. 3; sc. 4; sc. 5.
Act III. sc. 5; sc. 6. Act IV. sc. l; sc. 3; Act V. sc. 2; sc. 3. Several young French Lords that serve with Bertram in
the Florentine war.
Act IV. sc. l; sc. 3.
Appears, Act I. sc. 3. Act III. sc. 4.
Act IV. sc. 5. Act V. sc. 2.