Last night to the Seattle Shakespeare Company production of All’s Well That Ends Well. As virtually all critics have pointed out, this is not exactly one of the masterworks: as a play, as a plot, it’s right down there with Titus Andronicus and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Which is why it’s almost never put on, and is the only play in the canon apart from Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen that I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever seen.
The characters’ motivations make so little sense that theories abound about missing or garbled text. And some of its faults would be easy to understand in a very early play, only it’s not. The ludicrous officer Parolles, a comedia dell’arte cipher, seems to offer us all sorts of hints about where Falstaff come from, and yet the Henry plays were written earlier. Strange. (Lavatch could actually be a dry-run for Lear’s Fool, who emerges from the Womb of Time a couple of years later.)
But anyway, there’s really interesting stuff here. The low born woman Helena aggressively and cleverly pursuing her high-born man, the lying cad and/or milquetoast Bertram; an insightful, bawdy dialogue between Helena and Parolles about the way men and women see what might be called the economics of virginity; the sheer strength and determination and #MeToo anger of the female characters generally.
I was reminded of how, even in the (let’s be frank) pretty abysmal Titus Andronicus, you keep seeing vivid, almost blinding flashes of themes that are better handled elsewhere.