Conflict in All's Well That Ends Well

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Conflict in All's Well That Ends Well One of the themes that emerges from Shakespeare's comedy All's Well That Ends Well is the conflict between old and new, age and youth, wisdom and folly, reason and passion. As one critic points out, a simple glance at the characters of the play reveals an almost equally balanced cast of old and young. "In performance it is apparent that the youth of the leading characters, Helena, Bertram, Diana and Parolles, is in each case precisely balanced by the greater age of their counterparts, the Countess, the King of France, the Widow of Florence and the old counselor Lafeu."1 Indeed, the dialectic between youth and age is established in the first act as the Countess sees a mirror of her former self in Helena's love sick countenance in scene three when she exclaims "Even so it was with me when I was young," and Bertram's worthiness to the ailing King of France in the previous scene appears to hang upon his youthful resemblance to his deceased father. As the King explains, "Such a man might be a copy to these younger times,/Which followed well would demonstrate them now/But goers-backward" [I.2. 49-51]. Like so many literary youths of his day, Shakespeare went backward for his source material for All's Well and based the play on Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron. Boccaccio's early sixteenth-century story revolves around Giletta of Narbona, the daughter of a wealthy and respected physician. Giletta, like Helena (the daughter of the deceased--and indigent--Gerard de Narbonne), falls in love with young count Beltramo, follows him to Paris where she remedies the King's incurable disease, and, because of her newly-acquired royal favor, is granted the right to demand a husband: Beltramo. Despite ... ... middle of paper ... the confusing and difficult landscape of gender politics and postmodern deconstruction. And rather than accept Helena's all too confident statement that "All's well that ends well," we might more willingly embrace the King's more ambiguous statement," All yet seems well." 1 J.L. Styan, All's Well That Ends Well (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984) 15. 2 W.W. Lawrence, Shakespeare's Problem Comedies, 1931 rpt (New York: Ungar, 1960). 3 Anne Barton, "Introduction," All's Well That Ends Well in The Riverside Shakespeare ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974) 501. 4 Ibid, 500. 5 David McCandless, "Helena's Bed-trick: Gender and Performance in All's Well That Ends Well" Shakespeare Quarterly 45 (1994): 455. 6 Richard A. Levin, "All's Well That Ends Well, and 'All Seems Well'," Shakespeare Studies (1980): 131. 7 McCandless, 450.

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