Kristopher's Reviews > All's Well That Ends Well

All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare
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's review
Feb 13, 10

liked it
bookshelves: fiction, re-read, play
Read in February, 2010

Shakespeare's comedies just don't thrive the page like his tragedies.

I read this right before seeing a production of it by the American Shakespeare Company. While I read Parolles' overblown speeches and Latvach's clever puns, I knew they were supposed to be funny, but I didn't really laugh until I saw them acted out on stage. Not just the physical slapstick needs to be seen to be appreciated, but normal jokes need to be heard. A lot of how funny a joke is depends on how it's delivered.

Of course, this isn't a comedy anymore but a "problem play," meaning it's supposed to be a comedy but nobody can really imagine Betram and Helena being happy together. Honestly, I'm still very, very undecided whether the ambiguous ending was intentional or if Shakespeare and his contemporaries just had a very different understanding of love than we do.

That said, when I read this several years ago, I missed how often sex is described in military terms, with virginity a castle to be conquered, and how that fits with Helena's tactical maneuver to solve Betram's challenge. She outflanks Betram, and so he finally surrenders.

From Shakespeare, who wrote such immortal lines about spiritual love before and after this play, that seems odd. And maybe there's something to the idea of a "problem play" after all.
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