Accounting for Appearances
Chapter 2. All’s Well That Ends Well
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
Behold, we count them happy which endure. JAMES 5:11
Shakespeare’s source for All’s Well That Ends Well (herein All’s Well or AW) is the ninth story of the Third Day of Decameron (1351–53) by Giovanni Boccaccio, which was translated by the Kentishman William Painter (1540?–1595) and printed in his The Palace of Pleasure (1566–75). The play has defied generic classification, being neither a tragedy nor a comedy. Neither does it fit categories of folk tale, fairy tale, mystery, miracle play, morality play, medieval religious drama, nor any of several others (Snyder 41–4, Hunter p. xxx–xxxi; unattributed references in this chapter are to Snyder). Without a definitive framework by which to see the play as a whole, there is no context by which to apply the customary inductive process that helps elucidate the parts, and moreover, the more categories “that are found to contribute genuine insight, the less likely it is that any single generic key to the play will be discovered” (44). But the incidence of references to stars and planets in the early going invites examination to see whether All’s Well fits the cosmic mould. This chapter explores the play’s labyrinthine passages and describes their interconnectedness. What was hitherto an inchoate mélange of strained associations, uncoordinated impressions, and tortuous connections, is replaced by a ← 63 | 64 → coherent colligation that allegorizes the results of the application of scientific methodology and technical...