Word links with All's Well That Ends Well

Notes & Queries 222, March-April 1977, pp. 109-112


   It used to be a generally accepted opinion that Shakespeare's play Love's Labour's Wonne, mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598, had survived under another name, and could be most probably identified with All's Well That Ends Well. So Brigstocke, [1] in the edition of the play that he edited in 1904, took the view that "critics are now almost unanimous" in this opinion; and further that the play would have been written about 1590 but subsequently much revised. Brigstocke mentions that Cole­ridge believed that the play had been written at two widely separated times. This view does not prevail today. Professor Hunter [2] says that an early date, to bring All's Well into mention by Meres, "is not acceptable to modern scholarship as a date for the complete work. The play's affini­ties with Hamlet and with Measure for Mea­sure, its sombre tone, the maturity of the character‑drawing and of much of the verse place it clearly in the later part of Shake­speare's output." He does not believe that the play as we have it needs to be a revi­sion of an earlier work. For observations such as incoherencies in the text and varia­tion in stylistic level, which might suggest two periods of writing, do not require such an interpretation when critically examined. As a unitary theory can be sustained, it is not necessary to suppose that there was more than one time of writing. The identification of Love's Labour's Wonne with All's Well is in effect rejected.

   In his discussion Mr. Hunter does not take into account the discovery, reported by T. W. Baldwin [3] in 1957, of a page from the account books of an Elizabethan book­seller showing that a play called "loves labor won" was, in August 1603, to be had in print. It was set in a list with other Shakespearean plays (marchant of vennis, taming of a shrew, knak to know a knave, knak to know an honest man, loves labor lost, loves labor won). Baldwin argues that if Love's Labor's Won was included under another title in the Folio, it would be one of the fourteen classified as comedy. The other titles mentioned by Meres, Gentle­men of Verona, Errors, Love labors lost, Midsummer night dreame, Merchant of Venice, can be excluded. Merry Wives of Windsor and Much Ado About Nothing were in print by 1603. He continues:

It seems generally agreed that The Tempest and The Winter's Tale are con­siderably later than 1603 in any form. As You Like It, along with Much Ado, was 'staied' August 4, 1600; so it is not a likely candidate. The majority would probably agree that Twelfth Night is later than the mention of Love's Labor's Won by Meres in 1598, thus eliminating it as a probability. The Taming of the Shrew must have had at least a Shrew in its title from the onset, since the word is indigenous to the background as it is to the two surviving titles and to con­temporary references. The theme was proverbial and the play titles inevitable; they were shrew plays, not love plays. We have left, therefore, as suspicious characters Measure for Measure, and All's Well that Ends Well. In character pattern, etc., All's Well is closest of all the plays to Love's Labor's Lost, so that I have long considered it to be the most likely candidate. But this mention in 1603, while it eliminates some plays entirely and others probably, yet it does not indicate directly whether Love's Labor's Won survives at all, nor if so under what title. Consequently, there would be no point in reviewing here all the suggested identifications of Love's Labor's Won with various plays of Shakspere. Simply, we are now assured that in August, 1603, there was in print a play called Love's Labor's Won, which Meres attributes directly to Shakspere, as does our stationer by indirection.

   Taking this discovery into account, at least one editor has veered back to the older view. Mr. Barnet, [4] in his edition of the play, dissents from the view that it is a problem play or one of the dark comedies, and would date it early: "Put it this way: if Meres was correct that Shakespeare wrote Love's Labor's Won, quite possibly it survives (presumably with substantial revision) as All's Well, and we should alter our conception of Shakespeare's develop­ment; but if Meres was mistaken, and the play was by another hand (hence omitted from the Folio), we have been wasting our time."

    As the contemporaneity of the writing of All's Well with other plays of Shake­speare seems to be, at least to some extent, an open question, it is worth while apply­ing statistical tests of its vocabulary by the methods which have been described in earlier communications. [5] A card index prepared on the basis of Bartlett's Con­cordance was checked, corrected and amplified by comparison with the Harvard Concordance of Marvin Spevack of 1973. Textual disagreements between the two were checked against the Cambridge editions of the plays, which were taken as authoritative. The card index includes only and all words found in two or more plays but with not more than ten citations, i.e. the rarest but not unique words. Classification followed the general prin­ciples of the O.E.D., as has been described in earlier publications. Indexed words found in All's Well totalled 594, provid­ing 972 citations in other plays for words appearing two to six times, and 2194 cita­tions using all words together. The distribution of these links between All's Well and other plays is shown in the table.

    From this table we see that the rarer words show a statistically significant excess of links with only two plays, Troilus and Measure for Measure, which are its neighbours on either side in the Chambers chronology. If, however, we take all words, the closest linking is again with Measure for Measure, but now not Troilus but Othello. In this count there are also significant excesses of links with other late plays, Coriolanus and Timon and, strangely, with the first two and doubtfully authentic acts of Pericles. [6] The most important point, however, is that there is no sign, either in the total count or in the more selective one, of any linking with any early work of Shakespeare's, if we can exclude Pericles 1 and 2. Plays written before 1598 and Meres take us no further than 2 Henry IV. The observed links with all those plays total 829 on the full list, as against 977.0 expected, i.e. 85 per cent of expectation; on the rarer words links total 359 against 478.0 expected, i.e. only 75 per cent of expectation.

    To conclude, the deficiency of word links between All's Well and any or all early plays would seem to be material evidence against the hypothesis that All’s Well was a revised version of a play written sufficiently early to be mentioned by Meres in 1598.





[1] Brigstocke, W. Osborne (Ed.): The Arden Shakespeare: All's Well That Ends Well, London (Methuen), 1904, p. xi.

[2] Hunter, G. K. (Ed.): The Arden Shakespeare: All's Well That Ends Well, London (Methuen), 1962, p. xix ff.

[3] Baldwin, T. W.: Shakspere's Love's Labor's Won: New Evidence from the Account Books of an Elizabethan Bookseller, Carbondale (Southern Illinois University Press), 1957.

[4] Barnet. Sylvan (Ed.): The Signal Classic Shakespeare: All's Well That Ends Well, New York (New American Library), 1965, p. xxviii.

[5] Slater, E.: "Shakespeare: Word Links Between Poems and Plays", N. & Q., ccxx (1975). 157‑63; and "Word Links with The Merry Wives of Windsor ", ibid., 164‑71

[6] The links with Pericles, Acts I and 2, classified by number of citations, were given by the words: 2. chill, adj., heritage, mite; 3. artist, lawfully, per­petually; 4. imnudence, fry, n., propagate, un­thankfulness: 5. brim, n., subjection: 7. darling, n.; 8. neighbour by, v. (twice), pudding, reave/reft, rust, v.; 9. betake (twice), education, partake: 10. abundance, calendar, conversation, odious, overflow, whalebone (twice). 'Pudding' also armears in MM, and both 'pudding' and 'rust' in Oth.