Welcome to Toronto's Shakespeare meet-up! Each month we discuss a different Shakespeare play; people are invited to share their ideas and perspectives. We also have a drink, and those who choose to can have a meal as well! As summer draws closer, we focus on the Shakespeare plays being produced at Stratford in the upcoming season.
The club looks at a broad mix of plays -- well-known and little-known; tragedies, comedies, histories, and late romances; popular ones and more obscure ones -- all in a totally irrational and unpredictable mix. We may also do the poems at some point in the future, if people are interested.
All's Well That Ends Well is one of Shakespeare’s so-called “problem plays”. The term “problem play” originated with the work of playwrights such as Ibsen and Strindberg, and referred more to plays that deal with social problems; but in Shakespeare it seems to have acquired the sense of “problematic”, because some people find them a little awkward and distasteful, and not very funny — though I don’t have much of a problem with them myself.
As a comedy, All's Well That Ends Well is thus quite different from the so-called “festive” comedies that precede it, such as Much Ado and As You Like It. Our man’s head was already into the tragic mode, and there are a darkness and a pessimistic irony to these comedies that are quite new in his work. The tragedies are replete with destructive females and demeaning sexuality, and All's Well That Ends Well focuses on the dangers of sexuality. But it also looks forward to the romances, specifically in its themes of growth and forgiveness. And there are elements of the earlier plays as well.
Who’s the bad guy in this play, Bertram or Helen? or maybe the King? What’s Helen like? How is sex viewed? What’s the relationship between the older and the younger characters? And what’s Parolles all about???
In Hamlet, Shakespeare elevated the revenge play to the level of an aesthetic masterpiece by means of moral and existential ponderings; Titus Andronicus, his gore-filled, smash-hit shocker of the early 1590s, gives us the revenge genre straight up. It’s easily his most brutal play, and some think that in his youth he was trying to out-gore them all.
Does this play have any merit at all?