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All's Well That Ends Well /

An Introduction to This Text: All’s Well That Ends Well

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine
Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

All’s Well That Ends Well was first printed in the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays now known as the First Folio. The present edition is based directly upon that printing.1 For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the Folio. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, usually when a means he, we change it to he; we change mo to more, and ye to you. But it is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed texts read sith or apricocks or porpentine, we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and, or and if appear instead of the modern form if, we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if. We also modernize and, where necessary, correct passages in foreign languages, unless an error in the early printed text can be reasonably explained as a joke.

Whenever we change the wording of the First Folio or add anything to its stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in superior half-brackets ( ). We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the First Folio does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change either the First Folio’s wording or its punctuation so that meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We, like other editors of the play, regularize the proper names. Sometimes the regularization applies only to the spelling. Parolles, for example, is sometimes printed as “Parolles” and sometimes as “Parrolles” in the Folio, but we always use the spelling “Parolles.” Sometimes the regularization involves decisions about what the character should be called. In the Folio text, for example, more often than not the character Helen enters and speaks (according to Folio stage directions and dialogue) under the name “Helen” or “Hellen.” Occasionally she appears or is addressed as “Helena” or “Helana.” (Her speech prefixes are always “Hel.” or “Hell.”) Beginning with Nicholas Rowe in 1709, most editors have used the name “Helena” for this character throughout their editions. Since, as Susan Snyder points out in her 1993 Oxford edition of the play, the name “Helen” appears in stage directions and dialogue twenty-five times (in contrast to the four times the name “Helena” appears), we employ the proper name “Helen” throughout this edition. Two other characters, while consistently presented in the Folio under generic names (“Clown,” “Steward”), are each given, on a single occasion, a proper name (“Lavatch,” “Rinaldo”). Some recent editors substitute these proper names for the generic names throughout their texts. We have chosen to follow the Folio’s generic designations, substituting the designation “Fool” for the Folio’s “Clown.” (The Folio’s designation “Clown” probably indicates only that the part was played by the theatrical company’s comic actor. However, the character’s function in the play is that of the professional jester or Fool.)

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance rather than as a series of actual events. One of the features of performance is often the refusal to differentiate onstage among secondary characters, who are frequently interchangeable. This is certainly the case with the pair of characters, variously called the “Frenchmen” or “French Captains” or “French Lords” in the Folio’s stage directions, who speak in this edition after the designations FIRST LORD and SECOND LORD. Perhaps their principal task in the play is to plan and carry out the exposure of Parolles. However, only one of them can actually capture Parolles in 4.1, because the other is asked by Bertram to accompany him to his rendezvous with Diana. The Folio’s initial entrance for 4.1 captures in its indeteminacy the theatrical practice of refusing to differentiate secondary characters: “Enter one of the Frenchmen, with fiue or sixe other souldiers in ambush.” Unlike most twentieth-century editors, we have preserved the Folio’s indeterminacy by altering the stage direction only slightly, changing “Frenchmen” to “French Lords.” (For a detailed discussion of the editorial problem of the “French Lords” in terms of stage practice of Shakespeare’s time, see Paul Werstine’s “All’s Well That Ends Well and Editorial Constructions of ‘Foul Papers’ ” in the 2001 volume of the journal Archiv.)

Whenever it is reasonably certain, in our view, that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action, setting the added direction in brackets to signal that it is not found in the Folio. (Occasional exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader.) Stage directions for the entrance of a character in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the character’s participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt) are translated into English (e.g., They exit).

We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. We also regularize the speakers’ names in speech headings, using only a single designation for each character, even though the early printed texts sometimes use a variety of designations. Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the –ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent. Like editors for the past two centuries, we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 Mine honorable mistress.
COUNTESS  Nay, a mother.


However, when there are a number of short verse-lines that can be linked in more than one way, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  1. We have also consulted the computerized text of the First Folio provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.