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Tony Grist

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All's Well that Ends Well [Jan. 19th, 2008|11:41 am]
Tony Grist
She's a doctor's daughter with an obsessive personality and a magical way with fistulas; he's a callow young aristocrat with exceptional military skills and an abusive attitude to women- together they fight crime. No, of course they don't- but they do make a pretty weird couple. 

Bernard Shaw loved this play. He thought Shakespeare was having a go at being Ibsen- or even Shaw.

Charles II was under the impression that the title of the play was M. Parolles. Parolles isn't the best thing in it, but he's the most familiar thing, the most comforting thing- a big, blowsy, comic character of the kind that lets an actor shine. All's Well has never been popular. When it has been staged (which is rarely) it has usually been adapted to shift the embarrassing love story to one side and make Parolles the star.

A recent production turned it into a  vehicle for Judi Dench as the Countess of Rossillion. Interesting- and again an evasion. 

The formula for Shakespearian comedy is silly romantic story + realistic psychology + dirty jokes. Sometimes it works a treat.
 
All Shakespearean comedies- all the great ones anyway-  contain elements designed to make the audience squirm. This one is just squirmier than most.  The heroine is a stalker and the hero a total bastard- and we're supposed to identify with them?

But Bertram isn't really so strange.  In fact most  men are a lot like Bertram.  And perfectly decent and intelligent young women like Helena fall in love with them anyway.  And pursue them unscrupulously and think they're a catch.  

Put aside the contrivances of the plot and what we've got here is the truth about love. 

What a fearsome play this is- 400 years old and we're still afraid of it.  We may now be grown up enough to cope with the blinding of Gloucester and the hanging of Cordelia but we still can't look Helena and Bertram in the face.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2008-01-19 03:09 pm (UTC)
Now you've made me want to go and read it! :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-19 03:14 pm (UTC)
Shakespeare is full of surprises. I'd always dismissed this as a minor work- but it's not.
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[User Picture]From: mummm
2008-01-19 05:44 pm (UTC)
We watched Shakespeare in Love last night...
Does that count for cultural? *L*
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[User Picture]From: margaretarts
2008-01-19 07:32 pm (UTC)
I agree that "All's Well" is a difficult one for me to watch, so thanks for these thoughts. You're right that WS didn't ever create an easygoing romantic comedy.

What I liked about reading the bare screenplay "Shakespeare in Love" is that the character Shakespeare hit the right blend of pure genius and pure craziness that must have been young Will himself. Finding high/low comedy and usable dialogue in everyday situations must have been the real Shakespeare's own experience. It would have been nice to see other actors play the same roles but with more subtlety.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-19 08:31 pm (UTC)
That's a fun film.

And clever- as it should be with a script by Tom Stoppard.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2008-01-20 04:50 am (UTC)
We may now be grown up enough to cope with the blinding of Gloucester and the hanging of Cordelia but we still can't look Helena and Bertram in the face.

I will have to re-read this one.

I've never seen a production, but on the page the comedy that always troubled me most was Twelfth Night.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-20 11:07 am (UTC)
Because of the treatment of Malvolio?
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2008-01-20 06:59 pm (UTC)
Because of the treatment of Malvolio?

Yes; because if he's anything other than two-dimensional, it's cruel, and it's not as interesting to play two-dimensional.
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