All's Well That Ends Well (1604–1605)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Washington Allston (1814). Coleridge's theory regarding the composition of All's Well was accepted for much of the nineteenth century.
- First official record: mentioned in the Stationers' Register entry for the First Folio on 8 November 1623.
- First published: First Folio (1623).
- First recorded performance: at Goodman's Fields in 1741, billed as "written by Shakespeare and not acted since his time."
- Evidence: a notoriously difficult play to date, with estimates ranging from 1595 to 1607. As an example of the disparity the play can cause in relation to its date, the 1997 revised edition of William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion from Oxford University Press dates the play 1604–1605, placing it between Othello and Timon of Athens. However, the 2nd edition of the Oxford Shakespeare: Complete Works in 2005, compiled by the same editors as the Textual Companion, date it 1606–1607, placing it between Antony and Cleopatra and Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Another example of scholarly mutability regarding the date of All's Well is Edmond Malone. In his 1778 chronology, Malone had accepted a theory originated by Thomas Percy and advanced by Richard Farmer that All's Well was Love's Labour's Won, and so dated the play 1598. However, by the time of his death, Malone had changed his mind, and in the Third Variorum edition of 1821, edited by James Boswell based on Malone's notes, he dated it 1606, based on a stylistic analysis of the anti-Puritan satire in 1.3, which he believed was written for King James' amusement. Another scholar who has attempted to tackle the dating issues is Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In 1813, he formulated the theory that the play "as it has come down to us, was written at two different, and rather distinct periods of the poet's life." Further elaborated upon by John Payne Collier, this theory was widely accepted throughout the nineteenth century, with most scholars arguing for an initial period of composition in the mid-1590s and a second period in the mid-1600s. The basis of the argument was that although the play exhibited stylistic and thematic connections with Hamlet and Measure for Measure, certain sections were seen as immature, and more akin to the type of material found in Two Gentlemen, Taming of the Shrew or Comedy of Errors. Often cited as immature were Helen's discussion about virginity in 1.1 and the rhyming couplets in 2.1 and 2.2. Similarly, Parolles was seen by some as an early study for Falstaff, and the Clown was often seen as being similar to Launce in Two Gentlemen; amusing, but not integrated into the plot particularly well. Modern scholarship, however, which tends to see the play as more complex and serious than earlier scholars, has rejected the two-periods-of-composition theory. Topical allusions in the play are sparse at best, with the only allusion recognised by most scholars being 1.3.94-95 ("wear the surplice of humility over the black gown of a big heart"), which is thought to be a reference to the enforcement of the surplice in 1604. Stylistically, a rare word test links the play most closely with Measure for Measure. A colloquialism-in-verse test places it after Measure and Othello but before Timon of Athens. A metrical test places it after Measure and Othello but before Lear. If one accepts the surplice reference, in tandem with the stylistic evidence, a date of 1604–1605 seems likely, but the exact order of composition of plays in this period remains open to speculation.