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By Harold Bloom,Paul Gleed

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But when the fi rst critics who appear in this volume were writing, such a critical salvaging of All’s Well That Ends Well might have seemed unfathomable. Broadly speaking, they were convinced that the play was unsuccessful, even offensive or ugly, and that that the reasons for its failure lay primarily in Shakespeare’s inexplicably and prominently featuring such morally unattractive characters. The puzzles and ambiguities of the play so seductive to modern critics, such as the portrayal of transgressive gender roles or the undercutting of generic societal norms, were viewed as flaws by most eighteenth-century readers, mistakes uncharacteristic of the great Shakespeare.

Bertram had surely good reason to look upon the king’s forcing him to marry Helena as a very tyrannical act. Indeed, it must be confessed that her character is not very delicate, and it required all Shakespeare’s consummate skill to interest us for her. And she does this chiefly by the operation of the other characters, the Countess, Lafeu, etc. We get to like Helena from their praising and commending her so much. QQQ 1846—A. W. Schlegel. From Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature Schlegel (1767–1845), the German romantic poet and thinker, gained his intimate knowledge of Shakespeare by translating the playwright’s works into his native language.

Be not offended; for it hurts not him That he is lov’d of me: I follow him not By any token of presumptuous suit; STA All's Well That Ends Well fi40 40 11/23/2009 3:43:35 PM All’s Well That Ends Well in the Nineteenth Century 41 Nor would I have him till I do deserve him, Yet never know how that desert should be. I know I love in vain, strive against hope; Yet in this captious and intenible sieve I still pour in the waters of my love, And lack not to lose still; thus, Indian-like, Religious in mine error, I adore The sun, that looks upon his worshipper, But knows of him no more.

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