All's Well that Ends Well


William Shakespeare

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All's Well that Ends Well: Genre 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Explanation and Analysis:

All's Well That Ends Well is a play that belongs primarily to two genres of theater. At its core, the play is mostly a comedy. Shakespearean comedies are known for their clever wordplay, use of mistaken identity and sleight of hand, romantic entanglements, and elements of the fantastical. They often involve characters overcoming obstacles to achieve happy endings, which are usually in the form of marriages or reunions. These plays tend to be light-hearted and often provide commentary on social conventions, particularly those surrounding love and marriage. All’s Well That Ends Well does many of these things. It has a love plot that is positively resolved, and is often funny. It has a lot of witty dialogue, some of the plot revolves around those mistaken identities and confusions, and there are moments which incorporate tomfoolery and slapstick.

However, All's Well That Ends Well also fits into Shakespeare’s “problem play” genre. In Shakespeare's canon, the term "problem play" refers to plays that don’t fit neatly into the traditional categories of comedy or tragedy. Plays like this often deal with complex moral or social issues, and present characters as being morally corruptible or ambiguous. While there are always comedic elements in these plays, they are also infused with a more serious undertone.

The characters in a “problem play” face dilemmas and conflicts that are not easily resolved. The conclusions their stories come to often leave the audience with more questions than answers. All’s Well That Ends Well explores themes of deceit, manipulation, and spends a lot of time on the blurred lines between right and wrong. The use of "tricks" and deceptions by various characters adds layers of complexity to the narrative: even “good” characters deceive others for their own ends. It also doesn’t tie up all its loose threads neatly. It leaves certain aspects open to interpretation, allowing for lingering questions and discussions: do people really change? If so, is that change permanent? The moral growth and evolution of the characters is a very important element of the plot: even when there is positive change, the audience is still left with a lingering sense of unease.