Shakespeare employed two ancient story-telling forms in writing All’s Well That Ends Well. One, the fairy tale, he inherited from his source. The other, the morality play, he worked into the story.
The type of fairy and folk tales of which All’s Well That Ends Well is an example are known as Virtue stories. These are composed of two major sections: The Healing Of The King and The Fulfillment Of The Tasks. These tales can be found in the early literature of cultures the world over and have two qualities in common: the cleverness and devotion of the woman sent by her husband to perform the tasks, and the husband’s immediate acceptance of the fulfillment of the tasks as evidence of the wife’s courage and love. The Healing Of The King in All’s Well is a variation of a common popular theme: a hero wins the hand of the king’s daughter by performing a difficult task, in which failure will cost him his life. Boccaccio and Shakespeare add interest by switching the genders of the characters.
Shakespeare also drew on the morality plays, a popular medieval theatrical form in which characters representing good and evil struggle for the soul of the hero. In All’s Well Shakespeare has created similar relationships by adding the character of Parolles. Parolles acts as Vice personified, and Helena acts as Divine Grace. Together they struggle for the soul of Bertram, unredeemed man.
Shakespeare carefully weaves these two forms together at two major points in the action. Helena’s healing of the king operates on the level of fairy tale and carries hints of the miraculous as well. Lafeu calls it “A showing of a heavenly effect in an earthly actor.” At the end of the play, Bertram’s acceptance of Helena fits the Virtue story form. It also reflects the point in morality plays when unredeemed man, burdened by sin and about to be carried off to the everlasting torments of hell, calls for mercy. However, unlike the characters in morality plays and fairy tales, Shakespeare’s characters are realistic in their motivations and behavior. Can a fairy tale work in the complex lives of real people?
The Dynamic Duo in Volpone
The Dynamic Duo in Volpone
While Mosca and Volpone, the “dynamic duo” in this play, share many similarities, they are still different enough to compliment one another. On one hand, both characters are alike in that they share a common lust for deceit, making their living by tricking others. They take delight in conjuring up and performing elaborate schemes in order to fool people. This becomes a game for the two of them, which they both enjoy playing immensely. Perhaps the common love of this game is what knits
Volpone’s heart so tightly to Mosca’s.
On the other hand, Mosca seems to be a little sharper and wittier than Volpone. Where Volpone tends to be slightly dull or slow, Mosca makes up for his lack by being ingenious for him. For example, in act 3.4,
Volpone boils in frustration because he cannot successfully persuade or trick Lady Would-be into leaving his presence. He attempts to make her leave several times, but is ineffective. Finally, at the height of his despair, Mosca walks in, and with one breath, comes up with a brilliant falsehood that sends Lady Would-be running out the door. This unfailing ability of Mosca’s to invent schemes while under pressure is what makes him so useful to Volpone and keeps the duo together. Mosca’s quick thinking compliments Volpone’s slow wit.
Another characteristic that Mosca possesses in abundance that
Volpone does not necessarily have is the ability to flatter. Throughout the play, Mosca displays a clever ability to play off of other people’s pride by inflating their egos so that they will be consumed with their own vanity. Then, once the other person has his eyes solely on himself, he is vulnerable to fall for any scheme of
Mosca’s. This tricky character plays this game of flattery with almost every character in the play, including Volpone.
Because Volpone is not witty enough to see that his side-kick treats him with the same craftiness that he uses on the clients, he is