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The earliest version of this comedy we possess is that of the folio, 1623. If a prior edition were ever printed, a copy of it would be inestimably valuable ; for of all the plays of Shakespeare this appears to have suffered most from the negligence of transcribers and compositors. Malone, in his latest chronological arrangement, upon a supposed allusion to the fanaticism of the Puritans, dates its production in 1606; but there need be little hesitation in believing that it was one of the author's youthful productions, and most probably the piece indicated by Meres, in his “ Palladis Tamia,” 1598, as “ Love Labors Wonne;" that it was intended as a counter-play to “ Love's Labour's Lost,” and was originally intituled “ Love's Labour's Won; or, All's Well that Ends Well.”
The fable is derived from the story of “ Giletta of Narbona,” forming the ninth novel of the third day in Boccaccio’s “ Decamerone,” a translation of which is given in the first volume of Painter's “Palace of Pleasure," quarto, 1566 ; where the argument is thus set forth :“ Giletta, a phisician's daughter of Narbon, healed the Frenche Kyng of a fistula, for reward wherof she demaunded Beltramo counte of Rossigniole to husband. The counte beyng maried againste his will, for despite fled to Florence and loved an other. Giletta his wife, by pollicie founde meanes to lye with her husbande in place of his lover, and was begotten with child of two soonnes ; whiche knowen to her husbande, he received her againe and afterwards she lived in greate honor and felicitie.” In the leading incidents Shakespeare has closely adhered to the story; but the characters of the Countess, Parolles, the Clown, and Lafeu, as well as all the circumstances of the secondary plot, sprang from the inexhaustible resources of his own mind.
“ All's well that ends well,” is an English proverbial saying of great antiquity. It was used in a slightly varied form during the celebrated rebellion of Jack Straw, by one of the insurgents, in a speech recorded in the chronicle of Henry de Knyghton ;—" Jak Carter prayeth you
ye make a gode end of that ye have begunne, and doth wele aye better and better, for atte the evyn men hereth the day, for if the ende be wele, thanne is al wele.” And, in Fulwell's “ Ars Adulandi,” 1579, to this passage in the text:-“Wherefore, gentle Maister Philodoxus, I bid you adew with this motion or caveat; Respice Finem :" the marginal note says,
“ All is Well that Endes Well."