The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2349  Friday, 12 December 2003

From:           Michael Skovmand <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 12 Dec 2003 11:30:38 +0100
Subject: 14.2333 Rhyming Couplets in "All's Well"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2333 Rhyming Couplets in "All's Well"

I have found no support anywhere for Russell Fraser's idea ( In the New
Cambridge Edition) that the switch to rhyming couplets in AWW in 2.1.126
should suggest 'the intervention of divine power'. Helena's 'project
statement' in I.1.187-200; part of the exchange between the countess and
Helena in I.3.and massively, the rhymed dialogue between Helena and the
King of France in 2.1.126-206 have established Helena  as a
linguistically empowered character - indeed she is the only socially
upward character in all of Shakespeare's plays, and a woman to boot.
Although it is true to say that rhyming is used as a heightening device
involving the two most 'serious' characters in the play, Helena and the
King, it is not used to set the discourse apart from the dramatic
action, or imbue the scene with overtones of divine allegory. It makes
much more sense to see this as a scene in which Helena is shown as
linguistically and intellectually on a par with the King, through the
gravitas of the rhymed couplets. Incidentally, the issue of rhyming in
AWW raises the issue of the dating of AWW. It is striking, when
comparing All's Well with the two plays most often coupled with it on
aesthetic grounds, Hamlet and Measure for Measure, that the feature of
extended dramatic rhyming (i.e. excluding soliloquies) is practically
non-existent in these two plays. We need, in fact to move back to the
period 1595-96 to find plays which evince a similar use of rhymed
pentameter to that found in All's Well : Richard II , Romeo and Juliet,
A Midsummer Night's Dream  and, in a small way, The Merchant of Venice,
harking back to a tradition already established in  The Comedy of Errors
(1592-4), and Love's Labours Lost (1594-95) in particular, which indulge
heavily in dramatic rhyming, both as couplets and as alternate rhyming.

Michael Skovmand
Dep't of English
U. of Aarhus,

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