All’s Well that Ends Well may be a collaboration between William Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton, Oxford University academics have found.
It has long been thought the comedy in the First Folio of 1623 is textually problematic: it has a low incidence of Shakespeare’s spelling, inconsistent speech prefixes and unusually narrative phrasing in its stage directions.
Professor Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith, both of Oxford University’s English Faculty, have found these anomalies can be explained by Shakespeare collaborating with his contemporary Thomas Middleton, with whom he also collaborated on Timon of Athens at the same time (1606-07).
Emma Smith said: ‘We are not saying that Middleton and Shakespeare definitely worked together on All’s Well, but Middleton’s involvement would certainly explain many of the comedy’s stylistic, textual and narrative quirks. The narrative stage directions - especially ‘Parolles and Lafew stay behind, commenting on this wedding’ - look as though it is the point at which one author handed over to another.’
An analysis of the textual composition of All’s Well provides more support for Middleton’s involvement. Professor Maguire said: ‘The proportion of the play written in rhyme is much higher than usual for Jacobean Shakespeare - 19% of the lines are in rhyme, which fits Middleton’s norm of 20%. There are more feminine endings and tri- and tetra-syllabic endings than usual - again hallmarks of Middleton. Shakespeare tends to use ‘Omnes’ as a speech prefix and ‘All’ (preferred by Middleton) only occurs twice in the Folio - both times in All’s Well.'
Professor Maguire and Smith suggest that Act 4, scene 3 was written by Middleton. Professor Maguire said: ‘This scene sees Parolles describing Bertram as ‘ruttish’ - a word whose only other occurrence as an adjective is in Middleton’s The Phoenix. It also sees an unusual number of Middleton’s known spelling preferences.’