Student Diary: All's Well That Ends Well?

By Sarah Wright

Continuing With Unit 2

This week, I'm finishing up with All's Well That Ends Well and moving on to the next big assignment - Twelfth Night. This is the second of three plays that are part of the comedy unit of the class. Reading the play has given me interesting insight into the world of romantic comedy, specifically the 'marriage plot' and how Shakespeare has used nuptials as a driving force in some of his 'problem plays.'

I'm not much for the romantic comedy movies that come out these days. They're too predictable, and they present characters who are far too stereotypical for my taste. They just don't do it for me. I try not to watch romantic comedies, but when I do, I generally don't find them funny, and I usually don't find them romantic. But in reading All's Well That Ends Well, I found that the combination of 'romance' and 'comedy' doesn't have to be trite and boring.

Discovering An Alternate Meaning to a Genre Title

See, technically, All's Well is your standard romantic comedy. Its central plot is focused on the romance between a young man and woman. There are humorous characters, like Parolles, the idiot who doesn't know he's an idiot and just won't shut up. Characters carry out elaborate plots to preserve their love lives. The ultimate goal of the story drives toward a heterosexual marriage. In a lot of ways, the play is like a contemporary romantic comedy. The female protagonist even works in one of the fabled 'approved careers for women in a romantic comedy' - she's a healer.

But as I learned from the secondary readings in this unit, 'comedy' means something more in the context of a Shakespeare play as opposed to a Sarah Jessica Parker movie. Here, comedy doesn't necessarily imply humor, though there are amusing bits in the play. The secondary readings helped to trace a line between the humanistic education common in Shakespeare's time, which he was likely to have received, and Greek comedy. This forms a likely explanation of the structure of the play.

Realizing the Value of This Class

It's information like that that makes me glad I am reading Shakespeare in the context of an online class. Picking up a play on its own would have provided me with a good, challenging read, but it wouldn't necessarily be as complete an educational experience. That's something I value, since, as the holder of a perfectly good liberal arts bachelor's degree, I don't really have the time or financial inclination to take literature classes as a stand-alone.

This, I think, is the true value of the class: it allows busy people to do something good for themselves on an intellectual level without the commitment of enrolling in a college. It's easy enough to be physically healthy - the Internet is teeming with free nutrition and fitness advice. But intellectual health seems to get ignored, and the fact is that many of the academic skills you pick up in school will go away if you don't use them. This might not be a priority for everyone, but it is for me. I've been toying with the idea of grad school for the past few years, and while this class isn't comparable to a graduate-level class, it provides me with good opportunities for analytical exercise.

Read about previous weeks of this student's experience!

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