All's Well That Ends Well

Type: 
Comedy
First Performed: 
1602-03
First Printed: 
1623
"

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together:
our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not.

"

The play opens with young Bertram assuming the title of Count of Rossillion after the death of his father. Bertram's mother, the Countess, has also raised young orphaned Helena in the Rossillion household. As she's grown up, Helena developed a secret love for Bertram, and while she does not tell the object of her love about her feelings, the Countess has guessed (and approved) of the match.

Meanwhile, the King of France has become very ill and Bertram goes to attend to him. Helena is close behind, and brings to Paris a prescription of her father's that she believes will cure the ailing King. The cure works and the grateful King promises Helena the pick of bachelors at his Court. Helena picks Bertram, of course, but he is not amenable to the match, because he believes that Helena is beneath him and unworthy of his affections. Bertram consents to the marriage at the King's command, but then sneaks away with the cowardly Parolles.

Back at Rossillion, it becomes apparent to Helena and the Countess that Bertram does not intend to return. Bertram sends word that he will not be her husband until she performs two seemingly impossible tasks: secure a ring from him (which he always wears) and bear him a child. Undeterred, Helena sets off for Florence in disguise to win over her would-be husband. She finds lodging with a widow whose own daughter, Diana, is currently the object of Bertram's affections.

By enlisting the help of Diana, Helena aims to trap Bertram. First, Diana falsely accepts Bertram's advances. Next, Diana persuades Bertram to give her his beloved ring before she will agree to share his bed. Helena trades one of the King's rings for the ring Diana has secured, and Diana bestows the King's ring to Bertram. Then, under the cover of darkness, Helena and Diana switch places and Helena is able to fulfill the second of Bertram's demands. She returns to France having accomplished her task, and when Bertram hears false rumors of Helena's death, he assumes it is also safe for him to return home to Rossillion. The King, upon seeing his own ring on Bertram's hand, has him arrested. Bertram is caught in a web of his own lies that even leads the King to believe he has killed Helena. Helena finally appears—bearing the original ring and carrying Bertram's child. She reveals the truth, and a seemingly repentant Bertram apologizes for all his wrongs and vows true love for Helena.