Play Summary


The central action of All's Well That Ends Well concerns Helena, a beautiful woman, and her pursuit of a man of higher social position than herself in the French court of Rousillon. Helena is the daughter of a recently deceased court physician; the man whom she pursues is Bertram, a young man of the nobility, who is in mourning for his late father, the Count.

Helena follows Bertram to Paris where, as a reward for "miraculously" curing the king of an apparently terminal illness, she is granted the husband of her choice. She chooses Bertram. Bertram at first refuses to have her, but then he submits to the angry king's command — but only outwardly. Together with his dubious "follower" Parolles, Bertram flees France to fight in the Italian wars, where he plans to achieve the necessary "honor" suitable to his rank. Furthermore, he vows never to consummate his marriage with Helena unless she can perform two "impossible" tasks: (1) "get the ring upon [which is on] my finger," and (2) "show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to." Helena does just that, with the help of a widow (whom she pays handsomely) and the widow's virgin daughter, Diana. During the well-known "bed trick," Bertram is fooled into believing that he has made love to Diana, whereas, in reality, Helena has smuggled herself into the bed. An exchange of rings also takes place. Diana and Helena continue the ruse until the last minutes of the play, when they surprise the entire Parisian court (who think that Helena is dead), and they then embarrass Bertram deeply when they reveal what has transpired. But Helena finally has her man, and "all" has apparently ended "well."

In a comical subplot, another "trick" is used, this time to reveal Parolles' dishonesty in the presence of Bertram; Parolles is taken captive, blindfolded, and outrageous denunciations are extracted from him about Bertram and others. But even Parolles is grudgingly accepted back into the company at the end of the play. Again, "all's well that ends well" — apparently.