All’s Well That Ends Well is a comedy about Helena’s pursuit of Bertram, and the lengths she will go to to have him as her husband.
Young Count Bertram from Rousillon is summoned to the court of the French king as his attendant. Bertram’s father held the position until his recent death. Helena, a young woman of lower class is in love with Bertram, but he does not seem to feel the same way about her. His mother, the countess, persuades Helena to share how she feels about Bertram, and they come up with a plan for Helena to travel to Paris to heal the king, no matter what the cost. Upon her arrival at in Paris, Helena offers her services to the king, claiming she can heal him using a special drug her father, a famous physician, developed. In return, she asks that she have any husband of her choice from the king’s court. He agrees, and Helena cures him. Of course, she picks Bertram. The king also thanks her by giving her a ring.
Bertram initially rejects Helena because of her lower social standing, but then agrees to marry her upon the king’s rebuke. He tells Helena privately that he will only be a husband to her if she can do two things: get the ring from his finger, and become pregnant with his child. He then goes off to fight in the Italian wars, leaving Helena behind. She follows Bertram to Italy, where she discovers he is trying to woo a young woman named Diana, the daughter of a widow. With the help of the widow and Diana, Helena schemes to get Bertram to give his ring to Diana. Then that night when he believes he will sleep with Diana, Helena will take her place in the dark. Diana had given Bertram Helena’s ring earlier, which seals the commitment between Bertram and Helena.
As the French army wraps up and prepares to return home, Bertram receives word that Helena is dead. He returns to Rousillon where the town is mourning Helena’s passing, including the king who is visiting. Bertram agrees to marry the daughter of a nobleman named Lafew, but as he gives his ring to Lafew, the king recognizes it as the one he had given Helena. The king has Bertram arrested, but then Diana and her mother arrive and explain the entire story to everyone. Bertram is so impressed and humbled by Helena’s dedication to him that he agrees to marry her and be a good husband.
Date Published: 1604
Major Themes: Unrequited Love; Deceit; Social Classes
Famous Quote: “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”