Study Guide

All's Well That Ends Well

by William Shakespeare

All's Well That Ends Well Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Rousillon

*Rousillon (rew-see-YOHN). Region in southern France in which the play opens. The palace of Bertram, the count of Rousillon, is a scene of mourning and shadows, shot through with beams of love and goodwill, ruled by a man in complete self-absorption, ignorant of the kindness of his mother and the healing qualities of Helena. The problem is presented in this atmosphere of dark ambivalence, and here it will be resolved in the end. However, the mood of uncertainty that opens the play is not completely dissipated, for audiences remain wondering if Helena’s unconditional love and powers of healing will be sufficient to remedy Bertram’s overriding sense of self.

*Florence

*Florence. Cultural center of Italy. Like Paris, Florence is sick in its soul with war and conspiracy. Bertram attempts to seduce Diana there, but Helena puts herself in the bed (an unhealthy one, like the French king’s sick bed in Paris), and he makes love to her, unwittingly helping to fulfill his impossible conditions: “When thou canst . . . show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband.” Florence embodies the theme of means justifying an end: Bertram achieves the military glory he covets, Parolles is exposed as a liar and a coward, and Helena uses trickery to fulfill the contract promised by the king.

*Paris

*Paris. France’s capital is a somber and spiritually ill city, in which the king is stricken by fistula, and men are leaving for the Italian wars. Helena’s potion cures the king, who rewards her with Bertram’s hand, a fairy-tale resolution set in a palace, but Bertram is insulted, and their unconsummated marriage speaks to the intrigue, sickness, and sterility that plagues the royal court.

All's Well That Ends Well Modern Connections

All's Well That Ends Well focuses on what makes a marriage work. Helena is in love with Bertram from the very beginning of the play,...

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All's Well That Ends Well Bibliography and Further Reading

Literary Commentary
Briggs, Julia. "Shakespeare's Bed-Tricks." In Essays in Criticism XLIV, No. 4 (October...

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All's Well That Ends Well Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Adams, John F. “All’s Well That Ends Well: The Paradox of Procreation.” Shakespeare Quarterly 7, no. 3 (Summer, 1961): 261-270. Includes a discussion of the human worth and the nature of honor in the play. Stresses the importance of the bed-trick in understanding the play.

Charlton, H. B. “The Dark Comedies.” In Shakespearian Comedy. London: Methuen, 1938. Approaches the comedy from the point of view of the older people and their role in the play. Useful for discussions of characters.

Cole, Howard C. The All’s Well Story from Boccaccio to Shakespeare. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981. A unique source for tracing the different versions of the basic story, starting with Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron (1348-1353). Detailed discussions include a chapter on Shakespeare’s handling of the tale.

Lawrence, William Witherle. “All’s Well That Ends Well.” In Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies. London: Macmillan, 1931. One of the earliest, and most influential, studies to connect the play with the narrative and dramatic traditions preceding it. Explains the basic folktale underlying the plot.

Zitner, Sheldon P. All’s Well That Ends Well. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989. An excellent critical introduction to many aspects of the play. Considers the stage history, critical reception, sources, and the main critical issues of the play. A good starting point for study.