All's Well That Ends Well Summary
by William Shakespeare

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All's Well That Ends Well Summary

All's Well That Ends Well is a play by William Shakespeare in which Helena forcibly marries Count Bertram. Bertram flees and declares that he will not acknowledge their marriage until Helena satisfies specific conditions.

  • Helena cures the king of a serious malady and is rewarded with the the ability to choose a husband. She chooses Count Bertram.

  • Bertram runs away, declaring that Helena will not truly be his wife until she wears his ring and carries his child—impossible requirements, given their geographical separation.

  • Helena is able to fulfill both of his requirements through trickery, and Bertram and Helena ultimately have a happy marriage.

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Summary

Helena, the play's protagonist, has been raised in France as a ward of the Countess of Roussillon. She is in love with Bertram, the countess's son, but understands that they are not equal in status.

Bertram leaves for Paris, and it is comforting for Helena to talk with Parolles, one of Bertram's associates, for his connection with Bertram. Parolles talks to her about virginity and indicates that it is a demerit rather than a merit. Helena brushes off his vulgar words.

Helena learns that the king of France is critically ill and decides to go to Paris. She takes with her a remedy that her late father, a wise doctor, gave her. She knows that the king has already asked Bertram about her father and has been upset to learn that he is no longer living.

At first, the king flatly refuses Helena's offer of help; the best doctors have just declared his illness incurable. Helena is willing to be executed, however, should the remedy fail, and a hope is born in the king's heart. When Helena asks about her reward if the remedy works, the king promises to grant her anything, and Helena asks for permission to marry a noble of her choice from the king's court.

Helena manages to cure the king. She asks him to give her in marriage to Bertram. However, Bertram refuses to marry her, thinking that to be bound in wedlock with a physician's daughter is a disgrace. The king says,

Strange is it that our bloods,
Of colour, weight, and heat, pour’d all together,
Would quite confound distinction, yet stands off
In differences so mighty. If she be
All that is virtuous, save what thou dislik'st,
A poor physician's daughter,—thou dislik'st—
Of virtue for the name. But do not so.

Helena responds to Bertram's refusal in a dignified manner, but the king's honor is offended. He promises to raise Helena and punish Bertram. Bertram must consent to the marriage, but he is going to war in Tuscany and leaves his intended behind.

Helena soon receives a letter from him, which states,

When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a "then" I write a "never."

The countess disowns her son and calls Helena her own only child. Helena, however, blames herself, thinking that she needs to leave so that Bertram might return home.

Dressed as a pilgrim, Helena leaves France and arrives in Bertram's camp. There, Helena learns that her husband courts a young Florentine named Diana. Helena meets Diana and her mother, and the women decide to help her. Helena disguises herself as Diana and has a tryst with Bertram. Thus, Helena and Bertram's marriage is consummated, and she receives from him the ring that his letter mentioned. She, in turn, gives him the ring that the king had presented her with.

Then, Helena spreads a rumor about her own death. Bertram returns to France, where the old Lord Lafew proposes that Bertram marry his daughter. Prompted by Helena, Diana shows up and demonstrates the ring that she claims Bertram has given her. Bertram's mother immediately recognizes the family jewel. Diana returns the ring and asks Bertram to return hers as well. The king recognizes the ring that he has given Helena and orders Diana and Bertram to be arrested. It is Helena who resolves this difficult situation. She...

(The entire section is 2,831 words.)