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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

All's Well That Ends Well

Setting: 14th Century

Rossillion, France


My really abridged plot summary: Orphaned Helena is in love with Bertram, but she is also his mother's ward. She sees an opportunity to rise above her station and goes to help heal the ailing King. She is successful and is given the opportunity to choose her husband regardless of her station, and of course she chooses Bertram. Bertram begrudgingly marries her, but shortly after flees to Florence because of a looming war. Helena is sent back home and Bertram writes her a nasty letter where he tells her that she will never be his true wife until she wears his family ring on her hand, and becomes pregnant with his child, which he declares will never happen. Helena departs on a "religious pilgrimage" to Florence and finds Bertram attempting to seduce a Widow's daughter named Diana. The two women agree to trick Bertram. Bertram bestows his ring on Diana as a token of his love, and the women switch places when he seeks Diana out that night. There's also a subplot to embarrass and expose one of Bertram's friends, Parolles, as a coward? A messenger falsely informs Bertram that Helena has died, and he goes back to France. The King confronts Bertram about the ring he is currently wearing, it is the same ring that he gave to Helena after she healed him. Bertram is at a loss for an explanation, but then Diana and Helena show up and explain their plot. Helena informs Bertram that she has completed both of his tasks, and he agrees to become a good husband. The End.

My favorite quote:

"Good without evil is like light without darkness, which in turn is like righteousness without hope."


  • Overall Impression: 6- Thematically, this play is troubling. It's a puzzling situation. We see Helena tricking Bertram into sleeping with her, and this is seen as comedic for Elizabethan audiences because this was so unheard-of. The reverse happens as well in Shakespeare's plays and is generally used as a more harmful plot device. This highlights a damaging double standard for men and women. As a contemporary audience, we feel uneasy about Helena's tricking Bertram. This would have been perceived very differently back in Shakespeare's day. Much like Measure for Measure, this play creates an interesting case-study for Elizabethan society, and how it's reflected in the Comedies. After all, the Comedies were primarily written as commentaries on society and gender roles.

  • Use of Language: 9- The language in this play is poetic and witty. The banter is exceptional and Helena's monologues are beautiful.

  • Protagonist Arc: 8- Helena is an intelligent and powerful woman. She drives the main action of the play and has a significant amount of agency for a woman in her time. For a contemporary audience, it's hard to be 100% in support of Helena. She isn't a particularly sympathetic character for being so smitten with such a lousy guy, and for how she goes about completing his "tasks," but nonetheless, imperfect protagonists are kind of Shakespeare's specialty. She also verbatim says the play's title twice throughout the action of the play, and it really lives up to its title.

  • Female Characters: 9- Helena is not Shakespeare's superior heroine, but she is notable. She possesses a sense of agency that many of the other women in her world don't, but she needs to grow some self-respect and get over Bertram. She deserves so much better. Diana is also a character who spits straight facts about men. I wish she had more dialogue with Helena, I appreciated their dynamic.

  • Fits Genre: 8- This is considered to be one of the #problemplays, and it is thematically complicated. It isn't as light-hearted as As You Like It or Two Gentlemen of Verona. It's really funny, and filthy for that matter. I laughed a lot because it is classic Shakespearean Comedy comedy (does that make sense?).

  • Overall Enjoyment: 7- I laughed a lot while reading this one. I was troubled by some of the themes and plot elements, but Helena is a strong leading lady. I loved how she teamed up with Diana to prove Bertram wrong. Bertram needs to be played by a really charismatic actor for this play to make sense. That is all.

  • Hype Worthy: 6- This isn't the funniest or most heart-warming of the Comedies. I would see most of the other Comedies before I would this one, because I feel like they have more dynamic characters and more meat to their stories, but it's consistently funny and relatively easy to follow.

  • Emotional Impact: 5- I'm pretty neutral to this play. I didn't have an adverse reaction and I didn't cry. I'm talking not super highly of this play, but I really thought that it was indeed good.

The ending of this play was really just "well everything worked out and nobody got really hurt, so all good," hence the title "All's Well That Ends Well"

Total: 58/80

Average: 7

*4 out of 5 stars*

This was all I could think of the entire time I was reading this play:

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