What happens in All’s Well That Ends Well

I’m launching a brand-new feature on the blog, What happens in Shakespeare — short summaries of Shakespeare plays for readers who just want the facts. I’ll kick things off with the surprisingly cynical and misleadlingly named All’s Well That Ends Well.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company tweeted: “All Is NOT Well That Ends Well, and this play doesn’t. MORAL: Do it with the lights on.”

All’s Well That Ends Well

Helena is a medical professional with terrible taste in men. She is in love with a wealthy scumbag named Bertram. He does not love her back.

The King gets sick. Helena cures him. He gives her a favor: she can have the hand of any man she wants in marriage. Apparently the King has enough time on his hands to interfere in these matters. She chooses Bertram.

They do get married, but Bertram says the only way his marriage to this woman he despises for no good reason will be a non-sham is if A) she can get the ring off his finger and B) she can get pregnant by him. To make sure neither blessed event happens, he joins the war effort in Italy (she’s in France).

Helena secretly follows Bertram to Italy, where he puts the moves on another woman, Diana. Being a scumbag, he gives Diana his ring (yes, the same one he refused to give Helena, his actual wife). Here we have the famous bed trick. Bertram is about to get sexy with Diana when she and Helena trade places. Now we start to suspect both our heroes may be the tiniest bit self-serving.

A false rumor gets around that Helena is dead. Bertram goes back to France and asks permission from the King to marry yet another woman, him being a widower now. Helena shows up to announce that she is pregnant with Bertram’s child. Diana appears with Bertram’s ring. Now that Bertram is trapped, he says he loves Helena and will be faithful to her. Self-serving trickery is its own reward. These two have to live with each other.


For actual scholarship by experts, visit The Shakespeare Resource Center’s much better page on All’s Well That Ends Well.

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