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All's Well That Ends Well
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Key Dates
Title Significance
Plot Summary
Imagery: Light
Prose, Verse, and Poetry
Figures of Speech
Strong Women
Parolles Learns Lesson
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Shakespeare Biography
Line-Numbered Text
Complete Text on One Page
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised in 2010.©
Type of Work 
.......All's Well That Ends Well is stage play in the form of a romance comedy. It is also classified as one of three of Shakespeare's "problem plays" (along with Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida) because it presents as heroes or heroines characters who are seriously flawed in some way. 
.......In All's Well, Bertram is a problem because he consistently mistreats Helena, the woman who loves him; he regards her as unworthy of him because of her inferior social status. Helena is also a problem because, though intelligent and appealing, she resorts to trickery to win Bertram. Only at the end of the play does Bertram accept Helena, but his sincerity remains a question. Consequently, because the heroes are less than heroic and because the ending of the play is abrupt and somewhat forced, many critics regard All's Well as one of Shakespeare's weaker comedies. These critics may be entirely right in their assessment. However, one may fairly speculate that Shakespeare intended the play as a satire on social conventions of the day, pointing out the problems that arise from snobbery and hauteur, as personified in Bertram. In this context, the play becomes far more palatable and the character development and plot artifices more artistically acceptable.

Date Written: 1603-1604. 
First Printing: 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's plays.


.......Shakespeare based All's Well That Ends Well on a story in The Decameron, by Boccaccio (1313-1375). The Decameron, written between 1349 and 1353, consists of one hundred tales told by seven men and three women to pass the time after they isolate themselves in a villa to escape the plague. The subjects of the tales include romance, deceit, and the power of the human will. 

Significance of the Title
.......The title is based on lines spoken by Helena to point out that the success or failure of an event or a course of action depends entirely on how it ends: 

..............But with the word the time will bring on summer,
..............When briers shall have leaves as well as thorns,
..............And be as sweet as sharp. We must away;
..............Our wagon is prepared, and time revives us:
..............All's well that ends well; still the fine's the crown;
..............Whate'er the course, the end is the renown. (4. 4. 37-42)

.......The action begins in Roussillon, a region in southern France, then moves to other locales, including Paris, France; Florence, Italy; and Marseilles, France. Bertram, one of the central characters in the play, is the Count of Roussillon.

Protagonist: Helena
Antagonist: Class System That Discriminates Against Persons of Low Birth

Bertram: Self-Centered and immature Count of Roussillon, who rejects the woman who loves him because of her inferior social status.
Countess of Roussillon: Kindly and level-headed mother of Bertram.
Helena: Gentlewoman protected by the Countess; she is in love with Bertram even though he believes she is not good enough for him. When he leaves his home in Roussillon to make his mark in Paris at the court of the King of France, she later follows him in hopes of winning his love. Bertram's mother, the countess, abets her in her plan. 
King of France He suffers from a chronic ailment which Helena, schooled in the healing arts, has the power to cure. 
Duke of Florence
Antonio: Oldest son of the duke.
Parolles: Follower of Bertram. Parolles is a bad influence on the young man and is, in part, responsible for Bertram's less than gentlemanly behavior.
Lafeu: An old lord who warns Bertram that Parolles is a coward.
Lavache (Clown): Servant of the Countess of Roussillon.
Steward: Servant of the Countess of Roussillion.
Old Widow of Florence
Diana: Daughter of the Widow. Diana cooperates with Helena in a scheme to trick Bertram into pledging his love for Helena. 
Violenta, Mariana: Neighbors and friends of the Widow.
Citizens of Florence
A Page
First French Lord: He carries out a plot that reveals Parolles as a coward.
Six Soldiers: They assist the first French lord.
Second French Lord
Astringer: Man who acts as a messenger for Helena.
Minor Characters: Lords, Officers, Soldiers, Gentlemen

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003

.......The Countess of Rousillon has taken in an appealing young woman named Helena after the death of her father, Gerard de Narbon, a highly respected physician. While in the household, Helena falls in love with the countess’s son, Bertram, but keeps her feelings to herself. Bertram pays her no heed and does not hesitate to go off to serve in the court of the King of France, a friend of Bertram’s late father. Accompanying Bertram is his friend, Parolles, a braggart who is a corrupting influence on Bertram throughout the play. 
.......The king suffers from what is believed to be an incurable fistula. When he greets Bertram and his friends, he says, 
I would I had that corporal soundness now, 
As when thy father and myself in friendship 
First tried our soldiership! (1. 2. 34-36) 
.......The king says he would submit himself to treatment under Gerard de Narbon, who also attended Bertram’s father, if the great physician were still alive. All other physicians have done him no good, and the king thinks death is near. 
.......While Bertram is in Paris, Helena pines for him even though he may be out of reach because of his high social station. Under prodding from the countess, Helena admits the cause of her melancholy: her separation from Bertram. Then Helena reveals a plan to go to Paris to heal the king with a potion left behind by her father. While in Paris, she will have an opportunity to be with Bertram. The countess, pleased that Helena loves her son, encourages her in her plan. After Helena arrives in Paris, an old lord of the court, Lafeuwho had accompanied Bertram and Parolles to Paristells the king of her wondrous healing powers. Lafeu says that 
                       I have seen a medicine 
That’s able to breathe life into a stone, 
Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary1
With spritely fire and motion; whose simple touch, 
Is powerful to araise King Pepin,2 nay, 
To give great Charlemain3 a pen in ’s [in his] hand, 
And write to her a love-line. (2.1.67-73) 
But the king at first refuses to let her treat him because he has had his fill of failed cures. She then stakes her life on the efficacy of her medicine, but stipulates a condition: If her treatment works, the king will allow her to select a husband from among the eligible bachelors at court. The king agrees. Within days, his illness disappears, and the king presents five worthy gentlemen for her to choose from. Helena rejects all of them and selects Bertram as her husband-to-be. However, Bertram complains that she is the daughter of a mere physician and, thus, unworthy of him. He says that he cannot and will not love her. Helena, heartbroken, is willing to let the matter end there. The king is not. After elevating Helena to a higher social rank, he commands Bertram to marry her, telling him, 
My honour’s at the stake; which to defeat, 
I must produce my power. Here, take her hand, 
Proud scornful boy, unworthy this good gift. (2.3.136-138) 
Bertram yields, and the wedding ceremony takes place that evening. In the meantime, Lafeu and Parolles discuss the events of the evening. When Lafeu criticizes Bertram for his ungentlemanly conduct, Parolles threatens the old man but backs down, revealing himself as a coward, after Lafeu threatens him in return. 
.......After the wedding, headstrong Bertram refuses to stay with Helena even for a single night, preferring instead to hie off to join other young French lords in a military campaign in Florence, Italy. Parolles praises his decision, saying it is better to seek glory in war than wallow in the hellhole of France. As Bertram prepares for his military venture, Lafeu warns him that Parolles is cowardly and untrustworthy, but Bertram is heedless. Before leaving, Bertram orders Helena to return home to Rousillon with a letter for his mother. In the letter, Bertram infuriates his mother by writing, “I have sent you a daughter-in-law: she hath recovered the king and undone me. I have wedded her, not bedded her; and sworn to make the NOT eternal.” Helena then receives a letter of her own from Bertram. It says, "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’ " (3. 2. 37). 
.......Deeply hurt, Helena leaves Rousillon and goes on a pilgrimage to Saint Jaques monastery in Spain. However, her feet do not cooperate and, instead, lead her to Florence, where Bertram is encamped with troops. Helena stays at a lodging house for pilgrims run by an elderly widow. The widow’s daughter, Diana, tells Helena that a certain Count Rousillon (Bertram) has distinguished himself in battle. “Know you such a one?” (3. 5. 31) she asks. Helena says she has heard of him, but does not know him personally. Helena also learns that Bertram has been trying to seduce Diana. In public, Diana points out the Count Rousillon to Helena. 
.......Later Helena tells her whole sad story to the widow, revealing herself as the rejected wife of the young count. Then she enlists Diana’s help in a plot to win back her husband. Diana agrees to help her. Here is the stratagem. Diana will agree to a midnight tryst with Bertram if he will give her his ring; in effect, Diana will be trading her chastity for the ring. When Bertram agrees to all the conditions, Diana says, 
And on your finger in the night I’ll put 
Another ring, that what in time proceeds 
May token to the future our past deeds. (4. 2. 73-75) 
.......After Diana obtains the ring, all goes well. At the appointed hour, Helena takes Diana’s place in a darkened room, going unrecognized, and she and Bertram make love. During the night she places on his finger a ring given to her by the King of France. Meanwhile, Parolles has been exposed as a simpering coward by French lords who ambushed and captured him, then make him think he was in the custody of the enemy. Parolles, whose name means words in French, tells his “captors” everything they want to know in order to save his skin. 
.......Elsewhere, Bertram’s mother, who has been led to believe that Helena has died, sends a letter to Bertram announcing Helena’s death and asking her son to return home. After he arrives, he begins to realize what a good and loving woman Helena was. When the king visits Rousillon, Bertram claims that he loved Helena. 
.......The king forgives him for rejecting her. But life must go on, and the king thinks Bertram should now marry Lafeu’s daughter. However, before he makes the match, the king notices the ring on Bertram’s fingerthe very ring he gave Helena, the ring that Helena placed on Bertram’s finger in the dark room after first removing Bertram’s own ring. While Bertram lamely tries to explain how he obtained the king’s ring, Diana shows up, saying it was she who placed the ring on Bertram’s finger while in bed with him. Then she demands that Bertram marry her. (Diana is really acting on Helena’s behalf. Helena must first prove that a midnight meeting took place before she can disclose that it was she, not Diana, who met with Bertram.) Next, the widow arrives with Helena. Helena announces that not only does she have Bertram’s own ring, but she also carries his child. Thus, she has met both of the conditions Bertram set forth in his letter to her. The whole truth of what happened in Florence then unravels, and Bertram accepts his wife. The king says in the play’s epilogue, “All is well ended” (5. 3. 354).
.......The climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of All's Well That Ends Well occurs, according to the first definition, when Helena, through trickery, takes Bertram's ring while he is asleep. (Bertram had vowed never to return to Helena unless she obtained the ring on his finger, a task he thought impossible.) At this point, the plot begins to resolve itself.  According to the second definition, the climax occurs in the final act when Helena shows Bertram the ring and he vows to love her forever.
A human being should be judged on his or her inner qualities, not on social standing. Bertram rejects Helena (until the end of the play) because she is below him on the social scale. Blinded by his prejudices, he fails to see her good qualities. This theme foreshadows the themes of later English writers, such as Jane Austen, Emily Brontë and Charles Dickens.
Women have the intelligence and know-how to compete with men. Examples: (1) Only Helena can cure the king's fistula. (2) Helena and Diana team up to trick Bertram. The motif of women struggling to prove their worth—or suffering under male domination—is a recurring theme in literature. For example, in the fifth century BC, Sophocles dealt with this theme in Antigone, a play in which a teenage girl challenges the authority of a king. In the nineteenth century AD, Kate Chopin dealt with this theme in several of her works, including a splendid short story entitled "The Story of an Hour," in which an oppressed woman fails to assert herself in a male world but does enjoy an hour of freedom.
All things are not as they seem. Bertram thinks high standing brings happiness. In reality, he discovers later, only love, honesty, and other virtues can bring happiness. 
All is well when it ends well. Helena gets her man even though she had to pretend to be another woman, in a darkened room, to trick him into accepting her. At the end of the play, Helena says that success or failure of a course of action depends on how it turned out, not on how it came about. 
Friendship. The old widow and her daughter, Diana, help Helena win back Bertram. In the process, the two Florentines become loyal friends of Helena, and she becomes a good and appreciative friend of theirs. The widow and Helena express their friendship in the fourth scene of scene of Act 4:
WIDOW    Gentle madam,
You never had a servant to whose trust
Your business was more welcome.
HELENA    Nor you, mistress,
Ever a friend whose thoughts more truly labour
To recompense your love: doubt not but heaven
Hath brought me up to be your daughter's dower,
As it hath fated her to be my motive
And helper to a husband. (lines 17-25)..
Imagery: Light

.......All's Well That Ends Well exhibits a maturity of style equal, in some instances, to that displayed in Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Some of the most beautiful imagery in the play is expressed by Helena. In the following metaphor, she compares Bertram to a bright star too high for her to reach. The light imagery is reminiscent of that in Romeo and Juliet, written ten years before. 

        It were all one 
That I should love a bright particular star 
And think to wed it, he is so above me: 
In his bright radiance and collateral light 
Must I be comforted, not in his sphere.
The ambition in my love thus plagues itself: 
The hind that would be mated by the lion 
Must die for love. ‘Twas pretty, though plague, 
To see him every hour; to sit and draw 
His arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls, 
In our heart’s table; heart too capable 
Of every line and trick of his sweet favour: 
But now he’s gone, and my idolatrous fancy 
Must sanctify his reliques.4 (1.1.47-60) 
When telling the King of France that her medicine will produce a quick cure, Helena again uses light imagery. First, she alludes to the Greek god Apollo, who becomes the sun as he drives his chariot across the sky. Then she refers to Hesperus (the planet Venus, which was thought to be an evening star).
Ere twice the horses of the sun shall bring 
Their fiery torcher5 his diurnal6ring,7
Ere twice in murk and occidental damp 
Moist Hesperus8 hath quench’d his sleepy lamp, 
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What is infirm from your sound parts shall fly, 
Health shall live free and sickness freely die. (2.1.163-171)
Prose, Verse, and Poetry

.......All's Well That Ends Well contains dialogue in prose, unrhymed verse, rhymed verse, and poetry. 

Prose is the language of everyday conversation. Sentences may be short or long, and there is no intended rhyme.
Unrhymed verse contains a metric pattern (that is, a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables) and a limited number of syllables per line. Shakespeare generally wrote his unrhymed verse in iambic pentameter, meaning that most lines (except those containing short answers, such as yes or no) contain five pairs of syllables, for a total of ten syllables. Each pair of syllables contains an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. For more information about metric patterns and iambic pentameter, click here
Rhymed verse is like unrhymed verse except that a syllable (or syllables) at the end of each line rhymes with a syllable (or syllables) at the end of another line.
Poetry in Shakespeare contains a metric pattern and a rhyming pattern but is not part of a conversation. 
Following are examples of each writing format.
Prose Passage (3.6.6-11)
BERTRAM   Do you think I am so far deceived in him? 
FIRST LORD   Believe it, my lord, in mine own direct knowledge, without any malice, but to speak of him as my kinsman, he’s a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker, the owner of no one good quality worthy your lordship’s entertainment. 
SECOND LORD   It were fit you knew him; lest, reposing too far in his virtue, which he hath not, he might at some great and trusty business in a main danger fail you. 
BERTRAM   I would I knew in what particular action to try him. 
SECOND LORD   None better than to let him fetch off his drum, which you hear him so confidently undertake to do. 
FIRST LORD   I, with a troop of Florentines, will suddenly surprise him: such I will have whom I am sure he knows not from the enemy. We will bind and hoodwink him so, that he shall suppose no other but that he is carried into the leaguer of the adversaries, when we bring him to our own tents. Be but your lordship present at his examination: if he do not, for the promise of his life and in the highest compulsion of base fear, offer to betray you and deliver all the intelligence in his power against you, and that with the divine forfeit of his soul upon oath, never trust my judgment in anything.
Verse Passage Without Rhyme (1.2.29-58)
KING   Youth, thou bear’st thy father’s face; 
Frank nature, rather curious than in haste, 
Hath well compos’d thee. Thy father’s moral parts 
Mayst thou inherit too! Welcome to Paris. 
BERTRAM   My thanks and duty are your majesty’s. 
KING   I would I had that corporal soundness now, 
As when thy father and myself in friendship 
First tried our soldiership! He did look far
Into the service of the time and was 
Discipled of the bravest: he lasted long; 
But on us both did haggish age steal on, 
And wore us out of act. It much repairs me 
To talk of your good father. In his youth 
He had the wit which I can well observe 
To-day in our young lords; but they may jest 
Till their own scorn return to them unnoted 
Ere they can hide their levity in honour. 
So like a courtier, contempt nor bitterness 
Were in his pride or sharpness; if they were, 
His equal had awak’d them; and his honour, 
Clock to itself, knew the true minute when 
Exception bid him speak, and at this time 
His tongue obey’d his hand: who were below him 
He us’d as creatures of another place, 
And bow’d his eminent top to their low ranks, 
Making them proud of his humility, 
In their poor praise he humbled. Such a man 
Might be a copy to these younger times, 
Which, follow’d well, would demonstrate them now 
But goers backward.
Verse Passage With Rhyme (2.1.179-186)
KING   Methinks in thee some blessed spirit doth speak
His powerful sound within an organ weak
And what impossibility would slay
In common sense, sense saves another way
Thy life is dear; for all that life can rate
Worth name of life in thee hath estimate
Youth, beauty, wisdom, courage, virtue, all
That happiness and prime can happy call
Poetry (Recited by the Clown Beginning at Line 29 of 1.3)
Was this fair face the cause, quoth she,
Why the Grecians sacked Troy?
Fond done, done fond,
Was this King Priam’s joy?
With that she sighed as she stood,
With that she sighed as she stood,
And gave this sentence then;
Among nine bad if one be good,
Among nine bad if one be good,
There’s yet one good in ten.
Shakespeare used prose to do the following:
One: Express ordinary, undistinguished observations coming from the surface of the mind rather than its active, ruminating interior.
Two: Make quick, one-line replies such as “Ay, my lord” that are the stuff of day-to-day conversations.
Three: Present auditory relief for audiences (or visual relief for readers) from the intellectual and connotative density of the verse passages.
Four: Suggest madness or senility. In King Lear, Lear speaks almost exclusively in verse in the first half of the play. Then suddenly, he lurches back and forth between verse and prose, perhaps to suggest the frenzied state of his aging mind. Hamlet sometimes shifts to prose in front of observers, perhaps in hopes of presenting his feigned madness as real.
Five: Depict the rambling, desultory path of conversation from a tongue loosened by alcohol, as in Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II.
Six: Poke fun at characters who lack the wit to versify their lines.
Seven: Demonstrate that prose has merits as a literary medium. In Shakespeare’s day, verse (and its elegant cousin, poetry) was the sine qua non of successful writing. As an innovator, Shakespeare may have wanted to tout the merits of prose. Thus, on occasion, he infused his plays with prose passages so graceful and thought-provoking that they equalled, and sometimes even surpassed, the majesty of verse or poetry passages. Such a prose passage is the following, spoken by Hamlet in Act II, Scene II:
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
Shakespeare used verse to do the following:
One: Express deep emotion requiring elevated language. Because nobles and commoners were both capable of experiencing profound emotion, both expressed their emotions in verse from time to time.
Two: Make wise, penetrating, and reflective observations that require lofty language. Such a passage is a famous one recited by the outlaw Jaques in Act II, Scene VII, of As You Like It. The passage–which begins with the often-quoted line “All the world’s a stage”–philosophizes about the “seven ages” of man, from infancy to senility. 
Three: Present a lyrical poem as a separate entity, like the famous song in Act V, Scene III, of As You Like It. The first stanza of that poem follows:
............It was a lover and his lass,
............With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
............That o’er the green corn-field did pass
............In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
............When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding:
............Sweet lovers love the spring.
Four: Inject irony. When the highborn speak humble prose and the hoi polloi speak elegant verse, as is sometimes the case in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare may be saying up can be down, and down can be up. In The Merchant, the noble characters are just as reprehensible as–or perhaps even more reprehensible than–the workaday, unsophisticated characters. Portia is often depicted in critical analyses of the play as its noblest character. But a close reading of the play reveals her as a racist and a self-seeking conniver. Thus, Shakespeare makes her tongue wag in prose and verse, revealing her Janus personality.
Five: Suggest order and exactitude. A character who speaks in precise rhythms and patterns is a character with a tidy brain that plans ahead and executes actions on schedule.
Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in All's Well That Ends Well


There shall your master have a thousand loves, 
A mother, and a mistress, and a friend, 
A phœnix, captain, and an enemy, 
A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign, 
A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear; 
His humble ambition, proud humility, 
His jarring concord, and his discord dulcet, 
His faith, his sweet disaster; with a world 
Of pretty, fond, adoptious christendoms, (1.1.85-93)

[H]e lost a wife 
Whose beauty did astonish the survey 
Of richest eyes, whose words all ears took captive, 
Whose dear perfection hearts that scorn’d to serve 
Humbly call’d mistress. (5.3.20-24)

The congregated college have concluded 
That labouring art can never ransom nature (2.1.119-120)

Find fairer fortune (2.3.81)

Where death and danger dog the heels of worth (3.4.17)

                  [W]hat impossibility would slay 
In common sense, sense saves another way. (2.1.181-182)

He wears his honour in a box, unseen (2.3.219)
Comparison of honour to attire

           [W]hen you have our roses, 
You barely leave our thorns to prick ourselves 
And mock us with our bareness. (4.2.25-27)
Diana compares herself to a rosebush.

My chastity’s the jewel of our house, (4.2.57)
Comparison of chastity to a jewel

LAFEU   ’Twas a good lady, ’twas a good lady: we may pick a thousand salads ere we light on such another herb. 
CLOWN   Indeed, sir, she was the sweet-marjoram of the salad, or, rather the herb of grace.
Comparison of a woman to food

A scar nobly got, or a noble scar, is a good livery of honour. (4.4.38)
Comparison of scar to a uniform (livery)

I am not a day of season, 
For thou mayst see a sunshine and a hail 
In me at once; but to the brightest beams 
Distracted clouds give way: so stand thou forth;   44
The time is fair again. (5.3.41-45)
The king compares himself to rapidly changing weather.

O strange men! 
That can such sweet use make of what they hate. (4.4.25-26)
[D]isgraces have of late knocked too often at my door (4.1.11)
Comparison of disgraces to visitors entreating entry at a door
.......In the dialogue of All's Well That Ends Well and other Shakespeare plays, characters sometimes speak wise or witty sayings couched in memorable figurative language. Although these sayings are brief, they often express a profound universal truth or make a thought-provoking observation. Such sayings are called epigrams or aphorisms. Because many of Shakespeare’s epigrams are so memorable, writers and speakers use them again and again. Many of Shakespeare's epigrams have become part of our everyday language; often we use them without realizing that it was Shakespeare who coined them. Examples of phrases Shakespeare originated in his plays include “all’s well that ends well,” “[every] dog will have its day,” “give the devil his due,” “green-eyed monster,” “my own flesh and blood,” “neither rhyme nor reason,” “one fell swoop,” “primrose path,” “spotless reputation,” and “too much of a good thing.”Among the more memorable sayings in All's Well That Ends Well are the following:
Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living. (1. 2. 20) 
Lafeu addresses Helena on her expressions of grief. 

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there 
Where most it promises. . . (1. 2. 144-145).
Helena, using a paradox, addresses the King of France on failed cures for his fistula.

A young man married is a man that’s marr’d. (2. 3. 238) 
Using alliteration, Parolles addresses Bertram after Bertram’s wedding.

The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together. . . (4. 3. 29). 
The First Lord addresses the Second Lord on Bertram’s changing fortunes. A metaphor compares life to a web of mingled yard.

           [T]ime will bring on summer, 
When briers shall have leaves as well as thorns, 
And be as sweet as sharp. (4.4.37-39)
Helena makes this observation when speaking to Diana.

Strong Women

.......Helena and the Countess of Rousillon are both strong women. Helena is courageous and persistent; she is also highly intelligent, the proof of which is her mastery of the medical arts. When Bertram takes no notice of her and goes off to Paris, she pines for a while, then acts decisively, traveling to Paris herself. There the king suffers from an apparently incurable fistula. When Helena claims that she can cure him, the king allows her to treat him under penalty of death if she fails. With the king's promise that if she succeeds she may choose a future husband from among the men at court, she proceeds and heals the king. She chooses Bertram, of course, and the king orders him to marry her. 
.......When Bertram abandons her after their wedding, she is broken-hearted. But thanks to a little luck and help from other women, she wins Bertram back. The countess, well aware of Helena’s excellent qualities, encourages Helena in her pursuit of her spoiled son, perhaps in the realization that Helena can help Bertram to mature. Her support of Helena underscores her strength of character. In an age when other mothers of high social standing attempted to make a match for their sons based on pedigree, the countess has the courage to endorse a woman of the lower class as a possible future daughter-in-law. It is interesting to note that the countess acts in a fatherly role in advising Bertram on the ways of the world. She gives Bertram a short farewell “lecture” reminiscent of the lecture Polonius gives to Laertes (in Hamlet: 1. 3. 66-88) before Laertes leaves home. Following is the advice the countess gives: 

Be thou blest, Bertram; and succeed thy father
In manners, as in shape! thy blood and virtue 
Contend for empire in thee; and thy goodness 
Share with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few, 
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend 
Under thy own life’s key: be check’d for silence, 
But never tax’d for speech. What heaven more will 
That thee may furnish, and my prayers pluck down,
Fall on thy head! Farewell, my lord; 
’Tis an unseason’d courtier; good my lord, 
Advise him. (1.1.24-35)
Parolles Learns a Lesson

.......French lords expose Parolles as a coward by ambushing and capturing him, then making him think he is in the custody of the enemy. He learns a lesson, which serves as a kind of moral that he presents to the audience:

Yet am I thankful: if my heart were great 
’Twould burst at this. Captain I’ll be no more; 
But I will eat and drink, and sleep as soft  140
As captain shall: simply the thing I am 
Shall make me live. Who knows himself a braggart, 
Let him fear this; for it will come to pass 
That every braggart shall be found an ass.  144
Rust, sword! cool, blushes! and Parolles, live 
Safest in shame! being fool’d, by foolery thrive! 
There’s place and means for every man alive. (4.3.138-147)
Study Questions and Essay Topics

1. In the age of Shakespeare, it was not uncommon for a young man of high social standing to reject a woman because of her low social standingand vice versa. How important is social status to marriageable young men and women in today’s society? 
2. Write an informative essay about the status of women in England or France in Shakespeare’s time.
3. Which character in the play do you most admire? Which do you least admire?
4. Write a psychological profile of Bertram or Helena, focusing on salient characteristics.
5. Was Helena’s method of ensnaring Bertramthe bedroom trick in which she pretends to be Dianamoral?
6. Bertram and Helena are reconciled at the end. Will their marriage last? 


1...canary: Popular dance in the courts of Spain and France in the Sixteenth Century.
2...Pepin: Pepin the Short (714?-768), King of the Franks from 751 to 768.
3...Charlemain: Charlemagne (742-814), King of the Franks from 768 to 814. He was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800. 
4...reliques: Variant spelling of relics (keepsakes or any other objects from the past).
5...torcher: Reference to Apollo as the bearer of light (the sun).
6...diurnal: Occurring daily.
7...ring: The round-the-world trip the sun makes.
8...Hesperus: Evening star.

Plays on DVD (or VHS) 
Play Director Actors
Antony and Cleopatra (1974) Trevor Nunn, John Schoffield Richard Johnson, Janet Suzman
Antony and Cleopatra BBC Production  Jane Lapotaire 
As You Like It (2010)  Thea Sharrock Jack Laskey, Naomi Frederick
As You Like It (1937)  Paul Czinner Henry Ainley, Felix Aylmer
The Comedy of Errors BBC Production Not Listed
Coriolanus BBC Production  Alan Howard, Irene Worth
Cymbeline Elijah Moshinsky Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Helen Mirren
Gift Box: The Comedies BBC Production Various
Gift Box: The Histories BBC Production Various
Gift Box: The Tragedies BBC Production Various
Hamlet (1948)  Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons
Hamlet (1990)  Kevin Kline Kevin Kline
Hamlet(1991)  Franco Zeffirelli Mel Gibson, Glenn Close
Hamlet (1996)  Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, 
Hamlet (2009) Gregory Doran David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie
Hamlet (1964)  John Gielgud, Bill Colleran Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn
Hamlet (1964)  Grigori Kozintsev Innokenti Smoktunovsky
Hamlet (2000)  Cambpell Scott, Eric Simonson Campbell Scott, Blair Brown
Henry V (1989)  Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branaugh, Derek Jacobi
Henry V( 1946)  Laurence Olivier Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer
Henry VI Part I BBC Production Peter Benson, Trevor Peacock
Henry VI Part II BBC Production  Not Listed
Henry VI Part III BBC Production  Not Listed
Henry VIII BBC Production John Stride, Claire Bloom, Julian Glover
Julius Caesar BBC Production  Richard Pasco, Keith Michell
Julius Caesar (1950)  David Bradley Charlton Heston
Julius Caesar (1953)  Joseph L. Mankiewicz Marlon Brando, James Mason
Julius Caesar (1970)  Stuart Burge Charlton Heston, Jason Robards
King John BBC Production  Not Listed
King Lear (1970) Grigori Kozintsev Yuri Yarvet
King Lear (1971) Peter Brook Cyril Cusack, Susan Engel
King Lear (1974)  Edwin Sherin James Earl Jones
King Lear (1976)  Tony Davenall Patrick Mower, Ann Lynn
King Lear (1984)  Michael Elliott Laurence Olivier, Colin Blakely
King Lear (1997)  Richard Eyre Ian Holm
Love's Labour's Lost (2000) Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone 
Love's Labour's Lost BBC Production) Not Listed
Macbeth (1978)  Philip Casson Ian McKellen, Judy Dench
Macbeth BBC Production  Not Listed
The Merchant of Venice BBC Production Warren Mitchell, Gemma Jones
The Merchant of Venice (2001)  Christ Hunt, Trevor Nunn David Bamber, Peter De Jersey
The Merchant of Venice (1973) John Sichel Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1970)  Not Listed Leon Charles, Gloria Grahame
Midsummer Night's Dream (1996)  Adrian Noble Lindsay Duncan, Alex Jennings
A Midsummer Night's Dream  (1999) Michael Hoffman Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)  Kenneth Branaugh Branaugh, Emma Thompson
Much Ado About Nothing (1973)  Nick Havinga  Sam Waterston, F. Murray Abraham
Othello (2005)  Janet Suzman Richard Haines, John Kaki
Othello (1990)  Trevor Nunn Ian McKellen, Michael Grandage
Othello (1965)  Stuart Burge Laurence Olivier, Frank Finlay
Othello (1955)  Orson Welles Orson Welles
Othello (1983)  Franklin Melton Peter MacLean, Bob Hoskins, Jenny Agutter
Ran  (1985) Japanese Version of King Lear  Akira Kurosawa Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao
Richard II (2001)  John Farrell  Matte Osian, Kadina de Elejalde
Richard III (1912)  André Calmettes, James Keane  Robert Gemp, Frederick Warde
Richard III - Criterion Collection (1956)  Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson
Richard III (1995)  Richard Loncraine Ian McKellen, Annette Bening
Richard III BBC Production  Ron Cook, Brian Protheroe, Michael Byrne
Romeo and Juliet (1968)  Franco Zeffirelli Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey
Romeo and Juliet (1996)  Baz Luhrmann Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes
Romeo and Juliet (1976)  Joan Kemp-Welch Christopher Neame, Ann Hasson
Romeo and Juliet BBC Production  John Gielgud, Rebecca Saire, Patrick Ryecart
The Taming of the Shrew Franco Zeffirelli Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton
The Taming of the Shrew Kirk Browning Raye Birk, Earl Boen, Ron Boussom
The Taming of The Shrew Not Listed Franklin Seales, Karen Austin 
The Tempest Paul Mazursky John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands
The Tempest (1998) Jack Bender Peter Fonda, John Glover, Harold Perrineau,
Throne of Blood (1961) Macbeth in Japan  Akira Kurosawa Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada
Twelfth Night (1996)  Trevor Nunn Helena Bonham Carter
Twelfth Night BBC Production  Not Listed
The Two Gentlemen of Verona BBC Production  John Hudson, Joanne Pearce
The Winter's Tale  (2005)  Greg Doran Royal Shakespeare Company
The Winter's Tale BBC Production  Not Listed