Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
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.
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
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.
1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's
based All's Well That Ends Well on a story in The Decameron,
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
of the Title
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
with the word the time will bring on summer,
briers shall have leaves as well as thorns,
be as sweet as sharp. We must away;
wagon is prepared, and time revives us:
well that ends well; still the fine's the crown;
the course, the end is the renown. (4. 4. 37-42)
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
System That Discriminates Against Persons of Low Birth
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.
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.
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.
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.
Servant of the Countess of Roussillon.
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.
Neighbors and friends of the Widow.
Citizens of Florence
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.
Lords, Officers, Soldiers, Gentlemen
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.
Michael J. Cummings...©
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,
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
As when thy father and myself
First tried our soldiership!
(1. 2. 34-36)
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,
Lafeu—who had accompanied Bertram and Parolles
to Paris—tells the king of her wondrous healing
powers. Lafeu says that
I have seen a medicine
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,
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
To give great Charlemain3
a pen in ’s [in his] hand,
And write to her a love-line.
My honour’s at the
stake; which to defeat,
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.
I must produce my power.
Here, take her hand,
Proud scornful boy, unworthy
this good gift. (2.3.136-138)
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).
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.
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
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.
Another ring, that what
in time proceeds
May token to the future
our past deeds. (4. 2. 73-75)
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
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 finger—the
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).
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.
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.
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.
things are not as they seem. Bertram thinks high standing brings happiness.
In reality, he discovers later, only love, honesty, and other virtues can
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:
You never had a servant
to whose trust
Your business was more welcome.
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.
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
It were all one
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).
That I should love a bright
And think to wed it, he
is so above me:
In his bright radiance and
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
Of every line and trick
of his sweet favour:
But now he’s gone, and my
Must sanctify his reliques.4
Ere twice the horses
of the sun shall bring
Verse, and Poetry
Their fiery torcher5
Ere twice in murk and occidental
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)
Well That Ends Well contains dialogue in prose, unrhymed verse,
rhymed verse, and poetry.
the language of everyday conversation. Sentences may be short or long,
and there is no intended rhyme.
Following are examples of each
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
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,
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.
used prose to do the following:
Do you think I am so far deceived in him?
Verse Passage Without Rhyme
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.
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
BERTRAM I would
I knew in what particular action to try him.
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.
Youth, thou bear’st thy father’s face;
Verse Passage With Rhyme
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
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
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
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
And bow’d his eminent top
to their low ranks,
Making them proud of his
In their poor praise he
humbled. Such a man
Might be a copy to these
Which, follow’d well, would
demonstrate them now
But goers backward.
Methinks in thee some blessed spirit doth speak,
Poetry (Recited by the Clown
Beginning at Line 29 of 1.3)
His powerful sound within
an organ weak;
And what impossibility would
In common sense, sense saves
Thy life is dear; for all
that life can rate
Worth name of life in thee
Youth, beauty, wisdom, courage,
That happiness and prime
can happy call
Was this fair face
the cause, quoth she,
Why the Grecians sacked
Fond done, done fond,
Was this King Priam’s joy?
With that she sighed as
With that she sighed as
And gave this sentence then;
Among nine bad if one be
Among nine bad if one be
There’s yet one good in
Express ordinary, undistinguished observations coming from the surface
of the mind rather than its active, ruminating interior.
used verse to do the following:
Make quick, one-line replies such as “Ay, my lord” that are the stuff of
Present auditory relief for audiences (or visual relief for readers) from
the intellectual and connotative density of the verse passages.
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.
Depict the rambling, desultory path of conversation from a tongue loosened
by alcohol, as in Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II.
Poke fun at characters who lack the wit to versify their lines.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
was a lover and his lass,
a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
o’er the green corn-field did pass
the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding:
lovers love the spring.
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.
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.
are examples of figures of speech in All's Well That Ends Well.
There shall your
master have a thousand loves,
mother, and a mistress, and a
phœnix, captain, and an enemy,
guide, a goddess, and a
counsellor, a traitress, and a
humble ambition, proud humility,
jarring concord, and his discord dulcet,
faith, his sweet disaster; with a world
Of pretty, fond, adoptious
[H]e lost a wife
beauty did astonish the survey
Of richest eyes, whose
words all ears took captive,
dear perfection hearts that scorn’d to serve
Humbly call’d mistress.
That labouring art can
ransom nature (2.1.119-120)
the heels of worth (3.4.17)
In common sense,
another way. (2.1.181-182)
He wears his honour
in a box, unseen (2.3.219)
Comparison of honour
[W]hen you have our roses,
You barely leave our thorns
to prick ourselves
And mock us with our bareness.
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.
sir, she was the sweet-marjoram of the salad, or, rather the herb of grace.
Comparison of a woman
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
Distracted clouds give way:
so stand thou forth; 44
The time is fair again.
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)
of late knocked too often at my door (4.1.11)
Comparison of disgraces
to visitors entreating entry at a door
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:
is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living. (1.
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.
Helena makes this observation
when speaking to Diana.
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.
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
Be thou blest, Bertram;
and succeed thy father
Learns a Lesson
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,
’Tis an unseason’d courtier;
good my lord,
Advise him. (1.1.24-35)
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
Questions and Essay Topics
’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)
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 standing—and
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 Bertram—the bedroom trick in which
she pretends to be Diana—moral?
6. Bertram and Helena are
reconciled at the end. Will their marriage last?
Popular dance in the courts of Spain and France in the Sixteenth Century.
on DVD (or VHS)
Pepin the Short (714?-768), King of the Franks from 751 to 768.
Charlemagne (742-814), King of the Franks from 768 to 814. He was crowned
emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800.
Variant spelling of relics (keepsakes or any other objects from the past).
Reference to Apollo as the bearer of light (the sun).
The round-the-world trip the sun makes.
and Cleopatra (1974)
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III - Criterion Collection (1956)
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