All's Well that Ends Well

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The King of France Character Analysis

The king of France is at the absolute top of the social hierarchy in the play, and is able to order others around, as when he compels Bertram to marry Helen against his will. Gravely ill at the beginning of the play, the king has given up all hope of recovery and is resigned to his own death. At the end of the play, the king tries to push the play to move toward a happy ending. He encourages everyone to forget about Helen and wants Bertram to move on and marry Lafew’s daughter. When Helen returns and everything seems resolved, he emphasizes how all the problems of the play have come to happy conclusions both at the end of Act 5 and in the brief epilogue.

The King of France Quotes in All's Well that Ends Well

The All's Well that Ends Well quotes below are all either spoken by The King of France or refer to The King of France. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of All's Well that Ends Well published in 2006.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

But think you, Helen,
If you should tender your supposed aid,
He would receive it? He and his physicians
Are of a mind: he that they cannot help him,
They that they cannot help. How shall they credit
A poor unlearned virgin, when the schools
Emboweled of their doctrine have left off
The danger to itself?

Related Characters: The Countess of Rossillion (speaker), Helen, The King of France
Page Number: 1.3.249-256
Explanation and Analysis:

During her conversation with the Countess, Helen, a doctor's daughter, decides to travel to Paris and attempt to cure the King of his long, mysterious illness. The Countess, however, initially reacts with skepticism. She reminds Helen that everyone considers the king's condition hopeless, and that they are unlikely to change their minds based on the opinions of "a poor unlearned virgin." 

The Countess's comment reveals the many obstacles that Helen faces in her quest for social advancement. First, she is poor and of low birth; although her father was a well-respected doctor, their family is not noble. Second, she is a young, unmarried woman, and therefore inhabits a very low status within this patriarchal society. Although the Countess's words are not discouraging, they are also not unwise: it is highly unlikely that the king and his counselors will trust someone like Helen, at least at first. 

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Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Those girls of Italy, take heed of them.
They say our French lack language to deny
If they demand. Beware of being captives
Before you serve.

Related Characters: The King of France (speaker)
Page Number: 2.1.21-24
Explanation and Analysis:

The King of France is sending his lords to Italy, where they will aid in a war. Mixing language of love and war, he warns the noblemen not to fall in love with the "girls of Italy," who supposedly have great power over Frenchmen. He asserts that these women may take the lords captive and distract them from the war effort.

The King's language cements the connection between violence and sex that continually comes up throughout the play. Once again, love is compared to war. In this case, though, women are the aggressors, able to take unwitting men captive with their charms and wiles. 

Lafew:
I have seen a medicine
That’s able to breathe life into a stone,
Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary
With sprightly fire and motion, whose simple touch
Is powerful to araise King Pippen, nay,
To give great Charlemagne a pen in ‘s hand
And write to her a love line.

King:
What “her” is this?

Lafew:
Why, Doctor She. My lord, there’s one arrived,
If you will see her. Now, by my faith and honor,
If seriously I may convey my thoughts
In this my light deliverance, I have spoke
With one that in her sex, her years, profession,
Wisdom, and constancy hath amazed me more
Than I dare blame my weakness. Will you see her—
For that is her demand—and know her business?
That done, laugh well at me.

King:
Now, good Lafew,
Bring in the admiration, that we with thee
May spend our wonder too, or take off thine
By wond’ring how thou took’st it.

Related Characters: The King of France (speaker), Parolles (speaker), Helen
Page Number: 2.1.84-104
Explanation and Analysis:

The high-ranking lord Lafew has decided to help Helen, and so makes her presence known to the King, telling him that there is a "Doctor She" who can even raise the dead, and who has amazed him with "her sex, her years...Wisdom, and constancy." Although Lafew can hardly believe what he is saying, the King responds positively, saying that he will meet with Helen either to wonder at her with Lafew, or to cure his friend of his (presumably falsely inspired) amazement. 

The King and Lafew's surprise makes a great deal of sense, given the classist, sexist, hierarchical nature of their court. Young women like Helen were not supposed to have "wisdom" or learning, and yet she seems to possess a "medicine" so powerful that it could raise the King's famous ancestors. Despite their skepticism and the rigid hierarchies of their society, though, both men are open to the idea of seeing Helen, proof of their desperation, given the King's long illness. 

Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

'Tis only title thou disdain'st in her, the which
I can build up. Strange is it that our bloods,
Of colour, weight, and heat, pour'd all together,
Would quite confound distinction, yet stand off
In differences so mighty. If she be
All that is virtuous, save what thou dislikest,
A poor physician's daughter, thou dislikest
Of virtue for the name: but do not so:
From lowest place when virtuous things proceed,
The place is dignified by the doer's deed:
Where great additions swell's, and virtue none,
It is a dropsied honour. Good alone
Is good without a name. Vileness is so:
The property by what it is should go,
Not by the title. She is young, wise, fair;
In these to nature she's immediate heir,
And these breed honour: that is honour's scorn,
Which challenges itself as honour's born
And is not like the sire: honours thrive,
When rather from our acts we them derive
Than our foregoers: the mere word's a slave
Debosh'd on every tomb, on every grave
A lying trophy, and as oft is dumb
Where dust and damn'd oblivion is the tomb
Of honour'd bones indeed. What should be said?
If thou canst like this creature as a maid,
I can create the rest: virtue and she
Is her own dower; honour and wealth from me.

Related Characters: The King of France (speaker), Helen, Bertram
Page Number: 2.3.128-155
Explanation and Analysis:

After being chosen by Helen, Bertram is furious, stating that he can never love her. The King, however, convinced of Helen's worthiness, grows angry with Bertram. In a long tirade, he explains that Bertram "distain'st" only Helen's lack of title and wealth, which he, as the King, can fix. He goes on to praise Helen's virtue, attempting to explain to Bertram the value of that attribute. He continues by asserting that Helena is rich in those qualities that only nature can bestow: "She is young, wise, and fair." He ends by telling Bertram that "scorn" is not an honorable emotion, and reminds the young lord that he can give Helen "honour and wealth," while only she herself can provide virtue and beauty. 

The King's speech is a complex one, revealing the complex nature of class within this society. Although Helen is lowborn, the King recognizes her noble qualities, and wishes to reward her with wealth and a title to match. Bertram, however, cannot see past Helen's low birth; he is moved only by the King's power and veiled threats, not by the logical argument that he hears proposed. 

This passage also reveals the transactional nature of marriage in this society. The King firmly believes that beauty, wealth, and equality of birth are enough to make a happy marriage. Further, he believes that Bertram should marry whomever he, the King, commands. This view even further complicates the already thorny subject of marriage within the play. 

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Bertram (speaker), Helen, The Countess of Rossillion, The King of France
Page Number: 3.2.19-22
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen travels back to Rossillion to the countess, where she gives her new mother-in-law a letter from Bertram. Within it, he explains that Helen has cured the King, but that he considers himself "undone" by their marriage. He goes on to say that while they are married, he has not slept with his wife, and intends never to do so. 

This note reveals the cruelty and shallowness behind the noble Bertram. Although he may be highborn, handsome, and brave, he acts callously towards Helen, the woman who loves him most in the world, and even goes so far as to deceive her in order to get what he wants. Further, he even ridicules her to the Countess, who loves Helen as much as (or even more than) her own child. 

It is also notable how obsessed Bertram is with the idea of sex as it relates to marriage. As long as Helen remains a virgin, Bertram believes, they are not truly man and wife. This idea will come back to haunt him as the play continues. 

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

I wonder, sir, since wives are monsters to you
And that you fly them as you swear them lordship,
Yet you desire to marry.

Related Characters: The King of France (speaker), Bertram
Page Number: 5.3.176-178
Explanation and Analysis:

Furious with Bertram, the King questions why Bertram wished to marry Lafew's daughter, since he has now (supposedly) promised to marry two women (Helen and Diana), only to abandon them. 

The King has in fact astutely pointed out a pattern in Bertram's behavior: his consistent mistreatment of women, and his belief that he is entitled to do what he likes with them simply because he is a man.

The King believes that these actions make Bertram ignoble and unworthy of marrying anyone. In fact, however, they are more or less standard in a society that treats women like property, valuing them only for their virginities and childbearing potential. Although Bertram is cruel and careless, he is also a product of the patriarchal society in which he has been brought up. 

If thou be’st yet a fresh uncropped flower,
Choose thou thy husband, and I’ll pay thy dower.
For I can guess that by thy honest aid
Thou kept’st a wife herself, thyself a maid.
Of that and all the progress more and less,
Resolvedly more leisure shall express.
All yet seems well, and if it end so meet,
The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.

Related Characters: The King of France (speaker), Diana
Page Number: 5.3.372-379
Explanation and Analysis:

Amazed and happy that Helen is alive, the King now turns to Diana. He tells her that (as he did with Helen), he will allow her to choose any husband she wants, and will make her a wealthy woman by "pay[ing] her dower." However, he will only do so if she is indeed still "a maid." The King's promise shows that, despite the complications that ensued after he made the same promise to Helen, he is willing to do the same thing all over again. HIs qualification that he will only do so if Diana is a maid, meanwhile, displays his society's continuing obsession with virginity (and female virginity in particular).

The King goes on, saying that "All...seems well" in his kingdom, and that though the past may be "bitter" it only makes the ending of the play more "sweet." This type of happy resolution is common for a comedy, yet in the case of All's Well, it seems somewhat jarring. The "past" has indeed been very "bitter," and the seemingly unworthy Bertram has ended up with the brave, loyal Helen. Although the King may tell us one thing, it is up to the audience to determine whether we really believe the happy ending occurring in front of us, and accept the play's title without reservations. 

Epilogue Quotes

All is well ended if this suit be won,
That you express content, which we will pay,
With strift to please you, day exceeding day.

Related Characters: The King of France (speaker)
Page Number: Ep.2-4
Explanation and Analysis:

The King reemerges for the Epilogue, telling the audience once more that "All is well ended," but only if the play has pleased the audience. This meta-theatrical speech reveals the true significance of the comic resolution: it does not matter if the characters are truly "happy," so long as the audience is.

By breaking the "fourth wall" (the divide between play and audience) in this way, Shakespeare is reminding the audience of the artificiality of what they've just seen, and emphasizing that it has all taken place for their entertainment. The true meaning of "ending well" is a satisfied audience--and it is for this ending that actors and playwrights will continue to strive, "day exceeding day." 

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The King of France Character Timeline in All's Well that Ends Well

The timeline below shows where the character The King of France appears in All's Well that Ends Well. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
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Bertram, the young count of Rossillion, is preparing to leave to go to the king of France, whose ward he will be because his own father has recently passed away.... (full context)
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...skilled doctor that he “would have made nature immortal,” and likely could have cured the king. Sadly, this doctor is dead. Lafew says that the king has mentioned this doctor before,... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
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At the royal court, the king decides not to interfere in a dispute between the Italian cities of Siena and Florence.... (full context)
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The king describes the wit, honor, and virtue of Bertram’s father, and says that the current generation... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
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...Of rare and proved effects,” which she thinks may be able to help cure the king. She admits, though, that her real motive in going to Paris would be to see... (full context)
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...made by her father, the famous doctor, and she is confident they could help the king, if she were given the chance to go to Paris. She asks the countess’ permission... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
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Back at the royal court, the king of France bids farewell to some noblemen who are leaving to fight in the war... (full context)
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Lafew asks the king if he will try any remedies for his illness, and the king refuses. Lafew tells... (full context)
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Helen tells the king who her father was, and the king says that he knew of her father, the... (full context)
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Helen says she will not force the medicine on the king, and the king again thanks her for her thoughts of helping him, but tells her... (full context)
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The king asks Helen how quickly she thinks she can heal him, and she answers that he... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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At the king’s court, Parolles, Bertram, and Lafew discuss the miracle of the king’s recovery. Lafew remarks on... (full context)
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The king has all his noblemen line up and tells Helen to make her choice. Helen speaks... (full context)
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Bertram is immediately upset, and does not want to marry Helen. The king tells him that Helen has “raised” him from his “sickly bed,” and demands that he... (full context)
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The king even promises Bertram to supply Helen’s dowry from his own wealth, but Bertram is stubborn,... (full context)
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...to head to Italy tomorrow, and send Helen to Rossillion immediately. Parolles says that the king has wronged Bertram by forcing him into this marriage, and the two leave to make... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
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...that she has made arrangements for her departure from the royal court. She says the king wants to speak with Bertram. Bertram apologizes for not fulfilling his husbandly duty on their... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
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The duke of Florence welcomes the French noblemen who have come from the king’s court. He remarks that he is surprised the king of France has chosen not to... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
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The next day, Helen journeys with the widow and Diana to go find the king of France in Marseilles. She thanks Diana and her mother for helping her in her... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 5
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After the fool leaves, Lafew tells the countess that he has spoken to the king about Bertram possibly marrying his (Lafew’s) daughter, now that Helen is dead. The countess says... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
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Helen, the widow, and Diana arrive in Marseilles to find the king of France. Helen sees a gentleman whom she recognizes from the royal court and greets... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
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Speaking to the countess, the king laments the death of Helen and says that Bertram didn’t... (full context)
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The king tells Lafew that Bertram will marry Lafew’s daughter. Bertram enters and apologizes to the king.... (full context)
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The king says that there is no use in talking about Helen’s virtues now that she is... (full context)
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...advances and told her he was married, but she wouldn’t take the ring back. The king is sure the ring is Helen’s and demands that Bertram “confess ‘twas hers and by... (full context)
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The king says that he is “wrapped in dismal thinkings,” and suspects that Bertram may have had... (full context)
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Bertram is brought back in, and the king asks him why he wanted to marry Lafew’s daughter, when apparently “wives are monsters” to... (full context)
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Diana asks the king to ask Bertram if he took her virginity. Bertram calls Diana “a common gamester to... (full context)
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Diana says that Parolles can testify to her case, and the king orders for Parolles to be brought to court. Bertram says that Parolles cannot be trusted... (full context)
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...have,” and “did love her . . . as a gentleman loves a woman.” The king asks Parolles to speak clearly about what Bertram did or didn’t do, and Parolles says... (full context)
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...She says that he will claim she is not a virgin, but she is. The king is frustrated with her confusing talk and is about to have her dragged to jail,... (full context)
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Bertram and the king are shocked to see Helen alive. Helen shows Bertram the letter he wrote her long... (full context)
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Lafew starts to cry at seeing that Helen is not dead. The king asks Helen to explain what has happened, and then turns to Diana. He tells her... (full context)
Epilogue
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The king comes out on stage and tells the audience that the play is over. He says... (full context)