All's Well that Ends Well

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Bertram’s Ring Symbol Analysis

Bertram’s Ring Symbol Icon
Bertram has an ancestral ring that has been passed down through his family for generations. As one of the conditions he gives Helen for making him truly her husband, he tells her that she will have to get this ring from him, thinking this task impossible. But he ends up giving this precious ring to Diana in order to woo her, unwittingly putting the ring into Helen’s hands. Bertram’s ring is a token of romantic affection and therefore a sign of fidelity or infidelity. In Diana’s possession, the ring apparently proves that he has been unfaithful to Helen and has seduced Diana. In Helen’s possession, the ring is proof that Bertram has actually been (unintentionally) faithful and slept with his wife. Additionally, through this ring, the reversal of typical gender roles in Helen and Bertram’s relationship is made clear. Diana compares her valuable chastity to Bertram’s precious ring, and indeed his ring can be seen as a symbol of a male form of chastity that Bertram does not want Helen to violate. Helen assumes the typically male role of trying to seduce her partner into sex and trying to take Bertram’s ring just as a male suitor might try to “take” a woman’s virginity from her. Because Bertram’s ring is a family heirloom, it is also an important symbol of Bertram’s noble heritage and high status in the social hierarchy as a count. The ring can be seen as representing Bertram’s nobility itself—the prize Helen gets by marrying him (and thus marrying into a higher social class).

Bertram’s Ring Quotes in All's Well that Ends Well

The All's Well that Ends Well quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bertram’s Ring. 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 3, Scene 2 Quotes

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.”

Related Characters: Bertram (speaker), Helen
Related Symbols: Bertram’s Ring
Page Number: 3.2.58-62
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Helen reads aloud a letter from Bertram, in which he tells her that they will only be married when she can get "the ring upon my finger," and prove that she is pregnant with his child. To Bertram, of course, these requirements seem like impossibilities. As far as he is concerned, he will never give Helen a ring (implying his loyalty to and love for her), nor will he ever sleep with her, making a child out of the question. 

Helen, however, takes the letter in a different way. After all, she has already cured the King of a deadly illness and married a man considered far above her in terms of wealth and nobility; it makes sense that she would believe Bertram's requirements to be merely difficult, but not impossible, tasks. This difference in understanding highlights the gap between Bertram's shallow arrogance and Helen's determined, can-do attitude.

At the same time, this passage also underlines Bertram's equation of sex, marriage, and love. He believes that his marriage to Helen will never be real unless they consummate it--and so Helen decides to challenge him on his own terms. 

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Act 3, Scene 7 Quotes

Helen:
The Count he woos your daughter;
Lays down his wanton siege before her beauty,
Resolved to carry her. Let her in fine consent
As we’ll direct her how ‘tis best to bear it.
Now his important blood will naught deny
That she’ll demand. A ring the County wears
That downward hath succeeded in his house
From son to son some four or five descents
Since the first father wore it. This ring he holds
In most rich choice. Yet, in his idle fire,
To buy his will it would not seem too dear,
Howe’er repented after.

Widow:
Now I see the bottom of your purpose.

Helen:
You see it lawful, then. It is no more
But that your daughter, ere she seems as won,
Desires this ring, appoints him an encounter,
In fine, delivers me to fill the time,
Herself most chastely absent.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), The Widow (speaker), Bertram, Diana
Related Symbols: Bertram’s Ring
Page Number: 3.7.20-38
Explanation and Analysis:

Back at the Widow's home, Helen reveals herself as Bertram's scorned wife. Rather than hating Diana for having attracted Bertram's attention, Helen instead has a much craftier plan: she will use Bertram's attraction to Diana in order to gain both his ring and his child, fooling him into thinking that he is pledging his love to and sleeping with Diana, when in fact Helen has taken her place.

This passage yet again shows the complexity of Helen's thinking. She does not hate Diana, but instead views the other woman as a means by which she can eventually be reunited with her husband (and fulfill his previous, seemingly impossible demands). She assures the Widow that Bertram will give the ring to Diana, despite his noble blood and the ring's importance to his family, knowing all too well that her faithless husband is driven by his desire rather than his judgment. 

Helen also tells both the Widow and the audience that her plot, which will culminate in Bertram sleeping with and impregnating her, is "lawful," because she is in fact Bertram's wife. Deceit and trickery, in Helen's mind, are utterly justified when they are carried out on behalf of the "lawful" bonds of matrimony. 

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

Mine honor’s such a ring.
My chastity’s the jewel of our house,
Bequeathed down from many ancestors,
Which were the greatest obloquy i’ the’ world
In me to lose. Thus your own proper wisdom
Brings in the champion honor on my part
Against your vain assault.

Related Characters: Diana (speaker), Bertram
Related Symbols: Bertram’s Ring
Page Number: 4.2.55-61
Explanation and Analysis:

Now a willing participant in Helen's plan, Diana pretends to flirtatiously banter with Bertram. She promises to offer him her virginity, but will only do so (she says) if he gives her his ancient and valuable ring. When he protests, she explains that her "honor" and "chastity" are the only "jewl" that her family has. In short, if he cannot give her the ring, she cannot give him her virginity.

This passage makes clear Diana's own cleverness, but once again makes clear the transactional way that all the characters think about both love and sex. Bertram and Diana are essentially bartering, each trying to gain advantage over the other. At the same time, Diana appears to have bought into the idea that women's worth is tied into their reproductive value: a valuable married woman bears children, while a valuable unmarried woman is necessarily a virgin. Still, Diana uses the system against Bertram in this case, making clear that he must give her a priceless jewel in exchange for her equally priceless virginity. 

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Bertram’s Ring Symbol Timeline in All's Well that Ends Well

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bertram’s Ring appears in All's Well that Ends Well. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 3, Scene 2
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Social Classes Theme Icon
...he says that he will never consider himself her husband until she has gotten a ring of his off his finger and is bearing his child. He says that this will... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 7
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Social Classes Theme Icon
Lies, Deceit, and Trickery Theme Icon
...advances and to agree to sleep with him if he will give her an ancestral ring that he wears on his finger. Then, at night, Helen will take Diana’s place in... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Social Classes Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Diana asks Bertram to give her a ring he is wearing, but he says he cannot, as it is “an honor . .... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Lies, Deceit, and Trickery Theme Icon
...slept with many soldiers), and Diana says that he is lying. She produces his ancestral ring as proof of their union. The countess recognizes the ring and, seeing it as definitive... (full context)