All's Well that Ends Well

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Themes and Colors
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Social Classes Theme Icon
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Lies, Deceit, and Trickery Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in All's Well that Ends Well, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The central plot of All’s Well that Ends Well revolves around the marriage between Bertram and Helen, and his refusal to consummate it by sleeping with her. Issues of virginity, sex, and marriage pervade the play even beyond these two characters’ relationship, though, with even the fool wanting to get married and Diana (who is named after the Roman goddess of virginity) defending her chastity against the advances of Bertram. Shakespeare’s comedy pokes some…

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Shakespeare’s play takes place in a world with a rigid social hierarchy, reflecting the social world of the early modern England in which Shakespeare lived. Society is divided along lines of class, with the king at the very top, and under him various levels of noblemen (including those with and without titles like “Count of Rossillion”), those who fall somewhere in the middle (such as Helen), and lower-class soldiers and peasants. A character’s place…

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The title of All's Well that Ends Well marks the play's interest in positive resolutions and happy endings. Indeed, one of the defining features of comedy as a genre is this kind of happy ending that supposedly makes the problems of the play go away, such that all really is well that ends well. Throughout the play, Shakespeare plays with this comedic convention. There are many problems in the play that find strikingly easy or…

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Many characters in this play make faulty assumptions about a person’s character, only to discover later that someone they thought to be one kind of person is actually quite different. The king, for example, drastically underestimates Helen as a doctor, while Bertram gets himself into trouble because he misjudges Helen and doesn’t realize how good of a wife she would make (mostly because he is fixated on her lower social status). The major example…

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In addition to class distinctions, the social world of the play is structured also by a rigid hierarchy of gender (as was the society of Shakespeare’s England), in which men exercise power and women are assumed to be inferior to men. But with All’s Well that Ends Well, Shakespeare challenges traditional assumptions about gender in a variety of ways. First, the play is replete with clever and strong female characters. Helen takes an active…

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All’s Well that Ends Well is filled with dishonesty, from minor lies to deliberate acts of trickery to an entire life (that of Parolles) built upon deceit. The play’s plot can be seen as an escalating and continuing series of deceptions and tricks culminating in the ultimate revelation of the truth in the final scene, when Helen returns to Rossillion. The play’s first major deception is when Bertram marries Helen but then deserts her…

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