All's Well that Ends Well

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Character and Judgment Theme Analysis

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.
Character and Judgment Theme Icon

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 of this pattern in the play, though, is Bertram’s misjudging the character of Parolles. He thinks that Parolles is a brave and loyal friend, only to discover that he is actually an untrustworthy, cowardly traitor. Practically no one’s character is not open to misjudging and reinterpretation over the course of the play. The countess must revise her idea of her own son, as she becomes increasingly frustrated with his behavior, while Helen can be seen as dramatically misunderstanding Bertram’s character. She at first sees him as an excellent potential husband, but later learns from experience that he can be spiteful and unfaithful, as he deserts her and tries to sleep with Diana. The memorable trick in act four when Bertram mistakenly sleeps with Helen (thinking she is Diana) can even be seen as a comically literal version of this pattern of events, as Bertram literally misjudges the character he is in bed with.

All of these reversals of character could be taken to suggest that character is more of a fluid, changing thing than something innate and permanent. However, the end of Shakespeare’s play seems to make a different point. Characters’ inner natures appear to be constant—Parolles really is a cowardly liar, while Helen really is a virtuous woman. It is only people’s judgments and estimations of others’ character and personality that are inconstant. Characters in All’s Well that Ends Well do seem to have a definitive personality, but how they are perceived by others changes drastically as the plot develops and their true colors are gradually revealed. Shakespeare’s comedy thus shows the risks of forming an overly hasty judgment of someone’s character based on limited knowledge, while also delighting in the humor and mishaps that these assumptions can cause.

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Character and Judgment Quotes in All's Well that Ends Well

Below you will find the important quotes in All's Well that Ends Well related to the theme of Character and Judgment.
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

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.

What “her” is this?

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.

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. 

I did think thee, for two ordinaries, to be a pretty wise fellow; thou didst make tolerable vent of thy travel; it might pass. Yet the scarves and the bannerets about thee did manifoldly dissuade me from believing thee a vessel of too great a burden. I have now found thee. When I lose thee again, I care not. Yet art thou good for nothing but taking up, and that thou’rt scarce worth.

Related Characters: Lafew (speaker), Parolles
Page Number: 2.3.215-222
Explanation and Analysis:

Lafew, the dignified courtier, meets Parolles, Bertram's undignified, dishonest, and vain manservant. The two take an instant dislike to each other, and immediately begin to trade insults. Here, Lafew takes aim at Parolles' fondness for flamboyant clothing, especially "scarves." Sarcastically, Lafew tells Parolles that he believed him to be "a pretty wise fellow," but subsequently mocks his various adornments, calling him worthless and utterly dismissing him. 

Although Lafew may seem somewhat stuffy, he also happens to be correct: Parolles is generally treacherous and two-faced. He will do or say anything if it is advantageous to him, and he has seemingly no sense of loyalty or morality. 

To th’ wars, my boy, to th’ wars!
He wears his honor in a box unseen
That hugs his kicky-wicky here at home,
Spending his manly marrow in her arms
Which should sustain the bound and high curvet
Of Mars’s fiery steed. To other regions!
France is a stable, we that dwell in ‘t jades.
Therefore, to th’ war!

Related Characters: Parolles (speaker)
Page Number: 2.3.294-301
Explanation and Analysis:

Bertram has just informed Parolles that rather than stay with his new wife, he will escape to the wars in Italy. The fickle Parolles thinks that this is an excellent plan, even though it goes against the direct wishes of the King. Parolles begins to tell Bertram about the honor of going to war, and scorns men who choose to stay at home out of love or sexual desire for women. 

This speech is mostly ironic, of course, as it comes from the cowardly Parolles. Although he claims to wish to participate in the bravery of the battlefield, he is in fact out to save his own skin, and nothing else. Parolles is merely telling the shallow Bertram what he wants to hear, rather than voicing a valid or informed opinion. He also again displays a contempt for women, viewing them as objects to be conquered and left behind, rather than as people in their own right. 

Act 2, Scene 5 Quotes

Fare you well, my lord, and believe this of me: there can be no kernel in this light nut. The soul of this man is his clothes. Trust him not in matter of heavy consequence.

Related Characters: Lafew (speaker), Bertram, Parolles
Page Number: 2.5.43-46
Explanation and Analysis:

As Bertram and Parolles prepare to go, Lafew urges the younger man not to trust his servant. By saying that Parolles is a "nut" without a "kernel," Lafew means to express that Parolles has no core sense of morality or character, and cannot be counted upon. Instead, Parolles is wholly shallow--his " his clothes." Like clothes, Parolles can change himself at will, shifting his identity, his views, and his allegiances based on what will be most advantageous to him. 

Lafew's warning, while astute, goes unheeded by Bertram. This theme of refusing to listen to sound advice is a common one in All's Well That Ends Well, especially when it comes to Bertram. Just as he refused to be convinced of Helen's worth by the King, so too does he refuse to believe in Parolles' faithlessness. 

Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

I know that knave, hang him! One Parolles, a filthy officer he is in those suggestions for the young earl. –Beware of them, Diana. Their promises, enticements, oaths, tokens, and all these enginges of lust are not the things they go under. Many a maid hath been seduced by them; and the misery is example that so terrible shows in the wrack of maidenhood cannot for all that dissuade succession, but that they are limed with the twigs that threatens them. I hope I need not to advise you further; but I hope your own grace will keep you where you are, though there were no further danger known but the modesty which is so lost.

Related Characters: Mariana (speaker), Bertram, Parolles
Page Number: 3.5.17-29
Explanation and Analysis:

The Italian women, along with a disguised Helen, watch the French soldiers process into their city. One of the women is Diana, the brand-new object of Bertram's affections. As Parolles goes by, Diana's friend, Mariana, speaks her mind, voicing how much she hates Parolles, and how she believes that he has corrupted Bertram. 

Mariana's tirade continues, encompassing her feelings about men in general. She believes that men can promise and entice a maiden only to take her virginity, leave her, and ruin her. In short, her view is that all men are deceitful, immoral, and immune to the consequences of their actions, and so the best thing a young woman can do is to stay far away from them. 

In Mariana's rant the somewhat-secret war between men and women within All's Well That Ends Well becomes fully apparent. Men believe that women are tricksters who use their wiles to seduce and manipulate men. Women, meanwhile, believe that men are destructive liars, who care only about "conquering" a woman and are happy to leave her high and dry afterwards. In short, each sex thinks the worst of the other. 

Act 3, Scene 6 Quotes

Do you believe I am so far deceived in him?

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.

Related Characters: Bertram (speaker), Parolles
Page Number: 3.6.6-12
Explanation and Analysis:

Back in the French military camp, a group of lords tries to convince Bertram that Parolles is dishonest and corrupt. Bertram is disbelieving, though one of the lords urges him on, telling him that Parolles is a "coward," a "liar," a "promise-breaker," and in short has not "one good quality." 

As happens so often in All's Well that Ends Well, a net of treachery and deceit has sprung up among several different characters. Parolles has fooled Bertram into thinking him a good and faithful friend. The lords are now undercutting Parolles by talking behind his back to Bertram. And soon Bertram, with the help of the lords, will take revenge on Parolles--but only through further trickery and deceit. This type of tangled interaction is common for All's Well, where seemingly everyone--even the most well-meaning of characters--has the capacity for deceit. 

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

Upon his many protestations to marry me when his wife was dead, I blush to say it, he won me. Now is the Count Rossillion a widower, his vows are forfeited to me and my honor’s paid to him. He stole from Florence, taking no leave, and I follow him to his country for justice. Grant it me, O king. In you it best lies. Otherwise a seducer flourishes, and a poor maid is undone.

Related Characters: Diana (speaker), Helen, Bertram
Page Number: 5.3.159-166
Explanation and Analysis:

As Helen's plot continues to unfold, Diana and her mother appear before the King, and accuse Bertram: they say that he promised to marry her, took her virginity, and abandoned her. Here Diana describes how Bertram supposedly fooled her into giving up her honor, only to leave without her knowledge. She pleads for justice, and asks for Bertram to be punished.

This is a complex speech, full of both pathos and irony. On one hand, Bertram does indeed think that he committed all these crimes (and is now denying it). On the other hand, the woman he actually slept with is not Diana, but Helen, his "lawful" wife. Essentially, Diana and Helen have banded together both to reunite Helen with Bertram (however unwilling he may be) and to punish him for his deceitful, unfaithful behavior.

As is standard for All's Well, Diana also takes care to portray Bertram as the aggressor, and herself as the conquered victim. Once again, love and war come together, highlighting both traditional gender roles (and their sometimes-comic reversals) and the characters' individual views on the subject. 

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.