All's Well that Ends Well

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Lies, Deceit, and Trickery 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.
Lies, Deceit, and Trickery Theme Icon

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 and refuses to sleep with her, sending her to Rossillion. Bertram continues to be a rather deceptive character, making false oaths to Diana in an attempt to seduce her. Bertram, though, is the victim of Parolles’ own trickery, who makes the young count think that he is an honorable, trustworthy friend. And Parolles also betrays his Florentine allies, or at least thinks he does when he confesses secrets to his captors (French noblemen and soldiers in disguise).

With all of this deceit, practically no one in the play is completely honest or blameless. Helen lies about going on her pilgrimage, after all, and can even be seen as having tricked Bertram into marrying her. Diana and the widow also deceive Bertram with the trick of switching Diana and Helen in Diana’s bed, so that Bertram mistakenly sleeps with Helen. Moreover, perhaps the most dishonest character in the play—Parolles—only has his deceit discovered through more trickery, as French soldiers pretend to be foreign enemies and kidnap him. If nearly all the characters in this comedy are constantly lying to and tricking each other, how can one sort out virtuous from bad characters or behavior? Perhaps the answer lies in the play’s title: if all’s well that ends well, then perhaps one can take this to suggest that the ends justify the means. Thus, Helen’s trickery is justifiable because it leads to the just end of her being reunited with her husband. Similarly, Bertram’s tricking Parolles is justifiable because it leads to the revelation of Parolles’ true character. Dishonesty and deceit are thus not inherently or always bad in Shakespeare’s play, depending on what uses they are put to.

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Lies, Deceit, and Trickery 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 Lies, Deceit, and Trickery.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

Pardon, madam.
The Count Rossillion cannot be my brother.
I am from humble, he from honored name;
No note upon my parents, his all noble.
My master, my dear lord he is, and I
His servant live and will his vassal die.
He must not be my brother.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), Bertram
Page Number: 1.3.159-165
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen converses with the Countess, who--secretly knowing of Helen's love for Bertram--calls herself Helen's "mother." Helen, however, reacts with violent dismay: she explains that however close she may be to the family, she could never refer to Bertram as her "brother."

At least on the surface, Helen claims that her upset comes from her own "humble" station. She thinks of Bertram as her "master" and her "lord." She is not his equal, and therefore could never be related to him. Her birth is too low and his too high for them to be a part of the same family.

Of course, on another level, Helen's immediate denial of a sibling relationship between herself and Bertram springs from her desperate romantic love for him. She shies away from thinking of him as her brother because that would make her love incestuous, and therefore even more sinful than she already believes it to be (since she yearns for one of higher birth than herself). 


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Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

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 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 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 3, Scene 7 Quotes

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.

Now I see the bottom of your purpose.

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 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. 

If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly,
I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly.

Related Characters: Bertram (speaker), Helen
Page Number: 5.3.360-361
Explanation and Analysis:

At last, with her plot complete, Helen emerges. Not only is she alive (to the surprise of all but the Widow and Diana), but she is also in possession of Bertram's ring, and pregnant with his child. The entire court is shocked by this apparent miracle, but none more so than Bertram, who has been fooled into sleeping with his own wife (an act in which he vowed never to engage).

In proving that Bertram has taken her virginity and impregnated her, Helen has essentially proved the validity of their marriage to all--including Bertram himself. She has tied herself to him forever, and has proven that their lawful connection is a physical one as well. In short, she has used society's obsession with sex, marriage, and virginity to get exactly what she wanted: the man of her dreams. 

Of course, Helen has also done so through a great deal of deceit--but Bertram now seems past caring. At this point in the plot, he wishes only for understanding and resolution, and so vows to "love" his formerly hated wife "dearly" if she will explain to him how these events came to pass. Although this resolution may seem weak and suspect, it is the best that the characters of the dark and complex All's Well can manage.