All's Well that Ends Well

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Remedy and Resolution 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.
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon

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 quick resolutions. The king, for example, is completely resigned to his own death early in the play, but is healed miraculously quickly by Helen’s medicine. Helen begins the play with absolutely no hope of marrying Bertram, but then quickly finds a way to get him as her husband. And when he deserts her, she is able to trick him into sleeping with her and gets him to even proclaim that he will love her by the end of the play. Helen herself appears to be dead for quite some time, and—from the other characters’ perspectives—miraculously comes back from the dead in act five. But before she does, the king easily (almost too easily) forgives Bertram for dishonoring Helen, and is ready to marry him to Lafew’s daughter. Every dilemma, problem, and quandary in the play seems to find a happy resolution without too much trouble. At the end of the play, everything seems to be resolved and put in order—even Diana is promised a noble husband. The play’s epilogue drives this point home. Even after act five concludes with the king announcing that all has come to a happy conclusion, he comes back on stage in the epilogue just to reiterate that “all is well ended.” But all this insistence on the play’s happy ending almost seems to protest too much—does everything really end well in the play?

Bertram professes his love for Helen, but he has not exactly been trustworthy throughout the whole play, and his stunningly quick change of mind may not be entirely believable. Moreover, the king and the countess repeatedly refer to their old age. The specter of death with which the play begins (with Bertram’s and Helen’s fathers dead and the king apparently dying) seems to hang over the play’s happy ending to some degree. And for Parolles, all does not seem to have ended well. By the end of the play, the king’s illness has been cured and Helen has gotten the husband of her dreams. But does this apparently happy conclusion really make all the deceit, loss, and pain of the earlier parts of the play simply okay, or negligible? Can the pervasive sadness of the beginning of the play—which opens with Helen weeping uncontrollably—be completely banished? In other words, is all actually well that ends well? By raising these kinds of issues, Shakespeare probes questions about the very nature of comedy and the possibility of a happy ending, even in the play of his that appears at first glance to give the best example of a happy comic resolution.

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Remedy and Resolution 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 Remedy and Resolution.
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 5, Scene 3 Quotes

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. 

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."