All's Well that Ends Well


William Shakespeare

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All's Well that Ends Well: Act 2, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Helen receives the countess’ letter from the fool, and asks the fool whether the countess is well. The fool jokes that the countess is “not well, but yet she has her health.” Parolles enters and the fool teases him with clever jokes. Ignoring the fool, Parolles tells Helen that Bertram is leaving for Italy, and must put off “the great prerogative and rite of love,” (that is, consummating their marriage). Parolles says that Bertram wants Helen to leave the royal court immediately and return home, and she says that she will be obedient to her husband’s will.
The fool’s jokes insert some light comedy into the play and also allow him to snipe at his social superiors. For Helen and Bertram, sex is seen as the culmination and consummation of their marriage, and this is why Bertram wants to avoid it. This peculiar situation again reverses normal gender roles. As we see elsewhere in the play, it is stereotypically the man who urges sex and the woman who tries to delay or avoid it.
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