All's Well that Ends Well Act 4, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis
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Some French lords and soldiers hide in a hedge, ready to ambush Parolles. They plan to speak nonsense around Parolles, so he thinks he is being captured by a foreign enemy. Parolles walks by, talking to himself. Parolles says that he can return back to the French camp in a few hours, pretending to have gone on an expedition to retrieve the drum. He says he is scared of battle and thinks that it is impossible to get the drum back.
Parolles plans to deceive Bertram and the other noblemen, only pretending to have searched for the drum. Comically, as he plots his deception, he is himself about to be the victim of a deceptive plot. The entire play is a continuing series of deceptions, where those who trick others are soon tricked themselves.
Parolles plans to give himself “some hurts” and say that he was hurt while fighting the enemy. But, he doesn’t want to have to injure himself, and debates instead getting rid of his clothes and saying he was stripped by the enemy. The French noblemen jump on Parolles, seize him, and blindfold him. They speak nonsense, and Parolles thinks that they are Russian soldiers. One of the soldiers says that he speaks Parolles’ language, and pretends to be an interpreter.
Parolles goes to comical extremes to avoid actually going on the mission he promised Bertram he would go on. But now the play’s ultimate trickster is himself duped. The play uses such scenes of trickery to examine the subject of deceit, but also, here, uses them for comedic value.
The soldier pretending to be an interpreter tells Parolles that his life will be spared if he can share some valuable information about the Florentine forces. Parolles begs for his life and says, “all the secrets of our camp I’ll show.” The soldiers and noblemen carry Parolles away, and one of the noblemen calls for Bertram to be brought to see Parolles.
Parolles displays his true, untrustworthy character. In his cowardice, he fails to live up to the masculine ideals of bravery in battle that he tries to project when he brags to Bertram and others.