All's Well that Ends Well

Helen Character Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
The protagonist of the play, Helen is strong-willed and clever. She is a remarkably active and powerful female character in a society where women are assumed to be weak and inferior to men. She takes her fate into her own hands by boldly betting her own life on her ability to cure the king’s illness, and thereby winning Bertram’s hand in marriage—against his will. She promises to be an obedient and submissive wife to Bertram, but when he betrays and abandons her, she devises a clever scheme to win him back: she has Diana pretend to agree to sleep with him and then takes Diana’s place in bed, thereby getting the consummation of her marriage that Bertram denied her. After faking her own death, she returns to Rossillion at the very end of the play to reveal the truth about Bertram and Diana’s relationship and to show Bertram that she has fulfilled his requirements for being his wife.

Helen Quotes in All's Well that Ends Well

The All's Well that Ends Well quotes below are all either spoken by Helen or refer to Helen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of All's Well that Ends Well published in 2006.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

My imagination
Carries no favor in ‘t but Bertram’s.
I am undone. There is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. ‘Twere all one
That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so above me.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), Bertram
Page Number: 1.1.87-92
Explanation and Analysis:

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Parolles:
Are you meditating on virginity?

Helen:
Ay. You have some stain of soldier in you; let me ask you a question. Man is enemy to virginity. How may we barricado it against him?

Parolles:
Keep him out.

Helen:
But he assails, and our virginity, though valiant in the defense, yet is weak. Unfold to us some warlike resistance.

Parolles:
There is none. Man setting down before you will undermine you and blow you up.

Helen:
Bless our poor virginity from underminers and blowers-up! Is there no military policy how virgins might blow up men?

Parolles:
Virginity being blown down, man will quicklier be blown up.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), Parolles (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.115-129
Explanation and Analysis:

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Virginity, like an old courtier, wears her cap out of fashion, richly suited but unsuitable, just like the brooch and the toothpick, which wear not now. . . . And your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears: it looks ill, it eats dryly; marry, ‘tis a withered pear. It was formerly better; marry, yet ‘tis a withered pear. Will you anything with it?

Related Characters: Parolles (speaker), Helen
Page Number: 1.1.161-170
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Lafew:
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.

King:
What “her” is this?

Lafew:
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.

King:
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:

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Then shalt thou give me with thy kingly hand
What husband in thy power I will command.
Exempted be from me the arrogance
To choose from forth the royal blood of France,
My low and humble name to propagate
With any branch or image of thy state;
But such a one, thy vassal, whom I know
Is free for me to ask, thee to bestow.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker)
Page Number: 2.1.214-221
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Act 2, Scene 5 Quotes

Sir, I can nothing say
But that I am your most obedient servant.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), Bertram
Page Number: 2.5.77-78
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband. But in such a “then” I write a “never.”

Related Characters: Bertram (speaker), Helen
Related Symbols: Bertram’s Ring
Page Number: 3.2.58-62
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Scene 7 Quotes

Helen:
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.

Widow:
Now I see the bottom of your purpose.

Helen:
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:

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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:

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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:

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Helen Character Timeline in All's Well that Ends Well

The timeline below shows where the character Helen appears in All's Well that Ends Well. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon
The doctor’s daughter, named Helen, is crying while the countess and Lafew talk, and the countess tells Helen to restrain... (full context)
Social Classes Theme Icon
Lies, Deceit, and Trickery Theme Icon
...advice to be virtuous, careful, and honest. She leaves, and after Lafew says goodbye to Helen, he leaves with Bertram. All alone, Helen reveals that her tears are not over her... (full context)
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Bertram’s friend Parolles enters. Helen says to herself that she knows Parolles to be “a great way fool, solely a... (full context)
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
...virginity is “too cold a companion,” and says that women should try to lose it. Helen disagrees, and Parolles speaks further against virginity. He says that to uphold virginity is to... (full context)
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Helen remains insistent that she will maintain her virginity, and then speaks of Bertram. She compliments... (full context)
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Helen jokes that Parolles must have been born when Mars was in retrograde (moving in reverse),... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
...he is now ill and weak. He asks Bertram about the famous physician of Rossillion (Helen’s father), who died six months ago. He says that if this doctor were still alive,... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
Back at Rossillion, the countess asks a steward about Helen. She sees that a fool (a servant whose job is to entertain the court) is... (full context)
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Social Classes Theme Icon
...friend. Tired of the fool’s coarse jokes, the countess tells him to leave and tell Helen that she wants to speak to her. On his way out, the fool sings a... (full context)
Virginity, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Social Classes Theme Icon
The steward and the countess discuss Helen, and the steward reveals that he has overheard Helen talking of her love for Bertram,... (full context)
Social Classes Theme Icon
Lies, Deceit, and Trickery Theme Icon
Helen greets the countess, and the countess tells her that she is like a mother to... (full context)
Social Classes Theme Icon
Helen begs the countess’ pardon, and finally admits that she does love Bertram. She asks the... (full context)
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The countess asks Helen if she has lately been planning to go to Paris, to the royal court. Helen... (full context)
Social Classes Theme Icon
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Helen says that the medicines were made by her father, the famous doctor, and she is... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...doctor, and he agrees, if only to marvel at the boldness of the young girl. Helen enters and Lafew leaves the king and her alone. (full context)
Remedy and Resolution Theme Icon
Character and Judgment Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Helen tells the king who her father was, and the king says that he knew of... (full context)
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Helen says she will not force the medicine on the king, and the king again thanks... (full context)
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The king asks Helen how quickly she thinks she can heal him, and she answers that he will be... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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...is the work of the “very hand of heaven,” acting through the weak “minister” of Helen. The king then enters with Helen, and he tells her that he is ready to... (full context)
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The king has all his noblemen line up and tells Helen to make her choice. Helen speaks to the noblemen and tells them all that she... (full context)
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Bertram is immediately upset, and does not want to marry Helen. The king tells him that Helen has “raised” him from his “sickly bed,” and demands... (full context)
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The king even promises Bertram to supply Helen’s dowry from his own wealth, but Bertram is stubborn, and says that he “cannot love... (full context)
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...about how he will beat the old man. Lafew returns and announces that Bertram and Helen have been married. (full context)
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...leaves. A very distraught Bertram enters and tells Parolles that he will not sleep with Helen, even though he was forced to marry her. He plans to go to the wars... (full context)
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Bertram says that he will send Helen to Rossillion to wait for him, but plans never to return there. Parolles asks if... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
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Helen receives the countess’ letter from the fool, and asks the fool whether the countess is... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
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...says that he believes Parolles is a valiant soldier. Parolles enters and informs Bertram that Helen will obey his wishes and leave for Rossillion immediately. (full context)
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Helen enters and tells Bertram that she has made arrangements for her departure from the royal... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
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...the letter, in which Bertram tells her that he has resolved never to sleep with Helen, and has run away from Rossillion for good. The countess says that his behavior is... (full context)
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The fool returns and tells the countess that Bertram has run away. He says that Helen can tell her more, and leaves as Helen enters with a nobleman. The countess asks... (full context)
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...saddened by all this, and says she no longer considers Bertram to be her son. Helen reads more of Bertram’s letter, in which he says, “Till I have no wife I... (full context)
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Alone, Helen decides that she will leave France. She worries that it is her fault that Bertram... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
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Back at Rossillion, the countess finds a letter that Helen has left for her. In the letter, Helen tells the countess that she has left... (full context)
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The countess is sad at Helen’s departure and furious with her son, who she calls an “unworthy husband.” She orders for... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 5
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Helen enters, and the widow says that she will let this pilgrim stay at her house... (full context)
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Helen says that she believes Parolles’ assessment of the wife’s character and says the wife is... (full context)
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...says that he is leading Bertram astray. The troops pass by, and the widow tells Helen to follow her to her house for the night. Helen thanks her, and asks for... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 7
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At the Florentine widow’s home, Helen tries to persuade the widow that she is actually Bertram’s wife. The widow says she... (full context)
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Helen plans to have Diana appear to give into Bertram’s advances and to agree to sleep... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
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...she is cold to rebuff his advances, and says that he was forced to marry Helen but does not love her. He promises to love Diana and give her “all rights... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
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The noblemen discuss Helen, who they say has died during her pilgrimage. They say that Bertram will be “glad”... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
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The next day, Helen journeys with the widow and Diana to go find the king of France in Marseilles.... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 5
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In Rossillion, the countess has just learned of Helen’s apparent death. She and Lafew lament the death of “the most virtuous gentlewoman that ever... (full context)
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...he has spoken to the king about Bertram possibly marrying his (Lafew’s) daughter, now that Helen is dead. The countess says that she would be happy with such a marriage. Lafew... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
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Helen, the widow, and Diana arrive in Marseilles to find the king of France. Helen sees... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
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Speaking to the countess, the king laments the death of Helen and says that Bertram didn’t realize how good of a wife she was. The countess... (full context)
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...Bertram says that he used to wish to marry her, before he was married to Helen. He says that he loved Helen, and the king says that it reflects well on... (full context)
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The king says that there is no use in talking about Helen’s virtues now that she is dead, and asks Bertram to “now forget her,” and marry... (full context)
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...married, but she wouldn’t take the ring back. The king is sure the ring is Helen’s and demands that Bertram “confess ‘twas hers and by what rough enforcement / You got... (full context)
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...“wrapped in dismal thinkings,” and suspects that Bertram may have had something to do with Helen’s death. Just then, the gentleman whom Helen encountered at Marseilles enters and delivers her letter... (full context)
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...will give him his ring back in exchange for hers (the ring that is actually Helen’s). The king asks if Bertram’s story about Helen’s ring being thrown to him out a... (full context)
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...with her, and may have promised her marriage. The king asks Diana how she got Helen’s ring, and Diana says she never bought it, nor was given it, nor borrowed it... (full context)
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...Bertram “got his wife with child,” and says that “one that’s dead is quick,” as Helen enters. (full context)
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Bertram and the king are shocked to see Helen alive. Helen shows Bertram the letter he wrote her long ago in which he said... (full context)
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Lafew starts to cry at seeing that Helen is not dead. The king asks Helen to explain what has happened, and then turns... (full context)