All's Well that Ends Well


William Shakespeare

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All's Well that Ends Well: Similes 3 key examples

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Definition of Simile
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—An Old Courtier:

In Act 1, Scene 1, Parolles uses two similes, and employs visual and tactile imagery to criticize the concept of virginity. He states, teasing Helen, that:

Virginity, like an old courtier, wears her cap out of
fashion, richly suited but unsuitable [...]                                                                                                

And your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears: it looks ill, it eats dryly.

Parolles employs two similes in this quotation. He compares virginity to an “old courtier” wearing out-of-fashion clothes, and to a “withered” pear. The term "richly suited but unsuitable" points to the idea of something valuable but not desirable: virginity is important (“richly suited” or extravagantly dressed) but “unsuitable.” The tactile imagery of a dry and mealy pear invokes an unpleasant sensation of texture for the reader. It portrays virginity as something that may look valuable but is ultimately unappealing. It’s also a lewd joke: Parolles implies that virgins, who aren’t having sex, are “dry.”

In this passage, Parolles conveys his cynicism toward the concept of preserving virginity. In a world where virginity is highly prized, the similes and imagery used here emphasize the limitations associated with an idealized, pure, sexless life. All’s Well That Ends Well spends a lot of time with the problems caused by idealization, as seen in Helen’s admiration for Bertram (in the same Act, she compares him to a distant star). Parolles’s blunt and often funny use of figurative language and simile serves as a counterbalance to this dreamy, unrealistic attitude. Some characters are preoccupied with lofty ideals and nobility, but Parolles grounds the narrative of the play. He brings a different, more cynical lens to its approach to love and honor.

Act 1, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—The Sun's Worshipper:

In Act 1, Scene 3, Helen uses a metaphor invoking the sun and personification to describe her unrequited love for Bertram:

Thus, Indian-like,                                                                   

Religious in mine error, I adore                                        

The sun that looks upon his worshipper                     

But knows of him no more.

Helen employs a simile in this passage, likening herself to an “Indian-like” sun worshipper. Here, the “sun” represents Bertram, while Helen portrays herself as the obsessive and ardent worshipper. This simile illustrates the intensity and devotion of Helen’s love for Bertram, despite his obliviousness to her. He’s so distant from her that he might as well be the sun shining on a human. Helen’s devotion to him is “religious” in its totality, but she knows it’s useless, an “error.”

Moreover, Shakespeare also utilizes personification here, as the sun is depicted as having human-like qualities—it “looks upon his worshipper.” This personification enhances the simile, emphasizing that while Helen adores Bertram (the sun), he remains indifferent and unaware (“knows of him no more”) of her affection. This passage reflects Helen’s sense of unrequited love and devotion, and sets up the drastic measures she takes to win Bertram’s love. As she’s saying this to the Countess, Bertram’s mother, there’s also a pun involved. Helen is not the only one who loves her “sun” in this situation.

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Act 4, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Double-Meaning Prophesier:

Shakespeare utilizes dramatic irony and simile in Bertram’s dialogue as he talks to soldiers about Parolles. Bertram states:

I mean the business is not ended as fearing to hear of it hereafter. But shall we have this dialogue between the Fool and the Soldier? [...] He has deceived me like a double-meaning prophesier.

Bertram uses a simile when he likens Parolles to a “double-meaning prophesier.” This paints Parolles as someone whose words can have hidden or duplicitous meanings. He's like an oracle whose predictions are cryptic and unclear. This simile reflects Parolles’s deceptive nature and characterizes him as untrustworthy and underhanded.

Dramatic irony also comes into play in this passage. While Bertram is aware of Parolles's deceptions, he is unaware of his own precarious situation. He believes that he has managed to escape his troubles, but the audience knows otherwise. This creates a sense of irony as Bertram, who is criticizing Parolles for deception, is oblivious to the parallels between Parolles’s actions and his own behavior. He’s also unaware of the secret plot between Helen and Diana going on in the background of all this. This dramatic irony builds tension and anticipation for the audience, as they await the unfolding of events that must happen to resolve all these inconsistencies.

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