All’s Well that Ends Well is filled with dishonesty, from minor lies to deliberate acts of trickery to an entire life (that of Parolles) built upon deceit. The play’s plot can be seen as an escalating and continuing series of deceptions and tricks culminating in the ultimate revelation of the truth in the final scene, when Helen returns to Rossillion. The play’s first major deception is when Bertram marries Helen but then deserts her and refuses to sleep with her, sending her to Rossillion. Bertram continues to be a rather deceptive character, making false oaths to Diana in an attempt to seduce her. Bertram, though, is the victim of Parolles’ own trickery, who makes the young count think that he is an honorable, trustworthy friend. And Parolles also betrays his Florentine allies, or at least thinks he does when he confesses secrets to his captors (French noblemen and soldiers in disguise).
With all of this deceit, practically no one in the play is completely honest or blameless. Helen lies about going on her pilgrimage, after all, and can even be seen as having tricked Bertram into marrying her. Diana and the widow also deceive Bertram with the trick of switching Diana and Helen in Diana’s bed, so that Bertram mistakenly sleeps with Helen. Moreover, perhaps the most dishonest character in the play—Parolles—only has his deceit discovered through more trickery, as French soldiers pretend to be foreign enemies and kidnap him. If nearly all the characters in this comedy are constantly lying to and tricking each other, how can one sort out virtuous from bad characters or behavior? Perhaps the answer lies in the play’s title: if all’s well that ends well, then perhaps one can take this to suggest that the ends justify the means. Thus, Helen’s trickery is justifiable because it leads to the just end of her being reunited with her husband. Similarly, Bertram’s tricking Parolles is justifiable because it leads to the revelation of Parolles’ true character. Dishonesty and deceit are thus not inherently or always bad in Shakespeare’s play, depending on what uses they are put to.
Lies, Deceit, and Trickery ThemeTracker
Lies, Deceit, and Trickery Quotes in All's Well that Ends Well
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.
To th’ wars, my boy, to th’ wars!
He wears his honor in a box unseen
That hugs his kicky-wicky here at home,
Spending his manly marrow in her arms
Which should sustain the bound and high curvet
Of Mars’s fiery steed. To other regions!
France is a stable, we that dwell in ‘t jades.
Therefore, to th’ war!
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.
I know that knave, hang him! One Parolles, a filthy officer he is in those suggestions for the young earl. –Beware of them, Diana. Their promises, enticements, oaths, tokens, and all these enginges of lust are not the things they go under. Many a maid hath been seduced by them; and the misery is example that so terrible shows in the wrack of maidenhood cannot for all that dissuade succession, but that they are limed with the twigs that threatens them. I hope I need not to advise you further; but I hope your own grace will keep you where you are, though there were no further danger known but the modesty which is so lost.
Do you believe I am so far deceived in him?
Believe it, my lord. In mine own direct knowledge, without any malice, but to speak of him as my kinsman, he’s a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker, the owner of no one good quality worthy your Lordship’s entertainment.
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.
Now I see the bottom of your purpose.
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.
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.