The title of All's Well that Ends Well marks the play's interest in positive resolutions and happy endings. Indeed, one of the defining features of comedy as a genre is this kind of happy ending that supposedly makes the problems of the play go away, such that all really is well that ends well. Throughout the play, Shakespeare plays with this comedic convention. There are many problems in the play that find strikingly easy or quick resolutions. The king, for example, is completely resigned to his own death early in the play, but is healed miraculously quickly by Helen’s medicine. Helen begins the play with absolutely no hope of marrying Bertram, but then quickly finds a way to get him as her husband. And when he deserts her, she is able to trick him into sleeping with her and gets him to even proclaim that he will love her by the end of the play. Helen herself appears to be dead for quite some time, and—from the other characters’ perspectives—miraculously comes back from the dead in act five. But before she does, the king easily (almost too easily) forgives Bertram for dishonoring Helen, and is ready to marry him to Lafew’s daughter. Every dilemma, problem, and quandary in the play seems to find a happy resolution without too much trouble. At the end of the play, everything seems to be resolved and put in order—even Diana is promised a noble husband. The play’s epilogue drives this point home. Even after act five concludes with the king announcing that all has come to a happy conclusion, he comes back on stage in the epilogue just to reiterate that “all is well ended.” But all this insistence on the play’s happy ending almost seems to protest too much—does everything really end well in the play?
Bertram professes his love for Helen, but he has not exactly been trustworthy throughout the whole play, and his stunningly quick change of mind may not be entirely believable. Moreover, the king and the countess repeatedly refer to their old age. The specter of death with which the play begins (with Bertram’s and Helen’s fathers dead and the king apparently dying) seems to hang over the play’s happy ending to some degree. And for Parolles, all does not seem to have ended well. By the end of the play, the king’s illness has been cured and Helen has gotten the husband of her dreams. But does this apparently happy conclusion really make all the deceit, loss, and pain of the earlier parts of the play simply okay, or negligible? Can the pervasive sadness of the beginning of the play—which opens with Helen weeping uncontrollably—be completely banished? In other words, is all actually well that ends well? By raising these kinds of issues, Shakespeare probes questions about the very nature of comedy and the possibility of a happy ending, even in the play of his that appears at first glance to give the best example of a happy comic resolution.
Remedy and Resolution ThemeTracker
Remedy and Resolution Quotes in All's Well that Ends Well
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?
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.
What “her” is this?
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.
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.
If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly,
I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly.
If thou be’st yet a fresh uncropped flower,
Choose thou thy husband, and I’ll pay thy dower.
For I can guess that by thy honest aid
Thou kept’st a wife herself, thyself a maid.
Of that and all the progress more and less,
Resolvedly more leisure shall express.
All yet seems well, and if it end so meet,
The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.