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All's Well That Ends Well

In All's Well That Ends Well, a woman is given in marriage to the man she longs for, but, because she is of lower rank, he refuses to accept the marriage. It becomes her challenge to win his acceptance.

Helen, the daughter of a dead physician, secretly loves Bertram, the Count of Rosillion's son. When the count dies, Bertram becomes a ward of the French king, who is dying of a fistula. Helen heals the ailing king, and he grants her wish to marry his ward. Bertram refuses to consummate the marriage and goes off to war, sending Helen a list of seemingly impossible conditions to be met before he will consider her his wife.

To meet his conditions, Helen substitutes herself for a woman whom Bertram desires, and sleeps with him. When false news comes that Helen is dead, Bertram faces the charge that he has killed her. Helen, now pregnant, reappears, saving Bertram and demonstrating that she has met his conditions. Bertram then acknowledges her.

Early printed texts

All’s Well That Ends Well was published for the first time in the 1623 First Folio, and that text is the source of all later editions of the play. 

 

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opening pages of the First Folio edition of All's Well That Ends Well
Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68

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Opening page of the Second Folio edition of All's Well That Ends Well
Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07

Picturing All's Well That Ends Well

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy.  A selection of images related to All’s Well That Ends Well is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

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Drawing by John Massey Wright of Helena and the Countess (Act 1 scene 3; late 18th or 19th century)

Helena and the Countess (Act 1, scene 3; late 18th or 19th century)

Item Title: 
[A scene from All's well that ends well] [graphic] / [John Wright].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box W951 no.133 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Wright, John Massey, 1777-1866, artist.
Item Date: 
[late 18th century or 19th century]

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Helena and the King (Act 2 scene 1; 1900)

Helena and the King (Act 2, scene 1; 1900)

Item Title: 
All's well that ends well, a set of 7 original drawings [graphic] / [Byam Shaw].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box S534 no.1 part 3 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Shaw, Byam, 1872-1919, artist.
Item Date: 
[ca. 1900]

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Engraving by Georg Sigmund Facius of the final scene (Act 5, scene 3; 1794)

The final scene (Act 5, scene 3; 1794)

Item Title: 
All's well that ends well, act V, scene III, King, Countess, Lafeu ... Bertram guarded, Diana & a widow [graphic] / painted by F. Wheatley ; engrav'd by G.S. & J.G. Facius.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S528a1 no.38 (size XL)
Item Creator: 
Facius, Georg Sigmund, b. ca. 1750, printmaker.
Item Date: 
[London, England] : Publish'd by John & Josiah Boydell, June 4, 1794.

More images of All’s Well That Ends Well can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)