|'Twere all one|
That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so above me.
Act 1, scene 1, lines 90–92
The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.
Act 4, scene 3, lines 73–74
Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well is the story of its heroine, Helen, more so than the story of Bertram, for whose love she yearns. Helen wins Bertram as her husband despite his lack of interest and higher social standing, but she finds little happiness in the victory as he shuns, deserts, and attempts to betray her.
The play suggests some sympathy for Bertram. As a ward to the French king, he must remain at court while his friends go off to war and glory. When Helen cures the King, he makes Bertram available to her. To exert any control over his life, Bertram goes to war in Italy.
Helen then takes the initiative in furthering their marriage, undertaking an arduous journey and a daring trick. Few today, however, see a fairy-tale ending.
Most scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote All’s Well That Ends Well between 1601 and 1605. Its first known publication was in the 1623 First Folio. Among Shakespeare’s sources was William Painter’s Palace of Pleasure, an English translation of the story as told in Boccaccio's Decameron.
Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 2001 Folger Shakespeare Library
David Haley. Shakespeare's Courtly Mirror: Reflexivity and Prudence in All's Well That Ends Well. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993.
David McCandless. Gender and Performance in Shakespeare's Problem Comedies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
Gary Waller, ed. All's Well That Ends Well: New Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2007.
Francis Wheatley. Helena and Count Bertram before the King of France. Oil on canvas, 1793
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