All's Well That Ends Well
Final Shows March 11 and 12
at The MAC
All’s Well That Ends Well - Plot Summary
Bertram, the son of a widowed countess sets off with his companion Parolles and the Lord Lafew to the French court. He is unaware that Helen, the orphan daughter of the Countess’ doctor, is in love with him. The countess, knowing that Helen loves her son, lets her go to cure the King’s illness. Nobody has been able to, but Helen succeeds and as a reward she asks to choose a husband from among his lords. She chooses Bertram, but his ambitions for a wife go beyond her, and although he marries her on the king’s order, he tells her that he will not recognize the marriage - until she wears his heirloom ring and is pregnant with his child!
He runs away to some Italian wars with Parolles. However, Helen disguises as a pilgrim and follows him to Florence where she is befriended by a widow and her daughter Diana. The other French lords and Bertram are getting tired of Parolles’ attitudes, his boasting and bragging. In a very funny scene they imprison him, speak a fake language, blindfold him, and ask him questions about the French army which he answers. They finally tell him who they are and ridicule him.
Bertram falls in love with Diana, but the women devise a plan to trick Bertram. Helen fakes her death, and Bertram returns to the French court. He now is supposed to marry Lafew’s daughter, but everybody recognizes the ring he wears as Helen’s. In the confusion Diana arrives with Bertram’s ring and accuses him of seducing and abandoning her. Finally Helen appears as a witness. Not only is she pregnant, she also has Bertram’s ring. Will they live happily ever after?
History of the Play
Most scholars believe that this late comedy was written in the years 1604 to 1605, after Hamlet, Twelfth Night and Othello. The source is Bocaccio’s Decameron which is a collection of tales from the 14th century, told by a group of Florentines to pass the time. It was first published in the Folio of 1623, the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays.
There are definitely more modern vibes in this play. A poor doctor’s daughter finds her prince and succeeds in marrying him. The count’s mother is on her side, and would love her as her daughter-in-law. Helen is the first female doctor in a Shakespeare play and she travels on her own. Unfortunately the object of her affections is too arrogant to recognize her as an equal partner, so there is not really a fairy tale ending. The play’s very ambiguous ending is not satisfying, but leaves the audience wondering.
Most probably it was not very popular over the centuries, yet has been staged more in the last 50 years. A certain irony of the title, a dismantling of the romantic ending, makes it fit more into our modern times. This is the first staging for Merced Shakes, it is set in the 1960’s.