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All's Well That Ends Well | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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All's Well That Ends Well | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary



The action now returns to the court of the Countess of Rossillion. She is listening to the entreaties of Lavatch, the court jester or fool, who asks for her permission to marry. He says he is "driven / on by the flesh" and his "poor body ... requires it." He then continues to press his case through a combination of off-color humor and comical logic, amusing the countess and leading her to say, "Wilt though ever be a foul-mouthed / and calumnious knave?"

The countess then asks the fool to fetch Helen. After he leaves, the countess's steward informs her he has heard Helen talking to herself about her love for Bertram. The news does not surprise the countess, who has heard similar rumors elsewhere. When Helen arrives, the countess, calling herself Helen's "mother," presses Helen to admit she loves Bertram. Helen finally does and asks forgiveness, but finds the countess not only approves, but also gives Helen her blessing. Helen then reveals her father has left her some medicines she is convinced will cure the king of France. The countess encourages Helen to take the remedy to France, a journey that will also allow Helen to pursue the man she loves.


Act 1, Scene 3 provides echoes of earlier events in the play. The countess's banter with the fool is very similar to the exchange between Helen and Parolles. In both exchanges an intelligent, well-bred woman is able to listen to the inappropriate jesting of a man without being intimidated or offended and then proceeds to prove herself to be superior to the man in both intelligence and conduct. Similarly, the exchange between the countess and Helen reflects the meeting between the king of France and Bertram. Both the king of France and the countess take on the role of parent, providing guidance to the young people in their care.

The exchange between Helen and the countess also reveals more details about both women. Helen, while desperately in love with Bertram, tells the countess, "I am from humble, he from honored name" and her parents are of no note. When Helen says this, she is ostensibly explaining why she cannot be the countess's mother and Bertram's sister, despite the fact the older woman treats her like a daughter. But the countess, displaying both empathy and compassion, understands Helen is actually bemoaning the fact she believes she is not worthy of marrying Bertram. When the countess forces Helen to admit the truth, Helen finally reveals her love but says she knows she loves him in vain since she is merely his servant, similar to someone who worships the sun but goes unnoticed by it.

It is also clear, however, Helen does not entirely believe her own assessment of the situation. She says, "Nor would I have him till I do deserve him," which suggests she has plans to make herself worthy. She also admits her plan to go to France to save the king is primarily motivated by her thoughts of Bertram, not any real desire to cure the king. This lack of altruism does not appear to disappoint the countess. She instead seems to admire Helen's determination to achieve her heart's desire, and encourages the girl to go to Paris.

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