Course Hero. "All's Well That Ends Well Study Guide." Course Hero. 22 Mar. 2018. Web. 6 June 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Alls-Well-That-Ends-Well/>.
Course Hero. (2018, March 22). All's Well That Ends Well Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Alls-Well-That-Ends-Well/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "All's Well That Ends Well Study Guide." March 22, 2018. Accessed June 6, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Alls-Well-That-Ends-Well/.
Course Hero, "All's Well That Ends Well Study Guide," March 22, 2018, accessed June 6, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Alls-Well-That-Ends-Well/.
Act 3, Scene 5 takes place in Florence, Italy, and opens with townspeople congregating in the town square. Among them are an old widow of Florence, her daughter, Diana, and their neighbor Mariana. They are discussing a young French count, soon revealed to be Bertram, who has performed admirably in the wars. Mariana warns Diana to be wary of the man since, "The honor of a maid is her name, and no legacy is so rich as honesty." The widow of Florence comments Diana has been approached by Parolles, the count's (Bertram's) companion, and Mariana immediately condemns him as a "filthy officer," full of lies, interested only in seduction. Diana promises she will not be duped by him.
A moment later Helen enters in her pilgrim's cloak. The widow of Florence kindly invites Helen to stay with them since they often host people who are on a pilgrimage. The widow recognizes Helen's French accent and mentions a countryman of hers, Count Rossillion (Bertram), has come to Florence after fleeing an arranged marriage, but he has done the country much service. The widow also mentions a man named Parolles has spoken coarsely of the rejected bride. When asked if the rumors are true, Helen—continuing to hide her identity—says the count is, indeed, a worthy man. In fact, Helen says, he is too worthy for the common bride he was ordered to marry, although that woman is good and honest. Diana sighs and says, "'Tis a hard bondage to become the wife / Of a detesting lord." Then the widow of Florence slyly suggests her daughter Diana, who the count is attempting to seduce, might have the power to do the poor bride a "shrewd turn if she pleased."
As they are speaking, a group of soldiers walks by. Bertram and Parolles are among them. Diana points out Bertram, saying he is handsome but he would be a better man if he were honest and loved his wife. She also points out Parolles, saying she would poison him if she were Bertram's wife since it is Parolles who leads him astray.
This scene provides the players and sets the stage for a scheme Helen will soon put in place. First, it places Helen and Bertram in the same city. This development is an instance of situational irony—when an outcome is opposite of what is expected to happen—considering each was trying to get as far from the other as possible. However, it is significant Bertram's flight was motivated by selfishness and dislike, and Helen's was motivated by love. The scene introduces the virtuous and kind Diana, who is being pursued by Bertram but is too intelligent to fall for his false promises or Parolles's tricks. It also provides Helen with an ally, the widow of Florence, who despises Bertram for his attempts to "[c]orrupt the tender honor of a maid."
What is clear from this exchange is Bertram has not changed fundamentally although he has proven himself to be a good soldier. He is still shallow and focused only on his own desires. He also continues to trust Parolles, who appears to be even worse than he has previously shown himself to be, actively serving as a go-between to help his companion seduce whatever young girl he chooses. The scene also reveals Helen has not yet changed her attitude. She still sees herself as being too common for the noble Bertram. But the widow of Florence's suggestion seems to have given Helen a glimmer of hope and an idea for how she might yet meet Bertram's challenges and show she is worthy of him, an idea that will play out in the coming scenes.