All's Well That Ends Well | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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All's Well That Ends Well | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Act 4, Scene 3 begins with First Lord Dumaine and Second Lord Dumaine discussing what they have learned of Bertram's behavior. They know he received a letter from his mother, criticizing him, and have heard rumors of Helen's death, from grief, in a distant monastery. The lords condemn Bertram, for rejecting "so good a wife and so sweet a lady." They have also learned because of his actions, Bertram has incurred the wrath of the king of France. Bertram has further shamed himself, the Second Lord reveals, by spoiling a chaste woman of Florence and giving her his family ring. They suspect the news of Helen's death may make Bertram glad, but they are also certain that "[t]he great dignity ... his / valor ... here acquired for him shall at home be / encountered with a shame as ample." Their one hope is after learning the truth about Parolles's flawed character, Bertram will "take a measure of his own judgments" and perhaps rethink his own actions.

Bertram arrives commenting in one night he has had to deal with what normally takes months. His tasks include the death and burial of his wife along with "many nicer needs," by which he is referring to what he believes to have been his success with Diana. He then urges the First Lord Dumaine and Second Lord Dumaine to bring him proof of Parolles's deceit, calling him a "counterfeit module." The soldiers arrive with Parolles, who is still blindfolded, and all of the men except the interpreter continue the charade of speaking in another language. Parolles immediately volunteers to tell them all he knows and then proceeds to do so. He provides specifics on the number of troops and horses under Bertram's command. Parolles also proceeds to slander First Lord Dumaine and Second Lord Dumaine, saying one of them, for example, rapes and ravishes women, steals whatever he can, is cowardly, drinks to excess, and wets the bed. Parolles is also discovered to have written a letter warning Diana of Bertram's lascivious intentions, saying the count is a fool and a liar, a boy "who is / a whale to virginity" and devours all the little fish he can. Bertram is furious, and the "interpreter" tells Parolles he will likely be hanged. Parolles, his mind working frantically, begs for life imprisonment instead, piously stating then he can have more time to repent. The soldier replies the "General" has said anyone who would betray his own companions so readily is of no use in this world and must therefore die.

Parolles requests he at least be allowed to see his death, and the soldier quickly removes the blindfold. To his shock Parolles realizes he has been speaking in front of the very men he has just maligned. They each greet him with elaborate and sarcastic politeness and then leave him to his shame, with dark promises to speak of him back in France. Parolles, despite his true nature being revealed, is relieved to be alive and warns the audience "that every braggart shall be found an ass." He plans to allow some time to pass and then go on with his life, following the men who have just shown him to be the fraud he is.

Analysis

This scene begins showing the consequences of both Bertram's and Parolles's behavior. Parolles's situation is presented as broad comedy. The soldiers babble in a ridiculous made-up language—"Boblibindo chicurmurco," for example—and Parolles's revelations and insults are both hilarious and very creative. One of the lords—First Lord Dumaine—utterly amused, even says, "I begin to love him for this." It is not difficult to imagine audiences laughing and cheering when Parolles's blindfold is removed and he sees whom he has been talking to.

The consequences for Bertram are creeping up on him more subtly. Unknown to the young count, his actions are the subject of much discussion with his countrymen. First Lord Dumaine and Second Lord Dumaine have heard the rumors of Helen's supposed death and are disgusted by Bertram's treatment of her. The king of France, too, is displeased with him, and his reputation appears on the verge of ruin. The men's attitudes appear to be more than justified when Bertram appears and, to explain his lateness, rattles off a list of tasks he needed to attend to that evening including burying and "mourning" his wife. The fact this tragic event is buried within the longer list, and his mourning can be achieved in an evening, shows not only how little Bertram cares for Helen but also how oblivious he is to how appalling his attitude is. He even thoughtlessly alludes to his conquest of Diana, referring to his achievement of "many nicer needs."

Bertram's own behavior makes his eagerness to condemn Parolles exceedingly contrary. He condemns Parolles as a "counterfeit" and a "[d]amnable both-sides rogue" who is willing to betray not only Bertram but also everyone he has associated with. For his disloyalty, Bertram says, Parolles should be "whipped through the army." What he does not realize is Parolles reflects the worst parts of himself. Through his attempted conquest of Diana, Bertram has shown himself to be just as deceitful as Parolles. In addition, because he once trusted Parolles and now quickly shuns him, Bertram has also proven he, too, is no judge of character and is just as disloyal. Bertram ends the scene no more self-aware than when he began it. In this way he is even less admirable than Parolles, who sees himself for what he is and calls himself an ass.

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