All's Well That Ends Well | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Course Hero, "All's Well That Ends Well Study Guide," March 22, 2018, accessed December 10, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Alls-Well-That-Ends-Well/.

All's Well That Ends Well | Plot Summary

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Summary

Act 1

The Count of Rossillion has died, and his wife, the countess, and son Bertram are grieving their loss. Both are also distressed because Bertram is now a ward of the king of France and must leave home to attend the ailing king at his court. Bertram's departure is also devastating for a young woman named Helen, the orphaned daughter of a skilled and famous doctor. Helen, now a ward of the countess, has loved Bertram from childhood. However, she is far below him socially because she has no formal title, and feels she could only dream of marrying him.

The countess learns of Helen's love and gives her blessing for the girl to follow Bertram to Paris, ostensibly to cure the king of France using the medicines left to her by her father.

Act 2

Helen is successful, and, as a reward, the king of France offers her any man she chooses to marry. Helen immediately selects Bertram, but the young man is upset he is being forced to marry and horrified his wife will be so far below him in social standing. He still marries her rather than risk the king's displeasure, but he abandons her before the marriage is consummated—to fight in the Tuscan wars.

Acts 3 and 4

In a letter he sends back to his bride, Bertram tells Helen he will only acknowledge her as his wife if she can get the family ring from his finger and become pregnant with his child. He is confident the tasks are impossible, but Helen immediately begins to devise a plan to meet his challenges.

Helen leaves home, supposedly on a pilgrimage, and later starts a rumor she has died of grief. She heads to Florence where Bertram has proven himself to be a strong leader in war. Unfortunately, he is still a callow young man and is attempting to seduce Diana, a young noblewoman in the town who wants nothing to do with him. Helen takes advantage of the situation, engaging Diana in a subterfuge. Diana tells Bertram he must give her his ring as proof of his sincerity and she will give him her ring in return. Only then will she allow him in her bed. Bertram complies, Diana gives Bertram Helen's ring, and Helen takes Diana's place in the darkened bedroom.

Act 5

The war ends, and Bertram returns to Rossillion, now leaving Diana behind. The king of France is paying a visit, and it is decided the "widowed" Bertram will now be wed to another young woman of the court. Bertram agrees, since this girl is his equal in social standing, and offers a ring as his pledge to marry. The king recognizes the ring as the one he had given Helen. The king begins to question Bertram, thinking he may have been responsible for Helen's death. To make matters worse, Diana arrives at court saying Bertram had seduced her and promised to marry her, strengthening the king's suspicions Bertram killed Helen.

At that moment, Helen appears, astonishing everyone. She reveals not only she is alive but also she has Bertram's ring and is pregnant with his child. Bertram realizes she has fulfilled the challenges he set out for her and agrees to marry her and love her from that point on. Despite the challenges and subterfuge, everyone is ostensibly content and feels that "[a]ll's well that ends well."

All's Well That Ends Well Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Bertram is called to the court of the ailing king of France.

Rising Action

2 Helen follows Bertram to Paris and cures the king.

3 The king gives Helen Bertram's hand in marriage as a reward.

4 Resentful, Bertram runs off to the Tuscan wars.

5 Bertram challenges Helen to get his ring and bear his child.

6 Helen obtains the ring and employs the bed trick.

Climax

7 Helen proves she has met Bertram's challenges.

Falling Action

8 Bertram acknowledges Helen has succeeded.

Resolution

9 He vows to accept her as his wife.

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