The name of the play comes from the proverb All's well that ends well, which means that problems do not matter so long as the outcome is good.
KING OF FRANCE
DUKE OF FLORENCE
BERTRAM, Count of Rousillon
COUNTESS OF ROUSILLON, Mother to Bertram
LAVATCH, a Clown in her household
HELENA, a Gentlewoman protected by the Countess
LAFEU, an old Lord
PAROLLES, a follower of Bertram
An Old Widow of Florence, surname Capilet
DIANA, Daughter to the Widow
Steward to the Countess of Rousillon
VIOLENTA, MARIANA, Neighbours and Friends to the Widow
Soldiers, Servants, Gentlemen & Courtiers
"When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband." (III.ii.55-58)
Bertram thinks these things an impossible task. Nevertheless, Helena sets out with a plan to recover her husband.
Back at the war front, the young lords strive to convince Bertram that his ne'er-do-well friend Parolles is a coward. They set up an elaborate ruse to convince Parolles to recover a company drum stolen by the enemy and trick him into believing he has been captured. Parolles, thinking himself begging for his life, readily spills all his army's secrets to his "captors", betraying Bertram ("a foolish idle boy and for all that very ruttish...") in the process. Dishonored and stripped of his title, Parolles returns to France as a beggar. Helena, meanwhile, enlists the aid of Diana, a maiden who has taken Bertram's fancy. Together they execute the bait-and-switch "bed trick" during which Helena successfully gets the Rossillion family ring and sleeps with Bertram as per the conditions in his letter. In the final act, Helena's cunning plot is revealed, and Bertram promises to be a faithful husband to her and "love her dearly, ever, ever dearly." (V.iii.354)
One character that has been admired is that of the old Countess, which is one of the few good roles for an older actress in the Shakespeare canon. Modern productions are often promoted as vehicles for great mature actresses; recent examples have starred Judi Dench and Peggy Ashcroft.
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