All's Well That Ends Well
From the opening lines of All's Well That Ends Well, death, illness, and decay loom over the characters like a dark cloud. Two fathers are dead, the king of France is ill, and an entire court is in mourning. Yet the play is also about rebirth. The king of France is miraculously healed and a woman presumed dead resurfaces in the play's final act (much like Hermione in The Winter's Tale). Although the play ends with the promise of new life (Helen's pregnancy and her seeming resurrection from the dead), All's Well That Ends Well never quite recovers from the sense of death and decay that opens the play. This has led some critics to classify this work as a problem comedy that doesn't necessarily end well.
Questions About Death
- Explain why everyone is in mourning at the play's opening.
- From what kind of illness does the king suffer?
- How does Helen cure the king's disease? What kind of impact does this have on the plot?
- Why is everyone so surprised to see Helen in the play's final act?
Chew on This
All's Well That Ends Well is a lot like Hamlet; when each play opens, a father has recently died and left his son to mourn his loss.
The king of France's recovery from his mysterious illness parallels Helen's astonishing rebirth in the play's final scene.