Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
What's up with the ending, you ask? We think the hilarious crew of the Reduced Shakespeare Company says it best in their Tweeting Shakespeare project. Check it out:
"All Is NOT Well That Ends Well, and this play doesn’t. MORAL: Do it with the lights on."
In other words, with a title like All's Well That Ends Well, we're sort of expecting a super-tidy, happily ever after. That's not exactly what happens, though. Just ask Bertram, who spends 99% of the play trying to avoid the woman he was forced to marry. In the end, when Helen shows up pregnant with Bertram's baby, the poor guy discovers that she tricked him into having sex with her (when he thought he was cheating on her with another woman).
Bertram's response? He promises to love Helen "ever ever dearly."
Listen. We know that Shakespearean comedies always have to end in holy matrimony, but we're just not buying this. Bertram has either had a sudden and miraculous change of heart, or the guy has given up all hope and is resigned to his fate as Helen's husband/prize. In fact, there's evidence that Shakespeare wants us to be skeptical. After Bertram promises to be a good husband, the king of France has this to say:
All yet seems well, and if it end so meet,
The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet (5.3.378-379)
Notice how the king uses the words "seems" and "if"? When he says that "all yet seems well," he's suggesting that things merely look okay on the surface.
So, what's going on here? Well, Shakespeare seems to be questioning the conventions of the genre of comedy, where the union of a husband and wife at the end of the play is supposed to signal that all's well in the world. In other words, the conclusion of this play calls into question the idea that marriage is all it's cracked up to be.