On the surface, All's Well That Ends Well seems like a pretty happy-go-lucky title (kind of like As You Like It). It's as if Shakespeare is saying to us, "Hey, it's all good" or "Don't sweat the small stuff. You might run into some bumps along the road but that doesn't matter, as long as things turn out okay in the end."
Come to think of it, this is the same philosophy behind each one of his comedies, where characters always undergo some long, drawn-out trial-and-error type drama before finally reaching the happy ending that makes all the struggle seem worth it. (Go to "Genre" for more on this.)
Take Helen, for example. This long-suffering heroine struggles through most of the play to be with the guy of her dreams (that would be Bertram, who wants nothing to do with her). After jumping through a bunch of hoops (like curing a dying king and pulling off a clever but sort of diabolical bed trick), Helen finally gets her wish and Bertram agrees to be a loyal and loving husband to her (5.3). This is supposed to make all the poor girl's agony and heartache seem worthwhile.
Still, do things really work out well in the end? Is it even possible for Helen find happiness in her marriage? What about Bertram? Do things turn out well for him? Or is Shakespeare just toying with us?
Some audiences and literary critics just aren't buying Shakespeare's so-called happily ever after. Check out "What's Up With the Ending?" to find out why...