Study Guide

All's Well That Ends Well Death

By William Shakespeare

Death

COUNTESS
In delivering my son from me, I bury a second
husband. (1.1.1-2)

Hmm. This is quite a depressing opening line, wouldn't you say? Basically, the countess compares the act of "delivering" (saying goodbye to) her son to the recent loss of her late husband. We also notice that her use of the word "delivering" is also a pun on the act of delivering a baby, which creates a connection between childbirth and death.

LAFEW
He hath abandoned his physicians, madam,
under whose practices he hath persecuted time
with hope, and finds no other advantage in the
process but only the losing of hope by time. (1.1.14-17)

Okay. Not only has Bertram's father died when the play opens, but we also find out that the king of France is on his death bed. Way to set a dark tone for the entire play, Shakespeare.

COUNTESS
This young gentlewoman had a father—O,
that 'had,' how sad a passage 'tis!—whose skill
was almost as great as his honesty; had it stretched
so far, would have made nature immortal, and
death should have play for lack of work. Would, for
the King's sake he were living! I think it would be
the death of the king's disease. (1.1.18-24)

Another dead dad? You've got to be kidding, right? Here, we learn that Helen has also lost a father. Not only that, but he was the only guy in the world who could have cured the king's mysterious illness.

KING
Would I were with him! He would always say—
Methinks I hear him now;
[...]
'Let me not live,' quoth he,
'After my flame lacks oil, to be the snuff
Of younger spirits, whose apprehensive senses
All but new things disdain, whose judgments are
Mere fathers of their garments, whose constancies
Expire before their fashions.' This he wished.
I, after him, do after him wish too, (1.2.59-60; 65-71)

As the dying king thinks about a friend from his youth, he seems pretty hopeless. Here, he's worried about the future because he doesn't think the younger generation is fit to take over. This is a lot like what King Henry IV goes through in <em>Henry IV Part II. </em>In that play, the dying monarch spends a lot of time worrying about what will happen to England once he's gone and his son takes the throne.

KING
Since I nor wax nor honey can bring home,
I quickly were dissolvèd from my hive
To give some laborers room. (1.2.72-74)

Dang. Is this what we all have to look forward to when we're old? Here, the dying ruler compares his kingdom to a hive and describes what will inevitably happen when he's dead: a new group of "labourers" (a.k.a. worker bees) will take over the business of running the kingdom. In other words, he knows that life won't stop when he's gone.

HELEN
Gentlemen,
Heaven hath through me restored the king to health.
ALL
We understand it and thank heaven for you. (2.3.65-67)

Nobody, including the king, expected the French monarch to live much longer after the first act. Yet, after all the doom and gloom that opens the play, the king of France experiences a sudden and miraculous recovery when Helen cures his disease.

FOOL
She is not well, but yet she has her health. She's
very merry; but yet she is not well. But, thanks be
given, she's very well and wants nothing i' th' world,
but yet she is not well. (2.4.2-5).

When Helen asks Lavatch how the countess is doing, she can't get a straight answer. He says that the countess is healthy, but that she's not "well" because "she's not in heaven"(2.4.9). In other words, Lavatch thinks true happiness can't be found on earth. In case you hadn't noticed, this is sort of at odds with the play's seemingly happy-go-lucky title; it implies that nobody actually gets a happily ever after – at least not in this lifetime. We'll go ahead and let you chew on that for a while...

DIANA
He had sworn to marry me
When his wife's dead. Therefore I'll lie with him
When I am buried. (4.2.83-85)

Young Diana Capilet is seriously jaded by Bertram's attempts to get her into bed. Although Bertram has promised to marry her if his wife dies, Diana recognizes that he's just trying to sleep with her. We also notice how this passage echoes Romeo and Juliet (with a major twist), when Juliet says, "If he be married / My grave is like to be my wedding bed" (1.5.132).

DIANA
He knows himself my bed he hath defiled,
And at that time he got his wife with child.
Dead though she be, she feels her young one kick.
So there's my riddle: one that's dead is quick.
And now behold the meaning.

                         Enter Helen and Widow. (5.3.341-345)

After faking her death, Helen finally emerges alive and well at the play's end. (Ta-da!) She's even pregnant with Bertram's child, the ultimate promise of the continuity of life. The funny thing is, this passage makes us feel a little creepy, especially when Diana says "dead though she be, she feels her young one kick." We know that Diana is just trying to sound cryptic, but she also manages to associate childbirth with death, which makes us wonder about this family's future. By the way, isn't that exactly what the countess does back in Act 1, Scene 1 when she compares the "delivery” of a child to her husband's death?

KING
Is there no exorcist
Beguiles the truer office of mine eyes?
Is 't real that I see?
HELEN
No, my good lord,
'Tis but the shadow of a wife you see,
The name and not the thing. (5.3.346-351)

Here, Helen just can't resist making a joke about being the "shadow [ghost] of a wife." Shakespeare seems to be making a joke about Helen coming back to haunt her cheating husband.

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