Study Guide

All's Well That Ends Well Family

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And I in going, madam, weep o'er my
father's death anew; but I must attend his Majesty's
command, to whom I am now in ward, evermore
in subjection. (1.1.3-6)

Bertram is not only mourning his father's death, he's also unhappy that he has to leave his home in Roussillon to travel to Paris (where he'll live as the king of France's "ward”).  Since Bertram's father is no longer alive, the king acts as Bertram's new dad until he's old enough to legally manage his own affairs.

This is pretty similar to the opening of <em>Hamlet,</em> where an entire court is mourning the death of the old king and a young man (Laertes) is preparing to leave home. <em>Hamlet,</em> by the way, was written around the same time as <em>All's Well</em>, so we're not surprised by the connection.

The remembrance of her father never
approaches her heart but the tyranny of her sorrows
takes all livelihood from her cheek.—No
more of this, Helen. Go to, no more, lest it be
rather thought you affect a sorrow than have—
I do affect a sorrow indeed, but I have it too.
Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead,
excessive grief the enemy to the living. (1.1.51-58)

This passage also reminds us a lot of <em>Hamlet. </em>Remember when Prince Hamlet's mom and new step-dad/uncle tell him to stop boo-hooing over his dead father? Here, Helen is told that her grief is excessive. If she keeps it up, people will think she's faking it. That's pretty harsh, don't you think?  

Be thou blessed, Bertram, and succeed thy father
In manners, as in shape. Thy blood and virtue
Contend for empire in thee, and thy goodness
Share with thy birthright. (1.1.63-66)

Dang. There's a lot of pressure on Bertram to live up to his dead father's reputation. It seems like someone is always comparing Bertram to his old man. (It also seems like poor Bertram is always coming up short.) Come to think of it, this is a lot like what goes on in <em>Hamlet;</em> it seems like Shakespeare likes exploring what it's like for a young man to grow up in the shadow of a ghost.

O, were that all! I think not on my father,
And these great tears grace his remembrance more
Than those I shed for him. What was he like?
I have forgot him. My imagination
Carries no favor in 't but Bertram's.
I am undone. There is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. (1.1.84-90)

Now this is interesting. In another passage (1.1.45), the countess tells us that Helen's unhappiness stems from the loss of her father. But here, Helen confesses that she "forgot him" because she's in love with Bertram. Helen's grief over her dad's death is replaced by her sadness and longing for Bertram, her future husband. Family relationships don't seem to be a major source of happiness for characters in this play, do they?

Pardon, madam.
The Count Rossillon cannot be my brother.
I am from humble, he from honored name;
No note upon my parents, his all noble.
My master, my dear lord he is, and I
His servant live, and will his vassal die.
He must not be my brother. (1.3.159-165)

Helen is completely grossed out when the countess says that she is her mother. Since Helen is in love with the countess's son, just the thought of Bertram being her brother is enough to make her flip out. Can you blame her? This passage also has us thinking that Helen and Bertram's relationship has probably been very similar to a sibling relationship. After all, Helen became the countess's ward after her father died (1.1.35), so both she and Bertram have been raised by the same woman. Does this help explain why Bertram is so disgusted when the King of France orders him to marry Helen? (If so, doesn't he have a right to feel that way?) Keep reading...

I know her well;
She had her breeding at my father's charge.
A poor physician's daughter my wife? Disdain
Rather corrupt me ever! (2.3.124-127)

In the last passage, we wondered if Bertram doesn't want to marry Helen because he thinks of her as a sister. Here, Bertram says "I know her well," which suggests that Bertram <em>does </em>feel anxious about being hitched to someone who was raised by his parents and with whom he grew up. On the other hand, we could also argue that Bertram is more concerned about Helen's lowly social status bringing him down, which makes it hard for us to feel sorry for him.  

It hath happened all as I would have had it,
save that he comes not along with her. (3.2.1-2)

The countess all but admits that she's the kind of mom who meddles in her kid's business. She planned all along for Bertram to marry Helen, even though that's not what her son wants. 


I have sent you a daughter-in-law.
She hath recovered the King and undone me. I have
wedded her, not bedded her, and sworn to make the
'not' eternal. You shall hear I am run away. Know it
before the report come. If there be breadth enough in
the world, I will hold a long distance. My duty to
        Your unfortunate son,
                                                                            Bertram (3.2.19-27)

Here, the countess reads Bertram's letter about why he has run away. After being forced to marry Helen against his will, Bertram tells his mom that he has sent her a "daughter-in-law." Bertram is bitter that his mom is happier about his marriage than he is. Yet, at the same time, Bertram also seems torn between his "duty" to please his mom and his desire to please himself. 

Dispatch the most convenient messenger.
When haply he shall hear that she is gone,
He will return; and hope I may that she,
Hearing so much, will speed her foot again,
Led hither by pure love. Which of them both
Is dearest to me, (3.4.36-41)

The countess of Roussillon just can't help herself. Here, she continues to butt into her son's business. Does this make her a bad mom? Read our "Character Analysis" of the countess for more on this.

I have yielded.
Instruct my daughter how she shall persevere
That time and place with this deceit so lawful
May prove coherent. Every night he comes
With musics of all sorts and songs composed
To her unworthiness. It nothing steads us
To chide him from our eaves, for he persists
As if his life lay on 't. (3.7.41-48)

Is it just us or does the widow exploit her daughter, Diana? By taking money from Helen and agreeing to let Diana take part in the bed trick, the widow acts more like the mistress of a brothel than a regular old innkeeper. Dang. Why are both moms in this play such schemers? Does Shakespeare have something against mothers or something?

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