Study Guide

All's Well That Ends Well Marriage

By William Shakespeare

Marriage

COUNTESS
Tell me thy reason why thou wilt marry.
FOOL
My poor body, madam, requires it. I am driven
on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil
drives. (1.3.28-31)

According to Lavatch, the only reason to get married is so one can have sex without committing a sin or a crime (since sex outside marriage was considered illegal). Notice how there's nothing in this passage about marriage being a union based on love or even mutual respect.

FOOL
as
Tib's rush for Tom's forefinger (2.2.22-23)

Lavatch is pretty cynical, don't you think? Here, it's obvious that he thinks relationships between men and women boil down to one thing: "Tib's rush for Tom's forefinger." What does this mean? Well, "Tib" is a common name for a prostitute and a "rush" is a rustic wedding ring made out of reeds. There's also a dirty joke at work; Lavatch is playing on the fact that a woman's vagina was sometimes referred to as a ring.

KING
Fair maid, send forth thine eye. This youthful parcel
Of noble bachelors stand at my bestowing,
O'er whom both sovereign power and father's voice
I have to use. Thy frank election make.
Thou hast power to choose, and they none to forsake. (2.3.53-57)

When Helen cures the king and wins the right to choose any husband she wants, things go down like a reality TV show. Here, the king lines up Paris' eligible bachelors and lets her take her pick. The whole thing is a dream come true for Helen; but when the king offers Helen a husband as a prize, it suggests that marriage is some kind of a game, rather than a sacred union.

BERTRAM
But follows it, my lord, to bring me down
Must answer for your raising? 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!
[...] Here comes my clog. (2.3.123-127; 2.5.56)

It's not surprising that Bertram sees himself as a man trapped by marriage. After all, he didn't even have a choice in the matter. Here, though, he calls Helen a "clog," a big block that's tied to animals to keep them from running away. In other words, he's pretty much calling his wife an old ball and chain. Does this make us less sympathetic toward Bertram?

BERTRAM
Wars is no strife
To the dark house and the detested wife. (2.3.307-308)

The idea that running off to war is preferable to staying at home with one's wife is an idea we hear over and over again in this play. Paroles says something similar: he tells Bertram that men who stay at home with their wives instead of fighting are no better than "jades," female horses that are used for breeding (2.3.268). In other words, being a loyal and loving husband is tantamount to being a wimp.

BERTRAM
Go thou toward home; where I will never come
Whilst I can shake my sword or hear the drum.—
Away, and for our flight. (2.5.100-102)

We weren't kidding when we said that husbands in this play would rather go to war than stay at home with their spouses.

COUNTESS
What angel shall
Bless this unworthy husband? He cannot thrive,
Unless her prayers, whom heaven delights to hear
And loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath
Of greatest justice. Write, write, Rinaldo,
To this unworthy husband of his wife.
Let every word weigh heavy of her worth
That he does weigh too light. (3.4.27-34)

Even though Helen is lowborn, there's a whole lot of talk about her worth as a wife. (There's also a lot of talk about Bertram being an unworthy husband, despite his status as a wealthy count.) The play is always reminding us that money and rank have nothing to do with a person's character.

BERTRAM
And now you should be as your mother was
When your sweet self was got.
DIANA
She then was honest.
BERTRAM
                                 So should you be.
DIANA
                                                               No:
My mother did but duty—such, my lord,
As you owe to your wife.
BERTRAM
                                        No more o' that.
I prithee do not strive against my vows.
I was compelled to her, but I love thee
By love's own sweet constraint, and will forever
Do thee all rights of service. (4.2.10-21)

Bertram tries to convince Diana to give up her virginity to him by saying that she should be doing what her "mother did" (having sex) when Diana was "got" (conceived). Diana doesn't buy it. She points out that, actually, her mother was married when she did her wifely duty to her husband. She also reminds Bertram that he has a wife and should be doing his duty to her, not Diana. Oh, snap.

BERTRAM
If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly,
I'll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly. (5.3.360-361)

We can see why Bertram is totally surprised when his wife shows up with his kid at the end of the play. After all, he thought she was dead and had no idea that he actually had sex with her (thanks to Helen and Diana's little bed trick. But wait a minute. Why does Bertram suddenly promise to love his wife "ever, ever dearly"? Helen has tricked Bertram into sleeping with her and getting her pregnant and now we're supposed to believe that this little revelation transforms Bertram into a loving husband? We're not sure we buy this, Shmoopers. Do <em>you</em>?

KING
If thou be'st yet a fresh uncroppéd flower,
Choose thou thy husband, and I'll pay thy dower.
For I can guess that by thy honest aid
Thou keep'st a wife herself, thyself a maid.
Of that and all the progress, more or less,
Resolvedly more leisure shall express.
All yet seems well, and if it end so meet,
The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet. (5.3.372-379)

Here, the king of France lets young Diana choose any husband she wants and offers to provide her dowry (money that a bride brings to her husband when they get hitched). Is it just us, or did we just see how things didn't go so well the last time the king let a young woman choose a husband? 

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