Study Guide

All's Well That Ends Well Act 1, Scene 3

By William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 3

Read the full text of All's Well That Ends Well Act 1 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • Back at the countess's house in Roussillon, Bertram's mom hangs out with Lavatch (a.k.a., the clown, who is basically her personal comedian), and Reynaldo, her steward (which is like a personal assistant).
  • The countess and Reynaldo have been gossiping about Helen, but Lavatch keeps interrupting and, well, clowning around and being a pest. 
  • It turns out that Lavatch wants to get hitched to a local girl named Isabel, but he needs his boss's (that would be the countess's) permission to do it.
  • The countess wants to know why Lavatch is so anxious to get married.
  • He has two answers: (a) he really wants to have kids, and (b) he really wants to have sex without breaking the law.
  • Brain Snack: In the play and in Shakespeare's England, sex outside of marriage (a.k.a. fornication) is illegal, just like in Shakespeare's other play Measure for Measure
  • Most of all, says Lavatch, he just really, really, really wants to have sex. He confesses that his poor body physically requires it. Plus, he's tired of living in sin. 
  • Then Lavatch launches into a weird speech about how it will be okay with him if his future wife sleeps around with his friends after they're married.
  • The countess calls him an idiot, but Lavatch insists that his friends would be doing him a HUGE favor by keeping his future wife happy and giving him more time to relax. 
  • Then Lavatch belts out a song about how getting married and becoming a cuckold is man's destiny.
  • (A cuckold is a guy whose wife cheats on him; a lot of Shakespeare's plays are obsessed with cuckoldry. Go read As You Like It if you don't believe us.) 
  • The countess tries to throw him out. 
  • He ignores her.
  • Hoping to get rid of him, the countess orders Lavatch to go fetch Helen, which prompts the clown to break out into yet another song. This one's about Helen of Troy.
  • (Helen of Troy is one of the most famous she-cheaters of all time. In Greek mythology, Helen's steamy hook-up with Paris supposedly starts the Trojan War.) 
  • Lavatch leaves, but only after he insists that nine out of ten women are promiscuous cheaters.
  • Reynaldo and the countess get back to talking about the real Helen, whom the countess loves very much.
  • Reynaldo confesses that he was spying on Helen earlier and overheard her talking (to herself) about how much she loves Bertram.
  • This doesn't surprise the countess, who has suspected as much. She thanks Reynaldo for squealing on Helen and sends him away.
  • Helen enters (speak of the devil!).
  • The countess confesses to the audience (in an "aside") that she used to be boy crazy, too, back in 
  • the day. 
  • Then she turns to Helen and launches into a speech about how Helen is like a daughter to her, which pretty much makes her Helen's mother, even if she didn't technically give birth to her.
  • Helen is totally grossed out by this idea because she's got the hots for Bertram and she doesn't even want to think about the possibility of being in lust with her own brother.
  • The countess sees the disgusted look on Helen's face and plays dumb.
  • Helen tries to play it off by saying that she doesn't feel worthy enough to be a part of the 
  • Countess's family, but the countess doesn't buy it. She encourages Helen to 'fess up about her crush on Bertram.
  • Helen waffles.
  • The countess points out that she can't help her if she doesn't know the truth.
  • Helen waffles some more and the countess tells her to knock it off.
  • Finally, Helen throws herself onto the ground and admits that, yes, she totally worships the 
  • countess's son, even though he's way out of her league.
  • Helen also admits that she's been planning to run off to Paris. She's got a plan: she wants to try to cure the king of France's disease with some of the medicine she found in her dad's old medicine bag. (Remember, he was a famous doctor.) 
  • Apparently, Helen's dad had a fail-proof cure for fistulas, and he even left behind a set of step-by-step instructions on how to apply the remedy. (No joke – we couldn't even begin to make this stuff up.)
  • Of course, Helen admits that curing the king's little problem is just an excuse to see her beloved Bertram.
  • The countess seriously doubts that the king of France would just let some poor virgin play doctor, especially since she's never been to medical school and has probably never even seen a man with his clothes off.
  • Helen insists that there's something really, really special about the medicine her dad left her and begs to be allowed to go to Paris.
  • The countess finally gives in and says she'll do everything she can to help Helen get to the court, cure the king, and win Bertram's love.

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