<em>All's Well That Ends Well</em> is all about challenging traditional sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ideas about gender and sexuality. By featuring a female protagonist who takes on a traditionally masculine role in her pursuit of a husband, <em>All's Well </em>reverses the typical gender roles we find in Western literature, especially fairy tales. In doing so, it asks us to reconsider what kinds of roles we expect young men and women to play in romantic relationships. The play also portrays the ins and outs of heterosexual relationships as a kind of warfare, taking the concept of the battle of the sexes to a whole new level.
Questions About Gender
Why does Helen worry that she'll be called a "strumpet" if she tries to cure the King's illness?
Literary critic Jonathan Bate says that if Bertram were a woman, audiences would admire him for refusing to sleep with a spouse he was forced to marry. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
Why does Paroles think men should go to war instead of staying home with their wives?
Discuss the kinds of female roles featured in All's Well That Ends Well. How do they stack up against female roles in other Shakespeare plays?
Chew on This
Throughout the play, male characters like Paroles attempt to make a distinction between the sexes by suggesting that warfare and masculinity go hand in hand, while staying at home is for women and sissies.
In All's Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare suggests that assigning men and women traditional gender roles is unfair and limiting.