Forget about family lineage, wealth, and inherited social rank. All's Well That Ends Well is a "tale of fantastic upward mobility." At least that's how Shakespeare scholar Marjorie Garber describes it (source). In the play, a poor orphaned girl sets her sights on marrying a rich nobleman who thinks she's not good enough for him because she's too "low born." In a lot of Shakespearean comedies, wanting to marry above one's social class is generally considered a big no-no. (Just ask Malvolio in Twelfth Night.) In All's Well, though, we're told over and over again that Helen's value is in her inherent virtue. It's her virtue that makes Helen worthy of marriage and worthy of our respect for her as a literary heroine. In this way, the play challenges the status quo and invites us to think about what it is that defines a person's worth.
Questions About Society and Class
Why does Helen think she's not good enough to marry Bertram? (Why does Bertram object to the marriage that he's forced into?)
How does the play define honor and nobility?
What happens to Paroles after his friends play a prank that reveals him to be a coward and a traitor?
Discuss how the social fortunes of Helen and Paroles are reversed in this play.
Chew on This
Despite her lack of wealth and rank, Helen is one of the noblest characters in the entire play.
While the play condones Helen's upward mobility, it frowns on Paroles' social ambition. Because Paroles lacks Helen's virtue and goodness, the play punishes him by stripping him of everything and transforming him into a penniless beggar.