All's Well That Ends Well — Acts IV, V, and Reveal
What follows is my first read through experience of William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, Acts IV and V, as well as a fully exposed reveal of the plot points I missed. To read Acts I, II, and III, get thee to a Shakespeare tome. Otherwise, to read my take on the first three acts, click here.
And now, Act IV…
Act IV: First Read
Oh right, the drum. OK so before we plow into Act IV, I need to head back into III briefly. I forgot to mention that in Act III there was quite a bit of importance laid on some drum of war. Parroles was convinced that it was stolen? Or something? Or rather, I think he was trying to convince Bertram to go find it? I don’t know. It was important and I missed it and now the whole drum thing is back at the start of Act IV and I don’t get it. I think Parolles (who I don’t even think I’ve introduced yet) is talking to some Lord and saying that if he dives into some deep water and retrieves the lost (or stolen) drum then he will be perceived as hero of the war. Because, you know, you can’t win a war without a good drum. Am I right? Ba-dum… no chh because no symbol. Actually we shouldn’t have a ba-dum either because there is no drum! Oops. Well, the drum thing doesn’t play itself out because a bunch of dudes rush into this opening scene in Act IV and shackle Bertram and throw him in a dungeon or something. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they think he stole their war drum? Maybe he actually did. Foggy.
In this next part, Diana (who is the maiden whose mother was who Helena recently hatched a plot) confesses to Bertram that she loves him. It’s a ruse. She is meant to get his ring form him. The ring, I guess, is his wedding ring? I don’t think he would be wearing his wedding ring since he has no love for his wife. But this ring is definitely important. Maybe Helena gave it to him much earlier on and I missed it? At any rate, Helena did tell Diana’s mother in Act III that this would be the plan: for Diana to get Bertram’s ring and thereby reveal him to the world as the jerk that he is. Yay.
Diana works her sexy magic and Bertram easily capitulates. “Take my ring, please,” he basically says as Diana offers up her maidenhood. He is to meet her later that night in her room. She’ll leave the window open for him and give him another ring. So many rings! Though I think this second ring is the ring of her sex. If that rings true, I’ll eat my hat. Because Bertram exits, all giddy and hot, and Diana has an aside where she tells us she’s in on the tom foolery. Her mother told her what’s what and they’re going to get him!
I’m joking around a lot here but it’s getting better. Though I can’t say why.
In Act IV, Scene iii, Parolles (remember him? he’s the guy I never introduced) is blindfolded and questioned. It is a long and tedious scene. There’s a lot of smart dialogue going on here but it beats me what any of it means. I got the jist of it, though. Bertram is among the interrogators and they are basically discovering Parolles’ true character, which is scuzzy. I think everyone knew this all along but they just wanted to confirm it. At the end of the scene they let him go, thinking he is undone as he has no one who will trust in him any longer. But Parolles has the last word and seemingly vows to undo them all. I dunno.
Act V: First Read
The game is afoot! And oh what a wicked game it is! Apparently, I failed to read that Helena’s ruse goes even deeper than I’d thought. She deceived her uncaring husband to the limit by sending word that she died. Upon learning this reiterated fact here in Act V, I daresay I do recall something of the like previously, but curse me for not picking up on it forth with!
Helena, somehow disguised as Diana (I guess it was dark?) has gone to bed with Bertram. Yay? That’ll show him?
When that mess is completed, she goes back to Roussillon… no wait, she stays in France because the King comes back and they have a lot of talk and Bertram is revealed as a jerky jerk, you know, because of the ring thing. And they all live happily… no wait… they all end well in the end because what ends around goes around… well… I mean… no hold on, I can do this. I just need a few days before revealing to myself and to you all the wells and the plots I’ve mistakenly misplaced. No doubt they were many.
All’s Well That Ends Well: Revealed
Whoa. I actually had most of the Act I plot correct. Score. I missed that Helena was a ward of the Countess of Roussillon. That makes sense though, especially given the lengthy scene in which the Countess is super eager for Helena to call her “mother.”
Helena’s father did die. In life, he was a renowned doctor and I guess Helena picked up some helpful medical tips along the way. When the Countess’s husband also dies (a lot of early deaths for a comedy if you ask me), her son, Bertram, is called to the king’s court. The King of France is… wait for it… dying. Boo yah. And Helena goes along with Bertram for the ride. All the while she is pining for him and working up a plot to make him hers.
There’s this other guy Parolles who I failed to mention. And then when I did mention him he seemed insignificant in my telling. I’m still not sure he wasn’t. He’s like a minor villain, I guess you might call him. He whispers dumb things in Bertram’s ears and tries to get him to come over to his side of things, which is usually the dumb side. He’s like a kindergarten version of Iago.
Iago? Who is Iago, you ask?? Check back in with me bloggy in May, 2021 for the answer to that easily Googleable riddle.
Helena learns the king is dying and decides to go to Paris because she (quite boldly) believes she can cure him.
In Act Two, there is some talk of war that I completely glossed over in my first reading. That is understandable because, as of right now, I can’t see that it does much for the greater story. But for posterity’s sake, let’s just say that the King of France decides to stay out of the war between Austria and Florence.
Helena does indeed talk at great lengths with the king about curing him. He hesitates greatly, eventually gives in, and lo and behold, he is cured. Helena doesn’t have to die after all. Huzzah. The King lines up five lords for Helena to choose from but she poo poos them all and goes for Bertram. I missed that part with the five curious suitors. So sue me.
Bertram insults Helena and the King tells him that inner worth is more important than noble birth and therefore, suck it up dude, Helena is yours now. But after they’re wed, Bertram designs a plan to send Helena back to the Countess (his mother) while he shoots off to the war the king wants nothing to do with. Okey dokey. I think I was close on that one.
When Bertram goes off to war, Helena asks him for a kiss and he denies her. Ouch! Burn. Missed that, too. Helena goes back to Roussillon and receives a letter from Bertram stating that he will be her husband when she gives birth to his child. But they never consummated the marriage so that is impossible. Any clown could see now that Bertram isn’t intending on going through with this, right, Helena? I mean, he’s staying in the war instead of coming home to you. That’s pretty rough.
Helena starts to smell deceit in the air and decides to run off to a monastery. The Countess is furious at her son for allowing this to happen and she sends him a letter to come home from the war and fix this at once!
These scenes (iv and v of Act II) are easy to pass over without an understanding of the plot if you are tired at 11:00 p.m. and reading through half shut eyes, like I did. I don’t recommend this technique.
Moving on… and through to the end here. Let’s skip to Act V because, well, that’s where the “ends well” part supposedly comes into play.
Oh snap (are we still saying “Oh snap?”), Helena gave her ring to Diana to give to Bertram because Bertram once told Helena that if she could get pregnant and return the ring to him he would love her. It all makes perfect sense now.
OK, truth time, I did not have a ton of fun with this first play. This does not bode well for the Shakespeare Challenge. Luckily though, with the first play out of the way there are only 36 to go in three years’ time. We’ll all be older then, friends. But at least we won’t be unmentioned, like Parolles.
ALL IS WELL!
Join me June 25 and June 27 for the second installment in the Shakespeare Challenge. I’ll be diving headfirst into William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra! I assume it is a travel piece about that one time the Egyptian Queen took a three-day weekend jaunt to Sicily and accidentally fell in love with an endearing gondola Uber driver. We soon shall see!