All's Well That Ends Well Author:William Shakespeare Helena, a lowborn beauty, serves as a gentlewoman in the household of the Countess of Rousillion. Bertram, the Countess' son, is making preparations to leave for Paris to become a ward of the King of France. Helena has long nursed a secret love for Bertram, despite their class differences. It is revealed that the King is terminally ill of a fist... more »ula (to Shakespeare it was a long pipelike ulcer). Helena, whose father was a well-renowned physician, offers to cure him if he will allow her to marry the Lord of her choice - he agrees. Her medicinal knowledge proves fruitful, and she saves the King's life. The King is overjoyed and accedes to her condition, after which she chooses the reluctant and unwilling Bertram. She offers him freedom to deny her, but the King insists on the marriage as a reward to Helena. After their wedding, Bertram decides he would rather face death in battle than remain married to Helena. He resolves to leave and fight in the Italian war developing between the Florentines and the Senoys. While at war, he writes dismissively home to Helena:
"When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband."
Bertram thinks these things are impossible tasks. Nevertheless, Helena sets out with a plan to recover her husband.
Back at the war front, the young lords strive to convince Bertram that his ne'er-do-well friend Parolles is a coward. They set up an elaborate ruse to convince Parolles to recover a company drum stolen by the enemy and trick him into believing he has been captured. Parolles, thinking himself begging for his life, readily spills all his army's secrets to his "captors", betraying Bertram ("a foolish idle boy and for all that very ruttish...") in the process. Dishonored and stripped of his title, Parolles returns to France as a beggar. Helena, meanwhile, enlists the aid of Diana, a maiden who has taken Bertram's fancy. Together they execute the bait-and-switch "bed trick" during which Helena successfully gets the Rossillion family ring and sleeps with Bertram as per the conditions in his letter. In the final act, Helena's cunning plot is revealed, and Bertram promises to be a faithful husband to her and "love her dearly, ever, ever dearly."« less