allswellthatendswellThis past weekend, Keith and I attended a performance of Shakespeare’s comedy – or was it a tragedy? Most likely, the plot derived from Boccaccio’s Decameron and the title from an expression already common at the time. But what does all’s well that ends well really mean?


“Problems that occur along the way do not matter as long as the outcome is happy.”

What makes us happy? According to Daniel Gilbert, it’s relationships – family and friends.

Helena, an intelligent, capable, loving and attractive young woman, falls for Bertram who doesn’t love her. A little back-story: Helena restores the King of France to health and in return is granted her choice of a husband – Bertram. At first, Bertram protests that he wishes to make his own choice and scorns Helena’s lack of money and title. Since the King offers both, it becomes quite clear that it’s not really the money or title. Bertram really doesn’t like Helena. This is a problem.

Bertram goes through with the forced marriage but sends Helena away and leaves for war. They will never be a married couple, he writes, unless she gets his ring off his finger and bears his child – and Bertram swears never to bed Helena.

Under these circumstances, the play stretches credibility that Bertram’s attitude towards Helena could change from distain to devotion so quickly at the end. Or does he change? Is the ending really happy?

“An event that has a good ending is good even if some things went wrong along the way.”

What is good?

Helena is portrayed as a person of up-right character, and Bertram as rather immature, somewhat deceitful and easily duped. And yet, the seemingly good Helena schemes against Bertram to trap him again. Plotting with a young woman with whom Bertram is besotted, Helena pays the girl to agree to the seduction (the price to Bertram being his ring) and switch places with Helena who exchanges a ring given to her by the King for Bertram’s ring.

Things do not so much go wrong along the way as people do wrong, not good. Could a marriage like Helena and Bertram’s really be good in the end?

“A risky enterprise is justified so long as it turns out well in the end.”

Other characters in the play plot and scheme and trick and trap and risk and behave both ill and well. One wonders, then what is well?

Does all’s well that ends well mean the end justifies the means? This is a problem.


  1. Keith Kenny

    It is an old story and a new story … I’ve read articles recently in popular magazines berating dishonest men for lying and cheating women into bed. Once over her betrayal, however, the woman still needs to find the right man … the clever answer, start by telling him what he wants to hear and doing what he wants to do … after the marriage you can drop all that silly stuff. I guess it ends well for someone … maybe in “Game of Thrones”

  2. Kolleen

    Great question! Does all’s well that ends well mean the end justifies the means? I think all’s well that ends well means the end was “worth” the means. For example, even though someone might endure/encounter problems along the way . . . the outcome was definitely worth the means. It’s how you overcome the obstacles that make the difference. Plotting, scheming, tricking and trapping don’t ever justify the means. But it does make for an interesting play.

    • Carole Duff

      Agreed, agreed. Achieving a goal often takes effort, but dishonest means are rarely justifiable, even though we enjoyed the play:-) Thanks for your comment! -C.D.

  3. Carole Duff

    I’m not sure dishonesty on anyone’s part – a man trying to get a woman into bed or a woman trying to do whatever will get her the ring – helps anything end well.


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