Character Directory


The dying King recovers his health through the ministrations of Helena. He rewards her with marriage to the unwilling Bertram.  Bertram's disdain for a commoner sparks the King's most important speech, a lecture on the value of individual virtues over social rank, a trenchant summary of one of the play's important themes. He forgives Bertram's flight from Helena, but he then presides over the exposure of the young man's perfidy towards Diana and his justice is as stern as his forgiveness had been yielding. When Helena finally unravels the plot and the final reconciliation takes place, the King behaves with great magnanimity, granting a dowry to Diana and offering a final statement that, although qualified, insists on the traditional happy ending of Comedy: 'All yet seems well, and if it end so meet, ‘The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet'. 

With the Countess and Lord Lafeu, the King helps provide an atmosphere of generosity and wisdom that offsets the play's unpleasant aspects. His gracious welcome of Bertram in 1.2 stimulates in the audience a sense that the young man, despite his faults, is basically worthy. Similarly, his immediate appreciation of Helena in 2.1 helps to establish her virtue. The King is himself a wholly sympathetic figure, a stereotypically 'good' ruler: wise and moderate in deciding not to go to war while still permitting his young noblemen to distinguish themselves on campaign in Italy; touching in his nostalgic remembrance of Bertram's father; and generous in friendship and ; forgiveness to the young people.


The ruler of Florence. In 3.1 the Duke welcomes the French noblemen who have come to fight for him against Siena, and in 3.3 he appoints Bertram to command his cavalry. The Duke is merely an example of a courtly ruler, offering a contrast with the less chivalrous behavior of Bertram and Parolles.

BERTRAM Count of Rousillon.

Bertram is a young French nobleman, the errant husband of Helena. Bertram is an imperfect man whose decline from callous self-absorption to more serious sin s arrested only by Helena's forceful entrapment. That his peccadilloes make him seem unworthy of Helena's love is one of the play's most bothersome features; as Samuel Johnson complained, Bertram is 'dismissed into happiness' that he clearly does not deserve. Moreover, his highly qualified acceptance of Helena in the play's final scene does much to dilute any sense of resolution. This is one of the aspects of All's Well that places it among the ‘Problem Plays’. 

Helena persuades the King to make Bertram marry her as her reward for curing the monarch. Under the influence of the foppish coward Parolles, Bertram defies the King and abandons Helena, an act that the other characters uniformly deplore, and he departs from her with casual cruelty in 2.5. Bertram then declines into further immorality as he attempts to seduce the virginal Diana. As his mother, the Countess, remarks, he 'cannot thrive' (3.4.26) without Helena's influence. 

Our attitude towards this undeniably dubious figure must color our sense of the play as a whole, and many commentators have felt that he is important evidence that All's Well is a bitter satire. However, we can see that Shakespeare took considerable pains to mitigate Bertram's failings: the playwright altered his source, a tale by Boccaccio, in Bertram's favor, and because of his youth his youth he is excused for his misdeeds, and his virtues, by way of compensation for them. In Boccaccio, the character corresponding to Bertram goes to the wars expressly to avoid his wife, while Shakespeare's young man displays an earlier desire to leave, a noble urge to distinguish himself in battle. His unwelcome marriage makes flight all the more alluring, and Parolles encourages him in this rebellion. Parolles is himself an addition to the tale, and although Bertram's in thinking acceptance of Parolles advice reveals his own shallowness, it is also clear that Parolles' chief function is to deflect blame from Bertram.  Not only does he encourage Bertram s flight, but he is also the go-between who furthers his seduction of Diana. Other characters, particular y the First Lord and the Countess, explicitly hold Parolles responsible for corrupting Bertram. 

Bertram's youth, another plausible excuse for his folly is repeatedly referred to. He is in his 'minority (4 5 69), a ward of the King, who feels he is too young be a soldier. Lord Lafew is asked to advise him for he is 'unseason'd' (1.1.67). When he rejects Helena, the King calls him a 'proud, scornful boy' (2.3.151) and when his mother learns of his flight, she calls him a •rash and unbridled boy' (3.2.27). Even Parolles describes him as 'a foolish idle boy', 'a dangerous and lascivious boy', 'that lascivious young boy’.  In 5.3 the Countess asks the King to forgive Bertram his 'natural rebellion done i' th' blade of youth' (5.3.6), and he himself confesses to having seduced Diana 'i' th' wanton way of youth' (5.3.210). 

Not only is Bertram excused for his youth, but he is also aggrandized for his virtues. The Duke of Florence appoints him a cavalry commander despite his age, and he triumphs, being reported 'high in fame'.  In Boccaccio, his counterpart was merely an officer.  He receives the praise of both the Countess and the King, as well as the intense approval of Helena. Even the First and Second Lords, though they deplore his morals, nonetheless recognize that 'he contrives against his own nobility' (4.3.23-24). Further, Bertram is linked with the virtues of his late father by both the Countess and the King in 1.1 and 1.2. The hope that Bertram will grow into nobility does much to enhance our acceptance of his youthful faults.

In 5.3 Bertram is exposed as a moral coward and a liar, falsely maligning Diana and retreating ignomimously before the King's interrogation. His disgrace is complete. Then suddenly he is rescued by Helena's return. Bertram's wickedness is stressed mercilessly just before he is restored to favor, in order to emphasize the power of his redemption through Helena's love. His central position in the reconciliation that closes the play elevates him to Helena's level of goodness.  However, Bertram's ignominy cannot be completely ignored, and Shakespeare acknowledges the truth of the situation by keeping Bertram in character to the end. His initial response to Helena's arrival is ambiguous: his '0 pardon!' (5.3.302) has been seen as genuine repentance but also as a self-serving effort to lessen his disgrace, for when Helena asks him to acknowledge that he is truly her husband, he does not reply to her but speaks only to the King and only with a qualification: 'If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly / I'll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly. 

 Shakespeare tried to merge the traditional happy ending demanded by comedy with the psychological realism of Bertram's portrayal as a callow, thoughtless youth. The attempt is generally regarded as a failure; hat Bertram is all too human is part of the problematic nature of All's Well That Ends Well. 


LAFEU an old lord.

Lord Lafew is a an old and trusted member of the King’s court and a friend of the Countess. Lafew is an elderly gentleman who comments on the main action. He also introduces Helena to the King, whom she cures, thereby winning Bertram as her husband. Lafew counsels Bertram, the Countess' son, to accept marriage to Helena and to reject the friendship of Parolles, but Bertram ignores him. Lafew is most prominent in 2.3.184-260, where he mercilessly insults Parolles, recognizing that the foppish, boastful courtier lacks the nerve to fight. Lafew's temper justifies his name, the French for 'fire'. The episode clinches our recognition that Parolles is a coward and blusterer, though Bertram does not see this until later in the play.

In 5.3 Lafew accepts the thoroughly defeated Parolles into his household as a Fool, or jester, a generous gesture that exemplifies the play's spirit of reconciliation. Thus Lafew demonstrates the wisdom to be found in the courtly world of honor and patronage, both by exposing Parolles as a scoundrel and by sympathizing with him later. Throughout the play, Lafew, with the Countess and the King, represents a world of wisdom and generosity that stands in contrast to the less pleasant major plot.

PAROLLES a follower of Bertram.

Parolles is a bragging and cowardly follower of Bertram. As his name, the French for 'words', suggests, Parolles is a blusterer who pretends to be a warrior and nobleman but whose deeds cannot match his boasts. Shallow and thoughtless, he influences Bertram to follow his worst in- Instincts. Parolles aggravates Bertram's tendencies to self indulgence, and he encourages him to disobey the King and run away to the wars in Italy. After Parolles' humiliation in 2.4 by Lord Lafeu, who has seen through his pretensions to gentlemanly status, he is ready to leave the court; he sees his chance in Bertram's wish to abandon Helena, whom the King has made him marry. 'A young man married is a man that's marr'd. Therefore away' (2.3.294-295), he urges. Once in Italy, Parolles again supports Bertram's inclinations to vice, serving as a go-between in the young man's attempt to seduce the virginal Diana . Bertram's friends, led by the First Lord, then 'capture' Parolles and expose his cowardice and treachery in 4.3. 

Parolles' defects have been recognized all along by everyone around Bertram. Upon his first appearance, Helena calls him 'a notorious liar ... a great way fool, solely a coward' (1.1.108-109), and the Lords agree with Bertram's mother, the Countess, that her son has been corrupted by Parolles, who is a 'very tainted fellow, and full of wickedness' (3.2.87). Parolles thus serves an important dramatic function, deflecting the negative image that might otherwise be attached to Bertram, whose stature must not sink too low, lest the central element of the plot—the determination of Helena to marry him—become ludicrous. 

In his evil influence on Bertram, Parolles is most nearly the play's villain.  However, after his exposure as a charlatan, Parolles shows a striking resilience. Though his self-promoted career as a noble warrior is over, he will make the most of his new situation. 'Simply the thing I am / Shall make me live' (4.3.322-323), he observes, realizing that he can, 'being fooi'd, by fool'ry thrive' (4.3.327).  He resolves to become a jester, or Fool, among the French lords, a role well suited to his nature. In a line that is richly suggestive of Shakespeare's generous vision of humanity, he declares that 'There's place and means for every man alive' (4.3.328). In becoming a fool and acknowledging his defects, Parolles shows himself wiser than Bertram, preceding him in self-knowledge, just as he has preceded him in delinquency. His acceptance of life on any terms demonstrates a tremendous vitality, and he is certainly the most dynamic character in the play, with the possible exception of Helena. 

Significantly, Parolles sparks Helena's energy in 1.1. In this scene Helena is understandably depressed; the household is in mourning for both Bertram's father and her own, and Bertram, her secret love, is leaving.  Then Parolles appears, and his broadly humorous exercise in fashionable cynicism about virginity has a two-fold effect on the heroine. First, she sees that the courtly life that Parolles represents will offer sexual opportunities for Bertram, which she fears he will accept. Second, Parolles' vitality inspires Helena to declare, 'Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie' (1.1.212), and to decide to pursue Bertram. Thus Parolles' energy pervades All's Well, infusing the spirits of both major characters for good and evil alike. Finally, in becoming the jester for his old enemy Lafew at the close of the play, Parolles accepts—unconditionally, in contrast to Bertram—the reconciliation that is at the heart of Shakespearean Comedy. Although he has a distinct and credible personality, Parolles is descended from an ancient comic character type, the Miles Gloriousus of ancient Roman drama and the braggart soldier of Italian Commedia Dell’Arte; he shares his ancestry with several other Shakespearean characters, most notably Falstaff.

Lavatch (clown)

Lavatch is the, court jester to the Countess of Rossillion.  The Clown comments on aspects of the play, both through parody and by direct references. He professes to be a rustic suggests), 'a wood-land fellow' (4.5.44) who enjoys ridiculing the royal court, but he is clearly a sophisticated professional Fool. His somewhat cynical worldliness adds an element of realism that counters the improbabilities of the play.

Sometimes the Clown is overtly contemptuous, as in his insults to Parolles in 2.4 and his disparagement of Bertram in 3.2, but usually his function is more indirectly carried out; his concerns parallel those of the main plot, drawing our attention to it in odd ways. For instance, he expounds upon his proposed marriage to 'Isbel the woman' (1.3.16) just after we have been introduced to Helena and Bertram. He goes on to equate Helena with Helen of Troy, a digression that suggests the sexual conflict emerging in the main story line. Later, in 3.2, he rejects Isbel, apparently out of sexual exhaustion, just as the Countess is reading the letter in which Bertram tells of his rejection of Helena. The Clown's parody of courtly manners in 2.2 immediately precedes Parolles' assumption of gentlemanly airs in 2.3 and is itself a commentary on the vanity of social rank, a theme of the play. In his final lines, in which he asserts exuberantly that Parolles smells bad, he not only emphasizes Parolles' loss of status, but the rankness of his 'similes of comfort' (5.2.24-25) seems to sum up the play's obnoxious developments to this point. At the same time, he offers some sympathy for Parolles, declaring 'I do pity his distress' (5.2.24), thus maintaining our hope of a milder outcome, which is indeed about to develop. 

The Clown is an oddly melancholy jester, with his low-key parodies of theology and his claim to be in the service of'the black prince ... alias the devil' (4.5.39- 40). He is sometimes somewhat nasty, as when he rejects Isbel, and he can be overly wordy, as Lafeu reminds us when he tells him 'Go thy ways; I begin to be aweary of thee' (4.5.53). However, the Countess clearly enjoys him, though she recognizes that he is a 'shrewd knave and an unhappy' (4.5.60). He reminds her of her late husband, 'who made himself much sport out of him' (4.5.61-62). The pleasant relation-ship between the Countess and her jester contributes to our sense of her household as a source of generosity and kindness that helps to offset the unpleasant aspects of the play.  It is presumed that the Clown's part was intended for Robert Armin, the actor who specialized in jesters for the King’s Men. His name, Lavatch (sometimes rendered Lavache), name is usually regarded as a corruption of the French la vache ('the cow'), though some scholars believe it represents the French lavage or the Italian lavaggio ('washing, cleansing').

Countess of Rousillon.  Mother to Bertram

The Countess is the mother of Bertram and guardian of Helena). The Countess comments on the main action of the play, overseeing from her estate at Rossillion the relationship between her son and her ward. Loving Helena, she promotes their marriage; loving Bertram, she rues his foolishness in abandoning his bride, and she is present to see them reconciled at the play's close. With Lord Lafeu and the King, the Countess helps to create a world of kindness and generosity that counters the play's unpleasant aspects.  One other most important functions is to guide the audience's responses to the major characters through her own, exalting Helena and forgiving Bertram. Her love for Helena is as generous as her affection for her son is natural. Her sympathy for Helena's love, based on her 'remembrances of days foregone' (1.3.129), is touching, and her collaboration with Helena serves to start the heroine on her way. She is also aware of Bertram's defects, while at the same time remaining willing to make allowances and forgive.

The Countess loves her son, but, when he abandons Helena, she recognizes that he is a 'rash and unbridled boy' (3.2. 27) and sends letters that she hopes will bring him to his senses. The Countess is an especially sympathetic character in a play full of moral ambiguity. George Bernard Shaw called hers 'the most beautiful old woman's part ever written'.

HELENA a gentlewoman protected by the Countess.

Helena's pursuit of Bertram constitutes the main plot of All's Well, and his lack of interest, combined with her use of the vulgar 'bed trick'—substituting herself for another woman in bed and thus inducing him to father her child—help to give the work the dark and troubling quality that places it among the so-called Problem Plays. The central figure in the play, Helena is subject to quite contradictory interpretations, depending largely on one's view of the play as a whole. 

Some commentators have found Helena wholly good. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called her Shakespeare's 'loveliest character', and her persistent efforts to win Bertram despite his feelings have been seen as an allegorical representation of Christian grace, chiefly on the strength of a remark by the Countess, Bertram's mother, that her son 'cannot thrive,  Unless her prayers, whom heaven delights to hear / And loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath / Of greatest justice' (3.4.26-29). However, other critics have seen in Helena a satirical portrait of an ambitious, possessive woman, intent on marrying a man who does not love her and unscrupulous in using her body to deceive him.  

In 1.1 Helena is introduced as a young woman of great energy and determination. She is first seen dressed in mourning, with the elderly Countess and Lafeu. They discuss the late Count's death and then her own father's and the seemingly terminal illness of the King. Helena is especially depressed because her secret love, Bertram, is leaving, and, as she puts it, 'there is no living, none, / If Bertram be away' (1.1.82-83), and she prepares to 'sanctify his relics' (1.1.96). Then Parolles, the play's comic villain, appears, and his cynical banter about virginity makes Helena realize that she must fear the influence of such worldly wisdom on Bertram: 'The court's a learning place', she reflects, 'and he is one—' (1.1.173); she suppresses the observation that Bertram is likely to be an apt pupil. More important, Parolles' vitality stimulates a similar energy in Helena. He leaves, and in the ensuing soliloquy, written in formal couplets intended to suggest her elevated mood, she firmly decides to pursue Bertram. 

Thus the main plot opens with the establishment of Helena's initiative. But whether she is an admirably plucky young woman or an ambitious schemer remains a matter of interpretation. This unresolved question is often considered part of the play's larger failure to combine naturalistic elements with the scheme of reconciliation and love that Comedy traditionally demands. To some extent, the contradictory points of view may be taken to represent different aspects of the same personality, and, as so often in Shakespeare, the resulting paradox offers us a rewarding sense of the complexity of human nature.

However, there are numerous clues that Shakespeare intended Helena as a virtuous and spunky heroine. Most significantly, the play's final resolution is accomplished only by a highly dramatic, carefully planned appearance by Helena late in the closing scene, in which she disentangles the plot's complications in a few lines, like a deus ex machina. A satirical figure used in this manner could only inspire sardonic reflections on the hypocrisy of happy endings, and nothing in the dialogue suggests any such intent on the playwright's part. Further, the fairy-tale motif of the maiden who cures the King is presented in the solemn music of rhymed couplets and mystical language that would be utterly inappropriate to a satirical purpose. Similarly, Helena has several other striking and lyrical speeches, such as her declaration of love in 1.3.186-212 and her dramatic renunciation in 3.2.99-129, whose evident sincerity tends to enforce a view of her as an admirable heroine. 

In addition, Shakespeare altered the story that he took from his source, a tale by Boccaccio, and some of his changes were plainly designed to elevate the moral character of the heroine. For instance, he added such sympathetic characters as the elderly Countess and her friend Lord Lafew, whose chief purpose is to shape our opinions of the major characters. They convincingly inform us of Helena's virtues, as does the King Shakespeare also added another theme to the tale in which Helena is clearly an heroine: the King, responding to Bertram's rejection of her as a commoner, defends her as an illustration of the value of an individual's spiritual nature regardless of his or her rank in society. In Boccaccio, the pursuer and pursued are aristocrats of equal status, and no social question is raised. 

When Boccaccio's protagonist triumphs at the end, she presents her reluctant husband with twin sons. In All's Well, only the merest mention is made of Helena's pregnancy, in 5.3.307; Shakespeare plainly wished to de-emphasize the physical aspect of the bed trick because this ruse is clearly the most embarrassing episode of Helena's story. In another significant departure from his source, Shakespeare altered the circumstances of Helena's appearance in Florence. In Boccaccio, she hears other husband's attempt at seduction, devises the bed trick, and goes to Italy to perform it. In All's Well, she wanders to Florence as a pilgrim and must be informed by the Widow of Bertram's presence. Thus the bed trick seems a product of fortunate happenstance, rather than a calculated ploy. 

Shakespeare also used dramatic structure to mitigate the bed trick's bad impression and maintain Helena's heroic stature. After 3.2 Helena is much less frequently on-stage than before. She appears in only four brief scenes and has no important speeches before returning 30 lines from the end of the play. We remember her in the highly positive light in which she was presented in the first half of the play, and we are influenced by the Countess' observations on the efficacy of Helena's prayers, the similarly complimentary remarks of the two Lords in 4.3, and the loving regrets of the Countess' household when they believe her dead—even the cynical Clown is moved to call her 'the sweet-marjoram of the sallet' (4.5.15). Shakespeare therefore establishes Helena as an heroine early in the play, and later, when her actions seem less heroic, he downplays her, permitting only brief and positive glimpses.

Thus Helena seems intended as a delightful romantic heroine. Lafew says she can 'quicken a rock, and make you dance canary / With sprightly fire and motion' (2.1.73-74)—and her infatuation with Bertram s •arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls' (1.1.92) is no less endearing for her healthy interest in sex. In this light, she seems to be a lively, virtuous young woman to whom divine favor offers opportunity and then success. And in the second half of the play, the possibly manipulative exploiter of sex is more properly regarded as a contrite, self-sacrificing wife whom fortune has led to a happy resolution other problems. At the play's conclusion she is received with the awe due a goddess, and her summation of the play's final statement of reconciliation suggests that she deserves this which the play opened has been dispelled


An old Widow of Florence. (Widow)

The Widow Capilet is a landlady of Florence who befriends Helena and is the mother of Diana. The Widow permits Diana to make a sexual assignation with Bertram, Helena's runaway husband, though Helena will occupy Diana's bed. When she first appears, in 3.5, the Widow has charm as a stereotypical gossip, and she shrewdly recognizes Bertram for the cad he is, but thereafter she serves merely as a pawn of the plot. 


Diana is a young woman of Florence and the daughter o the Widow who assists Helena to entrap her runaway husband, Bertram. The lustful Bertram wishes to seduce Diana, who is respected in Florence for 'a most chaste renown' (4.3.14). She, honorably determined to remain a virgin, resists his advances until in 4.2, as part of Helena's plot, she agrees to sleep with him (though Helena will in fact occupy her bed). She is demure and pliant in making this arrangement, but she expresses herself zestily after Bertram's departure, brusquely critiquing male morals and declaring,'. . . in this disguise, I think to no sin / To cozen him that would unjustly win (4.2.75-76) In 5 3 she confronts Bertram in the presence of the King and accuses him of violating his promise to marry her. She is denounced as a whore, and then, when she claims to be a virgin although Bertram has seduced her, she is further subjected to the irritated King's threat of imprisonment before Helena appears and resolves matters. The King thereupon grants her a sumptuous dowry as part of the final reconciliation that closes the play. Diana has little real personality, being a stereotype of the virginal maiden, but her symbolic importance is considerable. As the object of Bertram's attempts at seduction, she serves by contrast to emphasize his evil nature; as the long-suffering complainant of 5.3, she Exemplifies victimization, making the final outcome  more dramatically satisfying. 


Though distinguished as the First Lord and the Second Lord, these two characters are very similar and serve the same dramatic purpose. Reappearing throughout the play, they offer a distinct viewpoint on its developments, especially on the progress of Bertram and Parolles, and they help to mould the audience's opinions. Recognizing the dishonorable cowardice of Parolles, they devise a plan to expose him to Bertram. They recognize Bertram's moral weakness, but they believe in his capacity for improvement, thereby offsetting our possible distaste for him. In addition, their fond admiration of the King in 1.2 and 2.1 stimulates our appreciation of him, which in turn influences our opinions of Bertram and Helena when the King shows affection for them. The Lords encourage our positive response to Helena when they sympathies with her abandonment by Bertram in 3.2, while at the same time they downplay Bertram's guilt by blaming Parolles for his behavior.  Other lords include several in the King's court that he presents to Helena as possible suitors.


Mariana is a neighbor of the Widow Capilet, a Florentine innkeeper. In 3.5.16-28 Mariana roundly condemns Parolles and Bertram as unscrupulous womanizers, thus helping to establish the situation when Helena arrives in Florence. She has no personality beyond that of a stereotypical gossip.


Gentleman is a minor character in the show who helps Helena. In 5.1 the Gentleman tells Helena that the King has left Marseilles. He takes her message to the King, appearing in 5.3 with the letter that entraps Bertram at the play's climax. The Gentleman is merely a stereotypical courtier and a pawn of plot development.


The Steward is the chief officer of the household of the Countess.  The Steward twice offers information about Helena. In 1.3, he reports having overheard her musing on her love for Bertram, stimulating the Countess to assist Helena's plan to pursue Bertram. In 3.4 he reads aloud Helena's letter to the Countess telling of her departure from Rossillion so that Bertram, now her unwilling husband, may live there in peace. This letter touchingly reveals the wretchedness of Helena's position.  The Steward's name—rendered by different editors as Rynaldo, Rinaldo, and Reynaldo—is mentioned only (in 3.4.19, 29) after his role is almost complete. Many commentators think that this offers a glimpse of Shakespeare's creative processes, for he appears to have been continually developing even this minor character as he wrote. 


The soldiers are any of several troop members in the army of Florence. The First Soldier is the pretended interpreter during the interrogation of Parolles. In 4.1 and 4.3 Parolles is captured by the First Lord, who proposes to demonstrate the foppish courtier's cowardice and treachery to his deluded friend, Bertram. The captors pretend to speak a foreign language so that their victim will not realize that they are French, and the First Soldier pretends to interpret between the Lord and the prisoner.  Parolles treasonably discloses secrets, and the First Soldier induces him to insult the Lords and Bertram, which maintains a humorous tone to the scene. The Second Soldier is a messenger who is sent in 4.1 to tell Bertram of Parolles' capture. His submission to orders helps suggest the strength and efficiency of the military, which is contrasted with the cowardice and treason of Parolles.



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