This 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?
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?
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?
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.