All’S Well That Ends Well

By William Shakespeare
June 1 2007
directed by Lynne Collins

The King of France is ill with a mysterious disease that his physicians have failed to cure. The only doctor capable of curing his disease is dead, but his books and papers (now in his daughter Helena's possession) contain a cure. Helena lives under the guardianship of the Countess of Rousillon, and is in love with the Countess' son, Bertram. Forced to attend the King at court and denied permission to fight in Italy, Bertram does not reciprocate Helena's feelings, scorning her lower social status. To gain Bertram's hand in marriage Helena makes a deal with the King: if she can cure his disease, she may wed the man of her choice. Helena restores the King to health and selects the obdurate Bertram as her husband. Shortly after the wedding ceremony, Bertram, along with the scoundrel Parolles, leave to fight for the Duke of Florence in Italy. Upon his departure, Bertram makes it clear that he will never accept Helena as his wife unless she obtains the ring from his finger and becomes pregnant with his child. Disguised as a religious pilgrim, Helena follows Bertram. Once in Italy, she learns that Bertram has been seducing many young women and is now attracted to the beautiful Diana. Helena reveals her true identity to Diana and solicits her help. In exchange for his ring, Diana allows Bertram to come to her room. He spends the night with a woman he thinks is Diana, not realizing, thanks to Shakespeare's so-called "bed trick," that he is sharing a bed with his true wife, Helena. Rumors circulate in France that Helena has died. Bertram returns to face the disapproval of his mother and the King, convincing the King that he loved Helena but did not realize it until her death. The King pardons Bertram and prepares him for a new marriage. Diana arrives, insisting Bertram marry her as promised and produces Bertram's ring as proof of their contract. Since she will not disclose where she obtained the ring, Diana is threatened with imprisonment, and Bertram himself faces a penalty for Helena's death. Helena appears and confesses that she was the woman with Bertram in Diana's room and that she is pregnant with his child. As his two conditions for marriage have been fulfilled, Bertram promises to love Helena as his wife, and consequently makes "all well." -Greg Thorson, Dramaturg
-Melinda J. Scott, Editor

Date Time
Friday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

The King of France is ill with a mysterious disease that his physicians have failed to cure. The only doctor capable of curing his disease is dead, but his books and papers (now in his daughter Helena's possession) contain a cure. Helena lives under the guardianship of the Countess of Rousillon, and is in love with the Countess' son, Bertram. Forced to attend the King at court and denied permission to fight in Italy, Bertram does not reciprocate Helena's feelings, scorning her lower social status. To gain Bertram's hand in marriage Helena makes a deal with the King: if she can cure his disease, she may wed the man of her choice. Helena restores the King to health and selects the obdurate Bertram as her husband. Shortly after the wedding ceremony, Bertram, along with the scoundrel Parolles, leave to fight for the Duke of Florence in Italy. Upon his departure, Bertram makes it clear that he will never accept Helena as his wife unless she obtains the ring from his finger and becomes pregnant with his child. Disguised as a religious pilgrim, Helena follows Bertram. Once in Italy, she learns that Bertram has been seducing many young women and is now attracted to the beautiful Diana. Helena reveals her true identity to Diana and solicits her help. In exchange for his ring, Diana allows Bertram to come to her room. He spends the night with a woman he thinks is Diana, not realizing, thanks to Shakespeare's so-called "bed trick," that he is sharing a bed with his true wife, Helena. Rumors circulate in France that Helena has died. Bertram returns to face the disapproval of his mother and the King, convincing the King that he loved Helena but did not realize it until her death. The King pardons Bertram and prepares him for a new marriage. Diana arrives, insisting Bertram marry her as promised and produces Bertram's ring as proof of their contract. Since she will not disclose where she obtained the ring, Diana is threatened with imprisonment, and Bertram himself faces a penalty for Helena's death. Helena appears and confesses that she was the woman with Bertram in Diana's room and that she is pregnant with his child. As his two conditions for marriage have been fulfilled, Bertram promises to love Helena as his wife, and consequently makes "all well." -Greg Thorson, Dramaturg
-Melinda J. Scott, Editor

Charles II was restored to the English throne in 1660, after a period of Puritan rule. Upon his return, the King reopened the theaters of London, which had been closed by the Puritan government in his absence. The reopening of the theatres marks the first appearance of female actors on the English stage. Lynne Collins' production of All's Well That Ends Well begins as a rehearsal of the play in England in the year 1660. During this rehearsal, actresses arrive and assume their roles from the men who have been playing them. The male actor who plays Helena must surrender his role to a female, and take on the role of Bertram. As the shifting gender roles in All's Well That Ends Well are explored, we see the working relationships and male dominance of the theatre undergo an historic change. Just as Bertram and Helena grapple with changes in the nature of love and courtship during the course of the play, the actors portraying these characters must adjust to a new set of gender roles and partnerships. After intermission the play moves from the framework of a rehearsal hall to a fully realized production complete with costumes, sets, and lighting. Here, the actors' characterizations are thoroughly developed and we see a new paradigm of gender relationships inform the resolution of the play. -Greg Thorson, Dramaturg
-Melinda J. Scott, Editor

Role Reversal and Gender Reflection Considered one of William Shakespeare's problem plays, All's Well That Ends Well presents germane questions about gender roles and identity, particularly in the two central characters, Helena and Bertram. Helena assumes the assertive role traditionally ascribed to masculinity, as she actively pursues Bertram's affection. Bertram, unlike the typical male hero, is not allowed to choose his wife, as the King has determined his marriage to Helena. Bertram's powerlessness in marriage frustrates him, and threatens his manhood. Through this juxtaposition of the traditional romantic couple, Shakespeare explores issues of gender that are relevant to our contemporary age. In the Elizabethan era, men dominated the practice of medicine. Shakespeare's portrayal of Helena provides a unique and early characterization of the female professional. Helena uses medical knowledge to cure the King and to take control of her romantic future. By concocting a plot that allows her to obtain Bertram she exhibits aggressive and masculine attributes. Bertram lacks the receptive characteristics typically assigned to the female, and robbed of the ability to choose his mate, he is confounded. In the fashion of the wronged heroine, Bertram's recourse is to flee the forced union. In an effort to reestablish his masculinity, he pursues the glories of battle by joining the warfare in Italy. Through his depiction of rising female authority Shakespeare articulates notions of gender that are pertinent to modern life. With the elevation of Nancy Pelosi to Speaker of the House and the serious consideration of Hilary Clinton's presidential candidacy, we are witnessing first-hand the struggle powerful women face in gaining authority and acceptance. Much like Helena, opponents of Pelosi and Clinton seek to marginalize them for their assertive qualities. As the marginalized find their place within the mainstream of society, they bring new and forceful ideas to the table; this is exemplified in All's Well That Ends Well when Helen's intelligence and assertiveness saves the King's life. The evolution of an egalitarian society can be difficult, but as Shakespeare dramatizes in All's Well That Ends Well the reception of viewpoints previously seen as unorthodox, once embraced, revitalize and enhance our world. -Greg Thorson, Dramaturg
-Melinda J. Scott, Editor