Alls Well That Ends Well condensed

In the south of France near its border with Spain and the Mediterranean lies a region named Rossillion, a beautiful region we’re sure.  The Count of Rossillion has just died.  His attending physician, Gerard de Narbon, also has recently died.  The Count’s wife and son, the Countess and Bertram, and the physician’s daughter, Helen, are the play’s leads.  Bertram and Helen are young, probably teenagers. Helen has a crush on Bertram. The Countess has been charged with overseeing Helen’s well-being, she saying “Her father bequeathed her to me.”

Act 1. Bertram is too young to succeed his father as the Count of Rossillion.  He has been called to Paris by the king to attend the king under a guardianship.  Helen’s heart is broken over the thought of Bertram going to Paris, leaving her there in Rossillion. We learn that France’s king has an intractable medical problem. Resourceful Helen comes up with a solution; a solution that might solve her personal predicament.  Her father bequeathed her his best prescriptions. She wants to believe that she can through her father’s medications restore the king to good health. Her greater plan, of course, is to get closer to Bertram. A regional war in Italy has broken out between Siena and Florence. Bertram arrives in Paris and is warmly greeted by the king who reminisces about his good times with his father. The king asks Bertram about the physician who attended his father, saying other physicians have “worn me out with several applications.”  Back in Rossillion, Helen tells the Countess that she’s going to Paris to help the king with her father’s “prescriptions of rare and proved effects.”

Act 2. French soldiers leave for the Italian conflict just as Helen arrives in Paris, the king telling the young men “to go not to woo honor but to wed it.” Having good connections, Helen arranges for an audience with the king. She tells the king that she has a “medicine that’s able to breathe life into a stone.”  She tells him who she is. He responds “I knew him.” She makes a persuasive case, her prescription being “the dearest of her father’s practice.” The king rejects her offer. She persists, countering “not helping, death’s my fee. But if I help, what do you promise me?”  The king takes the bait. She suggests that if she cures him that he might help her get the husband of her choice. He agrees. The king is restored to health. Helen says her choice for a husband is Bertram. Reluctantly, Bertram accepts the king’s suggestion, the king being fairly firm. They marry. He promptly leaves for the Tuscan wars. He sends her to Rossillion.

Act 3. Bertram sends a common letter to his mother and to Helen that includes the line “Show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband.”  A despondent but determined Helen leaves that night on a pilgrimage to the shrine at Saint Jacques. On the way to the shrine, Helen meets the Widow of Florence and her daughter, Diana. They take Helen in. In their small talk, the Widow and Diana ask Helen if they know of a Frenchman, a Count Rossillion. Helen responds “but by the ear. His face I know not.” They say they hear he has “married against his liking.” Helen says “I know his lady.” Bertram has been showing interest in Diana. He plans to visit her that very night. Helen has a suggestion: let her replace Diana in the dark bedroom, early in the morning. The Widow and Diana agree to the plan. Helen plans to talk Bertram out of his ancestral ring, handed down over generations.

Act 4. Helen, as Diana, meets Bertram for an intimate interlude in the dark bedroom, late that dark night. The ancestral ring is transferred and the other part of the bargain is kept.  Earlier, Diana had told Bertram that “on your finger in the night I’ll put another ring, that what in time proceeds may represent to the future our past deeds.”  Consumed with desire, an oblivious Bertram says “A heaven on earth I have won by wooing thee.” He accepts the ring. Helen, the Widow and Diana travel to Marseilles with hopes to meet with the king.  

Act 5. The king has left Marseilles for Rossillion by the time the ladies arrive. In Rossillion the king learns that it’s been reported that Helen died on her way to the shrine at Saint Jacques.  Bertram has agreed to marry the daughter of a friend of the king’s. He gives the prospective bride’s father his new ring “as a favor to sparkle in the spirits of my daughter.”  The prospective bride’s father shows the ring to the king who notes “this ring was mine, and then I gave it to Helen.”  Bertram denies the possibility. Bertram is taken away. The king reads a letter from Diana implicating Bertram. Bertram is recalled. Diana shows Bertram’s ancestral ring to the king, but refuses to tell him how she came to have it. He sends her to prison. She tells her mother to “fetch my bail.” The Widow returns with a pregnant Helen. Helen reads Bertram’s earlier letter which in part read “Call me husband when from my finger you can get this ring and are by me with child.”  Helen wins (if that’s the right word) Bertram as her husband.  He says “I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly.”