The Character and the Conclusion: Bertram and the Ending of ‘All's Well That Ends Well.’"

The ending of All's Well that Ends Well has been a problem for critics. Yet some of the difficulties have been spawned by a critical unwillingness to watch the character Bertram closely as he moves through the play. For the most part the reconciliation and Bertram's "conversion" at the conclusion of All's Well have been explained in the same way that the conclusion of Measure for Measure has been explained. But, as obvious as it may sound, Bertram is not Angelo, and our responses to the conclusions of the plays are not interchangeable. In Shakespeare's Sexual Comedy (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), pp. 152-3, Hugh M. Richmond, writing of Bertram, states: "For once, the naked truth about adolescent passions is objectively presented without any of the offsetting virtues which make the behavior of a Romeo tolerable." Richmond may go too far but he is close to the central point: the audience is dealing with the passion of a foolish adolescent. In a recent essay, W. W. Bernhardt argues that Troilus and Cressida achieves a certain unity through the character of Troilus whom Shakespeare presents as a "very confused young man." To respond properly to the reconciliation at the end of All's Well we must recognize Bertram's character: he has been a foolish boy throughout the entire play-something that cannot be said about Angelo.