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The meaning and origin of the expression: All's well that ends well

All's well that ends well

What's the meaning of the phrase 'All's well that ends well'?

The problems and pitfalls of an enterprise are justified and forgotten, so long as everything turns out well in the end.

What's the origin of the phrase 'All's well that ends well'?

The meaning and origin of the expression 'All's well that ends well'.'Given that Shakespeare wrote 'All's Well That Ends Well' over 400 years ago it might be assumed that he coined the expression. In fact it was a proverb long before it was a play title. The Middle English Dialogue between Reason & Adversity, circa 1425 describes the saying as 'this olde prouerbe'.

The earliest version known in print is in the 13th century English prose poem The Proverbs of Hendyng:

Wel is him þat wel ende mai.
[Well is him that may end well.]

John Heywood was probably the first to put the proverb into the form we can now decipher - albeit in Early Modern English. He included it in A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546:

Lovers live by love, ye as larkes live by leekes
Saied this Ales, muche more then halfe in mockage.
Tushe (quoth mine aunte) these lovers in dotage
Thinke the ground beare them not, but wed of corage
They must in all haste, though a leafe of borage
Might by all the substance that they can fell.
Well aunt (quoth Ales) all is well that endes well.

Shakespeare was well acquainted with Heywood's work and wrote All's Well That Ends Well in 1601. It is not only as the title of the play, but line appears in the text too.

Yet, I pray you:
But with the word the time will bring on summer,
When briers shall have leaves as well as thorns,
And be as sweet as sharp. We must away;
Our wagon is prepared, and time revives us:
All's well that ends well; still the fine's the crown;
Whate'er the course, the end is the renown.

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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