William Shakespeare's Works/Comedies/All's Well That Ends Well/Act III, Scenes V-VII
Act III, Scenes V-VII
Meanwhile, Helena has gone to Florence, where she overhears a conversation between an old Widow, her daughter Diana, and their neighbor Mariana. It seems that Bertram, who rides by with the Duke of Florence's army as they talk, has been making overtures to Diana, hoping to get her in his bed. Helena joins the discussion, in which the older woman advises Diana to maintain her chastity. The three Florentine women have heard that Bertram has a wife he detests, but are unaware that Helena is the woman. After the conversation, Helena is invited to stay with the Widow.
In the Duke's camp, the First Lord and Second Lord Dumaine advise Bertram not to put his faith in Parolles, because the man is a boastful coward with no military experience and no loyalty. To expose Parolles, they devise a plan: they will goad him into attempting to retrieve his regiment's drum, which was lost on the field of battle (a military disgrace); then, disguises as enemy soldiers, they will "capture" him, blindfold him, and interrogate him, thus demonstrating to Bertram how quickly his loyal friend will turn traitor if his life is threatened. Encountering Parolles, they suggest that the loss of the drum was unimportant, and that he should forget it. Being cocky and boastful, Bertram's companion immediately swears that he will recapture it, or at least make a valiant effort. When he is gone, the two lords laugh, and tell Bertram that Parolles will do no such thing, being a coward. Bertram is skeptical, but invites the Second Lord to accompany him and meet Diana, whom he still plans to bed.
Meanwhile, Helena has revealed her identity to the Widow, and uses a purse of gold to buy her help in a scheme that, Helena hopes, will fulfill her husband's conditions for their marriage.