The play begins at the court of the Countess where the Countess’s son, Bertram prepares to leave for the King’s court. The King’s health worries the country and many believe that he will die in a short time. The King’s impending death sparks a discussion about the death of other characters, namely the Countess’s husband and the father of the Countess’s ward, Helena.
Helena is in love with Bertram but because they come from different social backgrounds she knows that a relationship between the two of them is almost impossible. When Helena hears that Bertram will leave for the court, she comes up with a plan that will take her closer to him.
The Countess also finds about Helena’s love and Helena admits that she has feelings for the Countess’s son. Helen also tells her mistress that she plans to leave for the court as well and try to become a doctor, putting to good use what her father taught her. While the Countess expresses her belief that it will not be easy to be accepted at the court, she gives Helena her blessing and sends her to the court.
At the court, some of the noblemen prepare to go to war in Italy while the King remains at court because of his health. Bertram is among the noblemen who also remain at court, claiming that the King ordered him to stay.
Helena comes in as well, claiming to have a cure for the King’s illness. The King is reluctant to let her give him the medicine but Helen convinces him, claiming that if it doesn’t work, it would do no harm. Helena is willing to bet her life that the cure will work and what she asks for in return is that the King let her marry whomever she wants to. The cure works and the King prepares for her some of the noblemen in the court to choose from. Helena choses instead Bertram but he refuses to marry her, claiming that her low birth makes her an unsuitable wife. The King is shocked to hear Bertram talk in that manner about Helena and tells him that he does not marry Helena, he will take away his titles.
Bertram agrees to marry Helena but claims that he will never consummate the marriage and that he will go to war and send his new wife to his mother. Bertram parts from Helena and he leaves for the battlefield accompanied only by Parolles.
Helena returns to her mother in law and there he receives a letter from her husband telling her that when she will be pregnant with his child and have his ring he will return home. Knowing that there is no way she can achieve those things, Helena decides to leave the Countess’s castle, knowing that Bertram will not return to his home until she leaves. Thus, she writes a letter to the Countess, telling her that she will begin a pilgrimage to a monastery.
In the third act, Helena arrives in Florence and Bertram is there as well. Helena begins talking with a few women who know Bertram and she finds that her husband tried to convince a young girl, Diana, to have sexual relationships with him. Diana however resisted his advantages and is advised to continue doing so by an older woman referred to as being the Widow.
Helena reveals her true identity and convinces the Widow help her regain her husband. Together, they plan to use Diana seduce Bertram and convince him to give her his ring as a token of his love. Then, Diana will take Bertram to her bedchamber and will switch with Helena who will be waiting for them. Helena will take thus Diana’s place and she and her husband will consummate their marriage.
Meanwhile, Parolles is convinced by the other soldiers to go and try retrieving the lost drum from the battlefield. Losing the drum meant that the army was disgraced but recovering it would mean venturing into dangerous territory. Blinded by his own foolishness, Parolles boasts how he will retrieve the drum on his own. The other soldiers however plan to expose Parolles for who he is and come with an elaborate plan to capture Parolles and make him believe that he was captured by the enemy. In front of his superiors, Parolles cracks under the pressure and give up every secret he knows about the army.
Meanwhile, a letter reaches Bertram from his mother, informing him that Helena has died. The war also ends and the army returns to Paris, to the court. Helena, Diana and the Widow follow the army as well, determined to reveal the truth about Bertram’s true character.
Once the army reaches the court, Helena reveals herself, shows the ring her husband gave to Diana and tells her husband that she is pregnant with his child. Faced with the new situation, Bertram is forced to admit that his wife had won and agrees to live with her as her husband and love her for the rest of their life.