Helena is the daughter of the recently deceased court physician, Gerard de Narbon, from whom she has learned his healing secrets. She has become the ward of the Countess of Rossillion, with whom she has a very maternal relationship, though she has fallen in love with the countess’s son, Bertram. She is disturbed by the thought of being considered the countess’s daughter, because that would make Bertram her brother and her romantic interest in him would be unseemly. Because of these concerns, she admits her love for Bertram to the countess, who is sympathetic to the girl’s predicament. Helena is admired by nearly everyone except Bertram for her charm, beauty, intelligence, and honesty. Her name, as several characters in the play remind her, is equivocal with Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman of Ancient Greece, over whom the Trojan War was fought.
Helena is tormented by the thought of being separated from Bertram when he departs for . . . Read More
Countess of Rossillion
The Countess of Rossillion is Bertram’s mother, and she is still mourning the recent death of her husband. She has also willingly become Helena’s guardian since the young woman’s father, a physician of local renown, has also recently passed away. Kind and generous, the countess exemplifies the best of the noble tradition and encourages Helena’s love for Bertram, even though she thinks her son is foolish and headstrong for rejecting the talented, vivacious girl. The countess rates honesty and virtue higher than valor in battle or nobility of rank, even when this means that she must side against Bertram. She believes her son is old enough to get married, but too young to go into battle. She mourns Bertram’s departure for Paris in the same way she mourns the loss of her husband.
The countess’s fondness for Helena is evident when she tells the girl she loves her as if she were her own daughter. But when Helena offers to . . . Read More
Bertram (Count of Rossillion)
Bertram is the Count of Rossillion. His father has recently died, and his mother, the Countess of Rossillion, is still in mourning. Bertram is quite young, perhaps no more than twenty, and he is eager to join the king’s ranks in Paris and then go off to battle in Florence. Bertram’s best friend is Parolles, but he is oblivious to the fact that Parolles is an opportunist and a scoundrel. Bertram balks at marrying Helena because she is a commoner with no wealth or status. He agrees reluctantly only after the king promises to endow Helena with wealth and a title in order to sweeten the deal. This is evidence of Bertram’s snobbishness, as Helena’s social standing outranks all her other positive qualities in Bertram’s eyes. Finding himself trapped in a marriage to Helena, whom he does not love, he flees to Florence to join the wars. While there, he proves himself valiant on the battlefield, and his reputation as a hero . . . Read More
Act 1, Scene 1
All’s Well That Ends Well opens at the palace in Rossillion, a region in France that borders Spain and the Mediterranean Sea. Here, the Countess of Rossillion mourns her recently deceased husband and the imminent departure of her son, Bertram, the Count of Rossillion, who has been summoned to Paris by the king. The countess and her friend, the elderly Lord Lafew, discuss the king’s poor health and lament that Gerard de Narbon, a famous court doctor who has just died, is not around to heal him. The doctor’s daughter, the beautiful and vivacious Helena, has become the countess’s ward. In a soliloquy, Helena reveals her love for Bertram. Because she is a commoner, there is no hope of them being together, and yet she cannot bear the thought of his departure. Parolles, Bertram’s best friend, whom Helena acknowledges is a liar and a coward, enters and engages Helena in a coarse conversation about the pros and cons of her virginity. Helena . . . Read More
All’s Well That Ends Well was probably written sometime between 1600 and 1605, and many experts date the work to 1603. Others believe that the play is the lost Shakespearean drama titled Love’s Labour Won, which was written before 1598. The first written mention of the play under its current title appeared in 1623, when it was licensed to be printed in Shakespeare’s Folio. Attempts to date the play have involved a bit of detective work regarding some of its language, particularly Helen’s letter to the countess in act 3, which exemplifies Shakespeare’s less-sophisticated early style. Conversely, some critics note similarities between the tone and style of the play with that of Measure for Measure, which was written in 1604. Some commentators have theorized that the uneven nature of the play suggests that it was written at two different times in Shakespeare’s life. This sketchy history indicates that the play did not attract much attention when it was first written and . . . Read More