Duke of Florence
The Duke of Florence welcomes Bertram and Parolles when they escape Paris to fight the war. He is allied with France in a war against Sienna, another province of what would later become Italy.
King of France
The King of France represents a dying breed of nobility, one in which honor and virtue are supremely important. When the play opens, he is suffering from a debilitating illness, fistula, in which some of his internal organs have developed abscesses. He is nostalgic for the past and has fond memories of Bertram’s father, the former Count of Rossillion. Helena, who has followed Bertram to Paris, offers to heal the king. When she succeeds, the king is grateful and generous, giving her a valuable ring, allowing her to choose a husband from among his noblemen. When Bertram rejects Helena for being common, the king offers her a title and a dowry.
The king forbids Bertram from traveling to Florence to fight in the war, stating that the count is too young. He is protective of his troops and makes sure they are trained sufficiently. He is ambivalent about Florence’s war with Sienna and allows his men to choose which side they will fight for. When the bed-trick is revealed at the play’s conclusion, the king is pleased that all has worked out, and he allows Diana to choose a husband. This gesture shows that, although he is grateful and gives generous rewards, he has not learned his lesson. He offered Helena the same reward, which led to the chain of events that caused Diana to be there in the first place. However, the king’s actions most likely rescue Diana (and her mother) from a life of poverty, proving he is much more forgiving of class differences than Bertram, despite possessing the ultimate title. His actions prove him to be cautious, thoughtful, and ultimately benevolent.
Lafew is an elderly lord, a friend and confidant of the countess. He is quick to perceive the true character of Parolles, calls him a knave (an unscrupulous person), ridicules his flashy clothes, and warns Bertram against him. Lafew travels to Paris with Bertram, and he is one of Helena’s strongest defenders. When the king allows her to choose a husband, he wishes he were young enough to be considered. Even though Lafew represents the old guard—he would have been close to Bertram’s father— and his values are somewhat traditional, he is still a good judge of character and is capable of forgiveness. His sympathy and kindness become apparent at the end of the play when he assures the unmasked and humiliated Parolles that he will not be tossed out of the palace.
(extracted from) Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007