Lavatch is a cantankerous, pessimistic clown and servant of the Countess of Rossillion. He provides some comic relief in the play, usually in somewhat lascivious prose that espouses his gloomy world view. He is the lowest character on the totem pole in the play, so unscrupulous that even Parolles calls him a knave. He has an affair with Isabel, a servant, and gets her pregnant. He decides to marry her, but later changes his mind. Lavatch is the one older character in the play who is unwise, proving that age and wisdom do not always go together.
Mentor and confidant to Bertram, Parolles is a social climber and a scoundrel. On the other hand, he exhibits more self-awareness than Bertram and speaks several languages. He dresses in flashy clothes that border on the ridiculous and does not put his intelligence to good use. He is a prime example of a miles gloriosus, a boastful soldier, which was a stock character type in Shakespeare’s day. He also has qualities of a servus callidus, a tricky slave, another type of stock character. The first glimpse of his false allegiance to Bertram is when he tells Lafew that Bertram is not his master; he answers only to God. This displays his arrogance and disloyalty; Parolles is in service to the Count of Rossillion, and likewise is expected to remain steadfast, especially so when he follows Bertram into battle. But he betrays Bertram in Florence when he is captured and tricked into believing he is about to be tortured. His boasts and deceit finally bring about his unmasking, at last enlightening Bertram as to his true character. Parolles is quick to realize he has been a fool, suffers humiliation, and assumes a new veneer of humbleness in accepting Lafew’s mercy, which will enable him to remain in Rossillion.
Parolles has a long conversation with Helena in the first act. They discuss her virginity in rather flirtatious terms. One wonders why Helena would choose to confide in Parolles, a man whose advice she would almost certainly never take. For his part, Parolles tells Helena that virginity is a handicap. The longer she preserves it, the more danger she is in of becoming damaged goods. That Parolles would give such advice to a young woman so highly regarded by the countess speaks of his contempt for those in authority as well as his lax morals.
Critics praise Shakespeare for his creation of Parolles, a character not found in Boccaccio’s version of the tale, whether they like him or not. He appears in thirteen of the play’s twenty-three scenes, and some consider the scene of his unmasking (the longest scene in the play) to be the structural center of the play (especially since the critical scene of the bedtrick occurs offstage). Parolles is responsible for most of the laughter (albeit scant) in the play, and although he is generally regarded as a liar, a coward, a fop, and a character lacking in honor and principle, he is essential to the plot.
For many, Parolles is a more interesting character than Bertram. Some directors have created versions of the play that revolve more around Parolles than Helena, and some renowned actors have been attracted to the part, most notably Laurence Olivier in a 1927 production. Some critics debate whether or not Parolles is a bad influence on Bertram, or if they are simply like minds that have found each other. Fraser believes that ‘‘Parolles is an extension of Bertram.’’
The Widow Capilet is Diana’s mother, and she runs the inn in Florence where Helena stays on her pilgrimage to Saint Jacques le Grand. She tells Helena that Bertram has been trying to seduce Diana. When Helena proposes the bedtrick as a way to fulfill her wifely duties and save Diana’s virginity in the process, the Widow reluctantly agrees because she sympathizes with Helena’s predicament. Afterward, she accompanies Diana and Helena back to Rossillion at the end of the play. When Diana presents the bedtrick to the king and others, the Widow is excused to fetch Diana’s bail, which is revealed to be Helena herself.
(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