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TOPIC: The Character of Helena

The Character of Helena 7 years 7 months ago #121


There is an underlying ambiguity in Helena 's character. Spreading the illustration over the four most disputed moments in All's Well, the virginity repartee, the miraculous cure of the King, the accomplishment of conditions and the bed - trick, one can detect the ''different shades'' of in her character - honourable, passionate, discreet, audacious, romantic, rational, tenacious, forgiving ... She can be sampled out to be basically an idiosyncratic person with her good and bad, positioned within the ''clever wench'' tradition and the ''fulfilling of tasks'' folk tales ( W. W. Lawrence ) which necessitates that she should behave with a determination. The whole ambiguity in Helena ensues from unrealistic dramaturgy and realistic conception of women. Throughout the play, one sees Helena jostling ingenuousness with sexuality and at times there seems to be two Helenas, one who is conventionally tame and the other who is actively all out ... a love - sick Juliet that is ready at the end to expose her darling 's ill practices. One could compare Helena with Isabella in Measure for Measure, since the characters are engulfed by different circumstances that demand each of them to act differently. Isabella is a religious figure while Helena is only love-driven.

Helen ... virtue in action ?

All other characters contribute to the promotion of Helena as a virtuous character and though in Act. II Sc. v Bertram addresses her with ''here comes my clog'' he does not diminish her already cultivated uprightness which forgoes inherited wealth and nobility. The Countess is convinced that she has a noble virtue that her son cannot achieve through his valour in war. Her virtues were assigned to her by her father and by Heaven to whose intervention she ascribes all her ability to cure the King. Somehow, she is that ''semi-divine person or some type of new saint'' in fighting for what is genuine and lawful and personifies virtue in action. This Christ projection with which W. Knights endows her could have been further sustained by showing that it is rooted in what Lefaw says in Act II Sc. iii :-

They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless. Hence it is that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear.

The King admits an '' undoubtly blest '' power in this ''poor physician's daughter'' and he submits. He proposes her to Bertram as '' virtue and she were own dower, honour and wealth from me.'' The Countess is made in Act III Sc. ii to prefer her for her proper son and yet she further goes on to claim her as '' the most virtuous gentlewoman, that ever Nature had praised for creating '' - Act IV Sc. v. Later Helena is the ''jewel'' ( another Cressida ) which Bertram has shamefully thrown away.

It was thereby justified to ask ''How come this virtuous Helena allows herself to converse with Parolles ... and ... to accept Bertram 's love in its lowest levels during the bed - trick ? Is her virtue ethically satisfying ? During the bed- trick, she is only demanding her rights as a wife.

Let us assay our plot; which, if it speed, Is wicked meaning in a lawful deed, And lawful meaning in a lawful act, Where both not sin, and yet a sinful fact ...but let's about it. (Act III Sc. vii )

Was she actually his wife ? She was formally so, yet Bertram did not perceive her as such and his intent to bed Diana, fully conscious of committing adultery, proves so. Can Helena be striving to consummate her marriage, to make sure that she has Bertram totally in her hands ? The "angel of salvation" wanted Bertram's untainted personality all for herself - it could be interpreted as a selfish desire. She is more of an active Mariana seeking her man. She was as from earlier in the play afraid of the court's attractions and variety of women. She is almost certain that, like any other nobleman in those days, Bertram will have alongside with public affairs those more private ( intimate ) ... ''there shall your master have a thousand loves ... the court's a learning place '' . Somehow Bertram can be vindicated - he was forced into marrying.

Is Helena in love with Bertram or with her own interest ?

Helena's dialogue with the Countess provides an answer to what may seem an evident question - did her love emanate from the wish to improve her social status ? When at last constrained to admit her love she insists on it being ''honest'' and she shows that somehow she still has that humble passivity that puts her within the conventional framework :-

''I follow him not By token of presumptuous suit.''

Though critics interpret this as sheer hypocrisy, the countess knows that ''so true a flame of liking compels Helena to'' wish chastely and love dearly ''. A close reference to Helena 's solilquies and the strategic postion of the second - after the virginity repartee illustrates the progression of her love. With Helena, love is a compelling power that hates remaining ideal as Troilus 's. She is more of a Desdemona who loves her man''to live with him''. This active role fits her in what A.P. Rossiter says ''a possessive passion for her man, an unconquerable determination; an accomplished opportunism and a good head for scheming ''. ''Nor would I have him till I do deserve him '' shows that a beam of light shines after her denials ... she knows of how to actually deserve him. There is an element of risk in her schemes to achieve Bertram 's love. She puts herself with'' the luckiest stars in Heaven '' and is willing''to risk a fate worse than death'' - dishonour. This can be seen when she tells the King :-

Tax of impudence, A strumpet 's boldness, a divulged shame, Traced by odious ballads; my maiden 's name Seared otherwise; ne worse of worst, extended With vilest torture, let my life be ended.

Where is Shakespeare's sympathy ?

The sympathy lies with Helena. She is twice as much a victim (Shaw) since she is a woman with a low birth history. The ending is puzzling, though. When Helena fulfills Bertram's conditions, she turns to seek not her Lord but the King (Act IV Sc.iv), maybe because public recognition of her right is essential. Yet this is not all-satisfying - ll yet seems well, and if it end so meet...'' V Sc iii ). In her soliloquy in Act III Sc. ii, she vividly imagines Bertram 's danger in war, and ending with a guilty decision to leave Rossillion so that he can return safely. This could be interpreted as Shakespeare 's endeavor to elicit our sympathy and clear any accusation of her being only a schemer. The ending was expected by the audience within this kind of plot. Moreover, Helena could be seen as a tool used by the playwright in the exposé to skim off any rightness that might have stuck upon Bertram. The traditions within which Shakespeare is working all work against Helena being human.

Helena ... a conventional horror ?

Helena is as an active woman - maybe infringing her conventional feminine boundaries. The wench determined to emancipate her position, a scheming hypocrite and the manipulator of the innocent widow and Diana. Then this 'devilish' activity is miraculously transformed into being a 'saintly' one. Helena is a character that wavers in between these extremes but she is also the docile woman. Throughout the play there are instances such as in the husband choosing scene - Act II Sc.iii - where she is presented as passionately yielding herself in lifelong service to Bertram and when the latter disapproves, she recoils saying '' that you are well restored my lord I'm glad. Let the rest go''. After the marriage she listens to Parolles' delivery of Bertram's biddings answering only ''In everything I wait upon his will''. In Act II Sc. iv one sees her touching the bottom pit of her submission. She ''with true observance'' and ''dutiful service and reverence '' states her resolution to make up for her low birth which Bertram denies. She '' shall not break your bidding, my good Lord''. Even after she muckrakes Bertram she supplicates him ''Will you be mine ?'' It looks like that until she has a male recognition she is ''but the shadow of a wife''.

The modifications to the sources, Shakespeare did to Helena's character to produce mixed feelings in which the fairy - tale solution, one might like to believe in, is in conflict with the realistic, psychological exposure that is much more convincing.
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