Some Thoughts on All’s Well that End’s Well

“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to heaven.”

Helena is going to pursue Bertram, although it will be anything but easy. Helena cures the King and asks to be granted one request: the count’s hand in marriage. She accomplishes the King’s restoration with her apothecaries which were from her late deceased father who was a physician. She was lucky enough to have her father’s medicine at her disposal, but she had to be most persistant & optimistic for it to actually help her cause. She even hazards her own life against the success of her father’s remedies. The non-pareil of courage & dauntlessness, she is one of Shakespeare’s ultimate examples of fearlessness and bravery. She couldn’t of asked the King for Bertram’s hand in marriage unless she had nursed the King back to health with her father’s physic, and don’t forget she set her own life on the pass line. She discovers what she wants and pursues it with a boldness all her own. She is the paragon of courage in Shakespeare’s comedies, and it inspires us deeply. She is a role-model to anyone that has goals which seem unreachable but in fact are within grasp if we believe & stay the course. She wants Bertram and finds a way to make it happen; this is what makes me so fond of Helena as our heroic protagonist. Although Helena goes through some creative action in order to fulfill Bertram’s two demands: a child by him & his invaluable family ring [one that he promises to never part with], All is Well That Ends Well, and this play certainly does end Well as Bertram promises after learning she has fulfilled his contingencies: if she, my liege, can make me know this clearly, I’ll love her dearly, ever ever dearly. It’s comforting to know that Bertram plans on sticking around this time. We remember earlier when he agreed to marriage [just to appease the King] and then fled for war, planning to never reunite; it made our view of Bertram’s character less than stellar, but in the end, he finally realizes the full bent of Helena’s love & true devotion; which in turn causes him to relent from his stubbornness; he promises that if in fact she has fulfilled his seemingly impossible conditions, he will be her husband. He turns out to be a man of his word. Perhaps he was presaging a motif from The Tempest echoing Prospero’s idea of: this swift business I must uneasy make, lest too light winning make the prize light. What’s earned with toil has a lot more meaning than what is freely gained. Was Bertram a worthy bachelor? It doesn’t really matter that his character was less than perfect [he said some very unkind words in Helena’s prescence], because we don’t know all his motives. Helena fancied him and that’s all that matters. Shakespeare sheds light on the notion that when you love someone, you don’t love them because they are perfect, but rather you love them cuz that’s what your heart feels. Things base and vile, holding no quantity, love can transpose to form and dignity. Yes, Bertram marries Helena and then flees, planning to never reunite, but let’s put our judgmental hat aside and try and look at his character with a dram of sympathy. He is told by the king to marry her as a command and with only one acceptable answer: yes. According to the King, she is young, wise and fair, but these words are spoken by a king just cured of being gravely ill by this very same woman. It would seem that the King is at least in part a bit biased. Perhaps Bertram is accustomed to some idiosyncrasies of Helena’s which he just can’t stand. Or maybe he just doesn’t like the idea of someone choosing for him. We all know how frustrating it would be for someone else to choose with whom we were to be with. That is a personal decision that, I think every person has the right to make. We may be reminded of Portia [in the Merchant of Venice] who laments, “O me, the word choose! I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curb’d by the will of a dead father.” We can replace the words ‘dead father’ with “newly cured King” and ‘living daughter’ with “most eligible bachelor”, and it is the same idea. Bertram has no say in his mate. The King takes away his say in the matter and puts him in a position where if he ultimately refused her, he would lose all honor. The fact that Helena goes through what she does; following him afar amidst dangerous war zones, and employing the bed-trick to have his child shows us that there’s more to her love for Bertram than meets the eye. She obviously loves some things about him that we wouldn’t be able to understand unless we were her. The fact that he is good-looking just isn’t enough to justify her persistent and wholehearted love. There are almost certainly other things she loves about him that we can only imagine what they are; and belike there were things Bertram liked about Helena and perhaps multitudinous yet hidden in his heart; belike Bertrams lesson to Helena was akin to Portia’s father’s remembrance: who chooseth me must give and hazard all {she} hath. After the vicissitudes of her adventure, we can say with confidence Helena satisfied this requirement.


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