English 431B: Advanced Shakespeare

A survey of the works from the second half of William Shakespeare's career

English 431B – Advanced Shakespeare Notes

All’s Well That Ends Well

Act 1, Scene 1

Career 1590s – 1630s
Alls Well written just past mid-point of career
1602-03
Elizabeth died 1603

Helena dominates the play
Enters the play @ the beginning of the dramatic action
Line 38 Helena cries:

• Mourning the death of her Father

• She also loves Bertram and thinks she can’t ever get him because of class distinction

When a character makes an assertion, it shouldn’t be taken as gospel

• Subject to ambience, other factors

Helena’s soliloquy starts at line 85 uses hyperbole

“There’s no living, none, if Bertram be away”

“Must die for love. ‘Twas pretty, though a plague…”

Idolatrous – image of a god (idol) used as an object of worship or denote any object of excessive devotion

There is a truth to what Helena is saying, she prizes Bertram above all others.

Very class-conscious society, very rigid and virtually never broached

Helena is an orphaned daughter of Gerard de Narbon

Line 93 she says “he is so above me”

Line 223 and on…

“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, …”

“Mine eye” brings imagery of Falcon, hunting

Helena is the hunter

Nature imagery of bringing distant things together… “To kiss like native things”

Helena was fated to be with Bertram because she “hunts” him

Helena challenges power and gender conventions

Elizabethan England society – Puritans

* Becoming increasingly prominent

• Believed in predestination (everything already decided and known by God)

  • Free-will still exists, but God already decided what will happen

Relationship between God’s power and human’s free will is a major theme of this last soliloquy

French theologian John Calvin emphasized this conundrum 

She stands for the individualistic perspective, free-will, sounds almost “American,” “can—do attitude”

Helena doesn’t ignore the powers-that-be (i.e. God)

“My project may deceive me…”

Helena believes Bertram and her are suited by “nature”

New/revolutionary way of world-view from Helena, class won’t matter, merit-based status in society (modern attitude)

This speech was bold/daring on the part of Shakespeare

Like many other heroines of Shakespeare’s comedies, women initiate, give force to love relationships

Only text that centers on ONE love relationship

Without soliloquies she would be an undefined character

Helena is given introspective soliloquies

There’s a lot we need to know about this woman, but we never know it all.

Helena is much given to secrecy.

Unlike other female characters, she does not assume a disguise; yet remains opaque throughout the play

What characterizes her speech is indirectness, audience left to make connections.

Line 172 and on…“Not my virginity…”

Parolles: Do I understand what Helena is talking about?

What: Wishes? Friends? Pity?

Petrarch invented Sonnets; Shakespearean sonnets are different rhyme scheme

Couplets used in this play to make things very settled, straight-forward (not always though)

Helena’s couplets give impression of being straightforward, but it’s only a masquerade

Every transaction between two people is overshadowed by class structure

Helena has grown up alone on the periphery of a great aristocratic household, although she has no claim to be there. Has no money of her own and no status.

Living at Roussillon at the expense of the Countess.

Parolles (name means words) is gutless throughout play.

Juxtaposition between Parolles and Helena.

Helena is most thoughtful/intelligent

King leads Helena in a coranto (lively dance) after he gets well

• She has a sexual effect on King

What is striking is her duality of character; she is modestly shy, obedient and docile around superiors

When in the presence of Parolles she can be ribbled (joking, often about sex).

• Very different from other comedies, which lies in how intimate relations are presented. Linked with cynicism, appears later in the play (the bed-trick).

For Shakespeare is a radically new strong woman character in his plays

Bertram never chases Helena, in fact often runs away from her

Male lead: Bertram is very different, comic characterization that has no counter-part in earlier Shakespeare’s work

Line 3-5 Countess says “In delivering my son from me I bury a second husband…”

Line 75: “Tis an unseasoned courtier; good my lord, // Advise him.”

Pejorative, sort of insults Bertram’s character

Blood indicates imagery of passion

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