All’s Well That Ends Well
By: William Shakespeare
Helena, physician’s daughter of humble birth, cures the King of France, and in return is promised the hand of any nobleman she wishes. But the man she chooses, the proud young Bertram, Count of Rosillion, flees to Florence, refusing to consent to the forced marriage unless Helena can pass two seemingly impossible tests. But with the help of the virginal Diana and her mother, Helena uses her wits and wiles to coerce Bertram into submission.
I’m honestly not entirely sure what compelled me to pick up this play as I’ve read this story is so problematic. I think it was seeing bits from a stage production that prompted me to check it out for myself. Also, not that I have paperback copy, but isn’t book over the Modern Library edition of this play so pretty? One of my favourites, I think 🙂
So yes, oh gosh, the whole “problematic” aspect of this play really lies with Bertram. Remember when I was complaining about Claudius and Hero’s story from Much Ado About Nothing (review) and just couldn’t agree with how it turned out the first time I read it? I take it back, Bertram brings a whole new level of WTF in Shakespeare, I’ve labelled him the second biggest jerk in all of Shakespeare in my books (I was going to say the biggest, but then I remember Iago from Othello (review)). Bertram is spoiled and careless; okay, fine if he’s still a naive boy at heart who doesn’t have a clue and he doesn’t want the responsibilities of marriage and has only started figuring out his role as heir of his father’s title, but a) he’s so mean (I’m referring to the letter he sends her) to sweet and awesome Helena and b) he attempts to seduce Diana? Sure, it was after he heard that Helena had “died” but yeah, no.
So naturally one of my favourite scenes is in…was it Act II when Helena chooses Bertram to be her husband and Bertram’s like “Noooo, I won’t marry her, she’s just a physician’s daughter” and the king basically calls him out on his crap, names all of Helena’s virtues and how awesome she is despite coming from a lower class, and pretty much drags him for his behaviour. I especially chuckled when Helena tried to calm the king down and he’s like “Nope, now my honour’s on the line and he’s going to do what he’s told.” I’m not sure how old the king is supposed to be in this play, but maybe he should’ve just married Helena himself, he appreciated her so much more.
But yeah, what Bertram did was a pretty dick move, running off to war and writing that mean letter to her. Even his own mother was like “I don’t know him, ugh.” -_-; And poor Helena, she loves him so much, went through so much to make it possible to be with him (going to the king with the confidence that she has what will cure him, and asking for the ability to choose her husband regardless of rank) and to hear him say he won’t have her out loud in front of the court must’ve been so heartbreaking for her ;_;. But she’s so kind and so full of love and she still works to find a way to be with him/get him to come around. Helena is one of the reasons why I stuck through the play, she’s a great character, smart and grounded ad striving to make her dreams a reality. It’s kind of Cinderella-like, no? With the king as the fairy godfather and all 😛 But I digress…
There’s a lot of wordplay in this play, back-and-forth between characters. The clown was pretty hilarious, but also trying at times. So was Parolles; he’s such a coward, all words and no action, but he’s still pretty amusing in his own way. And I love how Helena, Diana, and the Widow worked together, it’s such a girl power moment.
Which leads me back to the last scene of the play. On the one hand I had a lot of fun with everyone backing Bertram to a corner for all the crap he was trying to pull while he was in Florence regarding Diana and openness to marry Lafew’s daughter. I could really sense him squirming as I read that segment. But like many, I felt it sudden how his irritation/hatred/whatever feeling you thought Bertram had towards Helena turned to love in one sentence. Are parts of the play missing? Or, more cynically, did he latch on to Helena and promised to love her because she was his exit out of the tight situation he found himself in against the king, Lafew, Diana and her mother, etc.? Helena wins at the end and she gets the guy and it ends well now, but afterwards? =/
So yeah, problematic as it was, All’s Well That Ends Well gets three out of five stars for me because I was invested in Helena and her story. There were also some amusing parts here and there in this play, but Bertram, yeah, no.