Countess: What hope is there of his majesty's amendment?
Lafew: He hath abandoned his physicians, madam, underwhose practices he hath persecuted time with hope, and finds no other advantage in the process but only the losing of hope by time.
Helena has lamented her lack of social status and how it makes her love of Bertram seemingly impossible. "In his bright radiance and collateral light Must I be comforted, not in his sphere. Th'ambition in my love plagues itself." But when she talks with Parolles (whose name is reminiscent of the French "paroles," or words--as if he is all words and no action), we see another facet to her character. She jokes about social status when Parolles approaches her with "Save you, fair queen!" and she responds, "And you, monarch!" "No," says Parolles. "And no," Helena responds. She sports with hierarchy as if it is light, though when she was alone she found it heavy. Later, after Parolles has left, she tumbles the hierarchy of heaven: "Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to heaven. The fated sky Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull."
She is not dull. Her conversation with Parolles shows that she has the power to play with words. Her plan to cure the King that is later revealed demonstrates her ability to act. She relies on herself, not on heaven, to achieve her aim. But are her actions in accordance with heaven, or against natural order? She asks, "What power is it which mounts my love so high? That makes me see, and cannot feed mine eye? The mightiest space in fortune nature brings To join like likes, and kiss like native things. Impossible be strange attempts to those That weigh their pains in sense, and do suppose What hath been cannot be. Who ever strove To show her merit that did miss her love? The King's disease--my project may deceive me, But my intents are fixed and will not leave me."
Helena is a secret revolutionary.
The war is love.
The battle of the sexes is well expressed in her conversation with Parolles about virginity. He begins it with, "Are you meditating on virginity?" She says "ay," and then, "Man is enemy to virginity; how may we barricado it against him?" She asks him how to make warlike resistance. Of course, this is a game. We have seen no man assailing her for her virginity. Instead, she seeks to determine herself who will have her virginity, and she certainly doesn't want barricading against the man she desires. Bertram will be the one barricading himself against her.
"Bless our poor virginity from underminers and blowers-up! Is there no military policy how virgins might blow up men?" And yet she will blow up Bertram...by trumping his arrogant distance, but by losing her virginity, not preserving it.
Both Parolles and Helena have their metaphors for virginity, which express their beliefs about women. Parolles: "Your date is better in your pie and your porridge than in your cheek; and your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears: it looks ill, it eats drily."
To Parolles, a woman is an aging commodity to be consumed.
Photographs: The Virginity of Parolles
He urges her to marry before she dries. "Marry, 'tis a withered pear; it was formerly better; marry, yet 'tis a withered pear! Will you anything with it?"
Photographs: Helena's Virginity
For Helena, her virginity is multi-faceted, a gateway to a series of roles that defines a woman as thinking, feeling, acting, and communicating. "There shall your master have a thousand loves, A mother, and a mistress, and a friend, A phoenix, captain, and an enemy, A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign, A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear..." Parolles does not seem to understand that she is speaking of her virginity and what losing it will lead to. He could believe that she is only referring to what Bertram will find at court, and it is possible that she is speaking dually, that she is saying that Bertram might find those people at court, but also in her.
Parolles has not registered her claims. "Little Helen, farewell" he says, "if I can remember thee, I will think of thee at court." He underestimates her, and she returns this condescension and insult by a false compliment. "Monsieur Parolles, you were born under a charitable star," seemingly acknowledging herself as an object of charity, but then turning the tables by labeling him as under a retrograde Mars, debilitated by cowardice.
"I am so full of businesses I cannot answer thee acutely," Parolles says, again dismissing her importance. His busyness overshadows her. Parolles can be seen as a more gross Bertram. Parolles has neither Bertram's physical appeal, or his status, or his youth, but he has Bertram's condescension towards Helena, and his blindness towards her virtues and possibilities. And he is Bertram's companion. He "goes with him," as Helena says, and is therefore an expression of Bertram's choices. He is an aspect of Bertram.
When Helena says of Parolles, "One that goes with him. I love him for his sake; And yet I know him a notorious liar, Think him a great way fool, solely a coward. Yet these fixed evils sit so fit in him That they take place when virtue's steely bones Looks bleak i' th' cold wind." We must wonder how much her words express the shortcomings of Bertram.
A variety of doubles are created in this scene. The Countess complains of losing a second husband when Bertram goes off to court. Her son has become the double of her husband.
Lafew promises that the King will be a husband to the Countess, and a father to Bertram. The King is now a double for the Count. Because of his sickness, the King may even join the Count in death.
Bertram and Helena are both encouraged to be like their fathers, becoming twins of each other in the upholding of their paternal legacies, and potential doubles to their fathers.
As Helena is encouraged to be like her father, we get a hint of what we will see from her as she leaves the traditional roles of the time behind. She will become a doctor and a suitor.
Helena and Bertram are also double of each other in their relationship to the Countess, who later proclaims that she considers herself Helena's mother. We can even detect a rivalry in Bertram's attitude towards Helena. When Helena receives the Countess's blessing --the Countess's description of Helena's character is a blessing, a declaration of Helena's worthiness ("She derives her honesty and achieves her goodness..."--Bertram says nothing to second his mother's opinion. Helena cries, but Bertram doesn't try to comfort her. Instead, he asks for his own blessing from his mother. "Madam, I desire your holy wishes." The Countess grants him her blessing. "Be thou blest, and succeed thy father In manners as in shape." She gives him advice for living that she did not give Helena, and she leaves.
Bertram then issues Helena a command. "Be comfortable to my mother, your mistress, And make much of her." By seeking to dictate Helena's behavior, he emphasizes his social superiority to her. He treats her only as a means to his mother's happiness.
Lafew, unlike Bertram, gives Helena two compliments. "Farewell, pretty lady. You must hold the credit of your father."
Bertram and Lafew leave. Bertram believes that he is leaving Helena behind and does not comprehend that he is already conjoined with her as a double.
I chose the spoons as metaphor for this joining, which is as much fate in their fathers' deaths and their relationship to the Countess as it is to Helena's love for Bertram. The severed roots in the photographs symbolize the loss of their fathers and their struggles within a family identity.
"BERTRAM: And I in going, madam, weep o'er my father's death anew..."
Photographs: A Drop of Water
Light reflected off the surface of a pot full of water. Drops of water kept falling from the faucet into the pot, making a lens out of dirty dishes.
Later in the scene, we read of Helena, "LAFEW: Your commendations, madam, get from her tears.
COUNTESS: Tis' the best brine a maiden can season her praise in. The remembrance of her father never approaches her heart but the tyranny of her sorrows takes all livelihood from her cheek. No more of this, Helena. Go to, no more, lest it be rather thought you affect a sorrow than to have.
HELENA: I do affect a sorrow indeed, but I have it too.
The Countess raises the issue of authenticity with Helena, but not with her son. He is not weeping, though he speaks of weeping. The appearance of Helena's grief is monitored, but not Bertram's.
When Helena is left alone, she says, "I think not on my father, And these great tears grace his remembrance more Than those I shed for him. My imagination Carries no favour in't but Bertram's. I am undone!"
In the edition I consult, the notes say that "his" remembrance refers to Bertram, and the "him" in "I shed for him" is her father, as if she is mixing pronouns in one sentence. I disagree, and believe that when she writes of gracing his remembrance, it is the remembrance of her father. Her tears for Bertram grace the remembrance of her father because those witnessing them do not know the truth.
There is another layer, too, because it is possible that she desires Bertram more because of the loss of her father. It is her way of grief, without knowing it, and an affirmation of life and loss at once, particularly since she does not think that her desire will not be satisfied. She has transferred her missing her father to the Countess's son.
I use the dirty dishes in my photographs as a metaphor for how the past influences our current projections.
"Enter young BERTRAM, Count of Rossillion, his Mother [the COUNTESS], and HELENA, Lord LAFEW, all in black"
Photographs: Recent Graves
The Countess speaks the first line. "In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband."
Her son answers, "And I in going, madam, weep o'er my father's death anew; but I must attend his majesty's command, to whom I am now in ward, evermore in subjection."
I don't know if I believe in his grief as he expresses it, or in his displeasure of going to court. Throughout the play he seems eager to move, and court is certainly a move to more worldly experience. It is possible that he does chafe under his lack of choice, and that he doesn't have the ability to influence whether he stays or goes. Later we see how he rebels against a lack of marital choice.
Here Bertram complains of the bond of ward, as if he is made more servile than he would like. His father had say of him before; now the King has taken over that right. Perhaps Bertram does feel cornered by authority. He could be both happy to leave, and bristling.
Lafew says, "You shall find of the king a husband, madam; you, sir, a father."
We learn that the King is sick with a problem with his chest. He is a third father, and in danger of following the other two into death. Paternal authority is being undermined by death and illness.
In this blog I will interpret Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" with photographs. I began yesterday by photographing graves, not the typical spring endeavor, but "All's Well That Ends Well" gets its start after the recent deaths of two men.
In the first scene, we meet Bertram and Helena. Bertram has lost his father, the Count, and Helena her father, a renowned physician. My grave photographs represent the losses that propel both characters.