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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Watercolors of Shakespearean Characters 
~ Bastards, Frauds & Tellers of the Truth  ~


shakespeare, shakespeare’s plays, william shakespeare, shakespearean, shakespeare in art, analysis of shakespeare’s writing, all's well that ends well, helena, art on shakespeare, hannah tompkins, artist hannah tompkins, shakespeare art collection, profiles of shakespearean characters, shakespeare in paintings, alls well that ends well, portia, bertrum, shakespeare art museum
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HELENA in ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
by Hannah Tompkins
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Helena Watercolor by Hannah Tompkins

 

Helena, though living as a gentlewoman in a household of nobility, did not have the inherited advantages of Portia, of being born into title and estate. Her father, a distinguished physician, only left her some useful medical knowledge when he died.

As a heroine, she has certain personal attributes, for she is often described as a romantic, idealistic paragon. Coleridge calls her "Shakespeare's loveliest creature", an opinion shared my many critics who prefer to overlook the more human frailties and contradictions.

For examples the contradiction of her martyr-like "let the rest go" when Bertram scorns her in marriage, to the lusty "let's about it" in the sinful-lawful seduction scene.
Once again, we scratch the legal-moral itch. Does her emphasis on its lawfulness make it more morally acceptable? Helena swings as a pendulum between these two opposites depending on which happens to serve her strategy at the moment, for she is determined to get what she wants, no matter what!

I do not deplore such faculty in craft but neither would I call it "divine". I could even respect such resourcefulness in an honest crook, but deceit and pretense make my teeth grind.

Helena is shrewd in her deceptions. If she were aware of them, she deserves admiration for such skillful tactics; if not, then the deceptions are dishonest. She is using people and situations for her own ends and the altruistic piety is not a sign of saintly dedication but a means to that end. To me, that's fraudulent. To substantiate this claim I offer three situations in the play:
1. Her going to court to 'save the ailing king' which she confesses at the end of her soliloquy Act I sc.i
"The king's disease--my project may deceive me,
but my intents are fix'd, and will not leave me.'"
is motivated not so much for concern over the king's affliction, but for the fact that Bertram is there: and she suddenly remembers a cure, from her father's legacy, that will get her foot in the door.

2. Her going on a 'pilgrimage' to atone for her 'offence'. But why to a shrine in Florence, Italy? What? were there none in all of France that would serve? Or was it because Bertram happened to be there too?
The seduction switch was a bit of foxy scheming and the widow's daughter was very accommodating. (A healthy bribe didn't hurt the argument either.) It was clever the way Helena substituted herself and became both perpetrator and solicitor in an act which morality would condemn as adultery. (For an atoning pilgrim, she's racking up a good score.)

3. And lastly, the 'practical' lie she devises of the falsified death certificate confirmed by the rector of the shrine, (probably also corrupted by a generous 'gift').
In the end, having gotten both his ring and his child, she shows up to make her claim and Bertram suddenly decides he loves her! Probably realizing that she is not, after all, the virtuous pattern of perfection she pretended to be, and a lot easier to live with.


Copyright © 1982 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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