All’s Well That Ends Well — Acts I, II, and III
Here we go…
I’m off and running with the first of William Shakespeare’s plays. To read about my self-imposed Shakespeare Challenge, click on this linky link.
Let’s get to it! The big question on everybody’s mind is: Does it end well? Let’s find out.
Act I: First Read
Right from the start, we are thrown in with three unknown characters and absolutely no setup. Because that’s just how life is. You enter stage right (or left) and you’re in the middle of some strange scene. I honestly don’t know what is happening in these opening dialogues. What I can gather is that someone is dead. A king? a father? a husband? Were they all the same person? I could cheat and look it up but just when I’m about to flog myself for creating this spur-of-the-moment Shakespeare challenge, in walks Helena and she dazzles me with her gorgeous talky words. She imparts a delightful discourse on virginity, among other things. From the sounds of it, she desires a husband so that she can make the beast with two backs. Raunchy! If true.
Next, we are shipped off to Paris. Wait, where were we before? Roussillon. Is that a town in France? I’ve never been. We meet the King of France who is purportedly not dead. Praise be. He is speaking to a clown who is not really all that funny for a clown. Nothing much happens here that I can discern. Just some nice insight on the human condition. No big whoop.
Lastly, we are whisked back to Roussillon. I get the feeling the play is going to bounce back and forth and back again between the two settings. A Countess is miffed at her servant girl who just happens to be… wait for it… Helena! Why is she upset with her? Because Helena won’t call the Countess “mother.” Weird. As it turns out, Helena can’t do this because she is ever so desperately in love with the Countess’s son, Bertram. And if Helena were to see the Countess as a mother figure then that would make the object of her affection, Bertram, her brother. It’s backwards logic and it doesn’t land. Not with yours truly, anyway. So what if the Countess wants you to call her Mom? That doesn’t actually make Bertram your bro you silly ninny!
Alrighty! See? Shakespeare is cake! What’s up next?
Act II: First Read
What ho! Helena is now in Paris and meeting with the king. That was easy. I am getting a sense now that Helena’s father was the dude who died at the beginning of Act I. And her father was some great man in Roussillon. Important enough so that the King himself knew him. Maybe not well, but well enough for Helena to score an audience with His Majesty.
As she is led in to greet the king, Helena gets right to the point. The king is sick. He has some grievous malady that cannot be cured by any of his royal doctors. He’s pretty much resigned himself to his fate. Is he to die? I’m not sure but he doesn’t seem too concerned about his mortality. I believe he’s made his peace with it.
Helena claims she can cure him. The king believes her not. They go back and forth quite a bit until finally he says, in essence, “Oh very well, if you are so hard up on curing my ills, then have at it. But why am I to trust you? What if you fail?” To this Helena says if she fails then the King can have her tortured and killed. Seems a bit extreme but I won’t judge. She’s a confident lady. And all she wants in return for her saving the king is the hand of any man she chooses. And all titles that come with it. Swell.
Helena does exactly what she says she would: she heals the king of his mystery ailment. It’s done behind the scenes for as far as I can tell so when she comes out and claims it to be true, the people of the court are aghast. But hooray for honesty in royalty! The king confirms Helena’s words! And he is true to his own word and offers her any gentleman she pleases. Boom, she picks Bertram, who is rather taken aback. He calls Helena (of all things) the daughter of a medicine man and thereby unworthy of his own Lordship’s time of day, let alone marriage.
The king launches into a lengthy defense of Helena. Yes, she was no one before but now she is the someone who has done what know one else could, I guess, which was to save him. So therefore, she should be treated with the utmost respect. And Bertram should count his lucky stars that he is going to marry her. “And oh yes, Bertie, marry her you will,” the King says. Well, not exactly. I shouldn’t have used quotes. ‘Twas a paraphrase.
Also returning for some laughs is the feckless clown. He is actually more amusing in his scenes here than he was previously, though I couldn’t say why.
By the end of Act II, Bertram is married to Helena (off stage, off page), and he makes note to Lafeu (whom I can’t help but think of as Lafew from Disney’s Beauty and The Beast — surely that is no coincidence?) that he does not look forward to his own wedding night. Together they hatch some scheme to send Helena away to Bertram’s home while he himself will remain at court.
Act III: First Read
Side note: Man, comedies are not nearly as exciting as a good old fashioned Shakespearean tragedy are they? I’m trying to pump myself up for this plot but after three acts, I hate to say, I’m not that much into it. Ok, here comes the lightning bolt to strike me down. No? Cool.
I mean, yeah I feel sorta bad for Helena. She’s in love with this dufus who couldn’t care less about her and basically tells her so to her face, well, in writing anyway. When we come back to Helena in Act III, she’s got the Countess more on her side. So much so in fact, that the Countess goes as far as to say that Bertram is no longer her son. Dang. Women stick together!
I believe some new plot is being hatched because before you know it, Helena is creeping up on Florence. As she’s doing this, we learn from other minor characters that Bertram is kind of a coward who has no place fighting in the war. A scene later, he comes riding in on his horse and passes Helena in the street without a look. She’s dressed as a pilgrim though. So I guess that’s the 16th century equivalent of Clark Kent?
Some commoners and maids are discussing Bertram at lengths and Helena learns through this gossip that her husband is a philanthropist. Or, at least he has aims to be? He has his sights set on some woman’s daughter and Helena confesses to the woman that she is in fact Bertram’s wife and he is, for all intents and purposes, a scoundrel. She offers the mother of Bertram’s desire a significant amount of gold to basically use her daughter to ensnare Bertram in his dastardly deeds. Got it? Do I?
Everything seems like way too much ado about very little, if you ask me. Just kick Bertram to the curb, girlfriend! But then we wouldn’t have five acts, would we? So fine. I will admit that as I’ve just written this lengthy plot summation of Act III, I’m kinda antsy to get back into it. So mayhap I like the play more than I thought?
TO BE CONTINUED…
Oh no! When will we ever find out if it all ended well?! Well, you could go read the play yourself right now. Or tune in next time on Bry’s Shakespearean Bloggy Challenge Experience of Words!
That’s not what we’re calling it, is it?