All's Well That Ends Well - Helena - Character

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Helena is the main character in the play. The daughter of a recently deceased physician and therefore both low-born and poor, she is under the protection of the countess of Rossillion. That is, as a member of the countess's court, she has her material needs taken care of and has probably received some courtly education. Helena's character thus draws much from the countess's courtly values. But Helena also contributes to the play a miraculous cure and demands a fairy-tale marriage as her reward. Moreover, she persists until she is accepted as Bertram's wife; as Helena says of herself from the beginning, "my intents are fix'd, and will not leave me" (I.i.229). This persistence has sometimes been read as controlling and hard-headed. But Helena also represents a stubborn attachment to a set of ideals that no other character in the play exhibits. Helena makes most of the play's action happen. After Bertram leaves in the first scene, she declares her love for him in a soliloquy (which is accidentally overheard by Rinaldo, the countess's steward), then holds her own when Parolles baits her about her virginity. She resolves to follow Bertram to the king's court to "show her merit" (I.i.227) by curing the king. When the countess discovers her intentions, Helena expresses proper embarrassment and says she knows her birth is too lowly for her to expect Bertram for a husband. But though she is quick to be frank with the countess about her intention to go to Paris, she does not reveal the larger plan: her own request to receive, as the reward for curing the king, her choice of his lords in marriage. The fact that Helena carries out this plot completely independent of any other influences and regardless of anyone else's desires makes her a highly unconventional comic or romantic heroine. Helena's character is not only defined by simple persistence, though. She carries out what she intends to do and what she says she will do throughout the play. She makes her words match her...
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