Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Helena (HEHL-eh-nuh), the orphaned daughter of Gerard de Narbon, a distinguished physician, and the ward of the countess of Rousillon. She at first regards her love for Bertram, the countess’ son, as hopeless; then, with the independence characteristic of the heroines of William Shakespeare’s comedies, she resolves to try to win him with her father’s one legacy to her, a cure for the ailing king’s mysterious malady. Her charm and sincerity win the love and admiration of all who see her except Bertram himself. Hurt but undaunted by his flight from her on their wedding day, she mourns chiefly that she has sent him into danger in the Florentine war and deprived his mother of his presence. She leaves the countess without farewell, hoping at least to free her husband to return to his home if she is not successful in fulfilling his seemingly impossible conditions for a reconciliation. She contrives through an ingenious trick, substituting herself for the Florentine girl he is trying to seduce, to obtain his ring and conceive his child. She thus wins for herself a loving and repentant husband.
Bertram, Count Rousillon, a rather arrogant, self-satisfied, and impulsive young man. Proud of his noble blood, he feels degraded by the king’s command that he marry Helena, and after the ceremony he flees with his dissolute companion Parolles to the army of the duke of Florence to escape such ignominy. He wins fame as a soldier, but he fares less well in his personal relationships. First, Parolles’ essential cowardice and disloyalty are exposed by his fellow soldiers to the young count who had trusted him. Then, his attempt to seduce Diana brings about the very end he is trying to escape, union with his own wife. His antagonism for Helena melts when he hears reports of her death and recognizes the depth of the love he has lost, and he is willingly reconciled to her...
(The entire section is 799 words.)
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