Motive and Meaning in All's Well That Ends Well
Ruth Nevo, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
All's Well That Ends Well has been classified among the problem comedies, perhaps mainly because Bertram has failed to captivate; he has been found even more devoid of charm than Angelo in Measure for Measure, the companion "problem" comedy. Bertram is, as my students invariably inform me, a creep. And in this they have the critics on their side: that he is "a thoroughly disagreeable, peevish and vicious person" (Lawrence 1931, 61) seems to be the consensus. One is hard put to it, indeed, to think of a fictional character less popular than the young Count of Rossillion. Yet Helena has come in for her share of criticism too. She is forward, obstinate, manipulative, opportunistic. She does not heal the King out of patriotic fervor but because she has an eye for the main chance. And so on. To rebellious, feminist Katherine Mansfield,
Helena is a terrifying female. Her virtue, her persistence, her pegging away after the odious Bertram (and disguised as a pilgrim—so typical!) and then telling the whole story to that good widow-woman! And that tame fish Diana. As to lying in Diana's and enjoying the embraces meant for Diana—well, I know nothing more sickening. It would take a respectable woman to do such a thing. The worst of it is I can so well imagine . . . acting in precisely that way, and giving Diana a present...
(The entire section is 9621 words.)
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