*Rousillon (rew-see-YOHN). Region in southern France in which the play opens. The palace of Bertram, the count of Rousillon, is a scene of mourning and shadows, shot through with beams of love and goodwill, ruled by a man in complete self-absorption, ignorant of the kindness of his mother and the healing qualities of Helena. The problem is presented in this atmosphere of dark ambivalence, and here it will be resolved in the end. However, the mood of uncertainty that opens the play is not completely dissipated, for audiences remain wondering if Helena’s unconditional love and powers of healing will be sufficient to remedy Bertram’s overriding sense of self.
*Florence. Cultural center of Italy. Like Paris, Florence is sick in its soul with war and conspiracy. Bertram attempts to seduce Diana there, but Helena puts herself in the bed (an unhealthy one, like the French king’s sick bed in Paris), and he makes love to her, unwittingly helping to fulfill his impossible conditions: “When thou canst . . . show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband.” Florence embodies the theme of means justifying an end: Bertram achieves the military glory he covets, Parolles is exposed as a liar and a coward, and Helena uses trickery to fulfill the contract promised by the king.
*Paris. France’s capital is a somber and spiritually ill city, in which the king is stricken by fistula, and men are leaving for the Italian wars. Helena’s potion cures the king, who rewards her with Bertram’s hand, a fairy-tale resolution set in a palace, but Bertram is insulted, and their unconsummated marriage speaks to the intrigue, sickness, and sterility that plagues the royal court.