Commentary on the issues of gender and desire necessarily centers on the character of Helena, although some mention of Bertram is warranted as he is directly involved in what some critics call the reversal of gender roles in the play. More recent critics focus less on whether Helena was justified in her actions—bartering with the King to gain Bertram as a husband, following Bertram to Italy, engaging Diana in the bed-trick to fulfill Bertram's otherwise impossible conditions and thus tricking him—and instead confront such issues as Helena as subject rather than object, as desiring rather than desired, as pursuer rather than pursued, and she embodies both activity and her passivity.
Several critics note the similarity between the masculine quest-romance or the theme of the knight-errant and the plot of All's Well That Ends Well, only in the latter the initiator of action, the savior, the hero, is a woman. Helena possesses the knowledge and skill to influence events and other characters and thus is able to secure Bertram as a husband. However, she cannot force him to love her, and his repudiation of her necessitates her pursuing an alternate plan of action. Some critics note that Helena's active role, her ability to go out and get what she wants (Bertram), is motivated only by physical, sexual desire. Others excuse her perhaps unorthodox means of fulfilling Bertram's conditions because they were created...
(The entire section is 1024 words.)
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