Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 799
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 when she is restored to him.
The Countess Rousillon
The Countess Rousillon, Bertram’s mother, a wise and gracious woman who is devoted to both Bertram and Helena and welcomes the idea of their marriage. Her son’s callous rejection of his virtuous wife appalls her, and she grieves deeply for his folly, in spite of her protest to Helena that she looks on her as her only remaining child. After Helena’s reported death and Bertram’s return, she begs the king to forgive her son’s youthful rebelliousness.
Parolles (pay-ROHL-ehs), Bertram’s follower and fellow soldier, who has no illusions about his own character. His romantic illusions are nonexistent. He encourages Bertram to be off to the wars with him, and he aids and abets the attempted seduction of Diana. The quality of his loyalty to his patron becomes all too obvious in the hilarious drum scene when he, blindfolded, insults and offers to betray all his countrymen to free himself from the enemies into whose hands he thinks he has fallen.
The king of France
The king of France, a kindly old man who has almost resigned himself to the fact that his illness is incurable when Helena comes to court with her father’s prescription, which heals him. He believes her the equal of any man in the kingdom and readily agrees to reward her service to him by letting her choose her husband from the noblemen of the kingdom. Only the pleas of Lafeu and the countess, along with Bertram’s late recognition of Helena’s virtues, prevent him from punishing the young man severely for his rebellious flight.
Lafeu (LAH-few), an old lord, counselor to the king and the countess’ friend. He is as much captivated by Helena’s grace as is his king, but he blames Parolles chiefly for Bertram’s ungentle desertion of his wife. Out of friendship for the countess, he arranges a marriage between Bertram and his own daughter in an attempt to assuage the king’s anger against the count.
Lavache (lah-VAHSH), the countess’ servant, a witty clown who is expert in the nonsensical trains of logic spun by characters such as Touchstone and Feste.
Diana Capilet (KAP-ih-leht), the attractive, virtuous daughter of a Florentine widow. She willingly agrees to help Helena win Bertram when she hears her story, and she wins a rich husband for herself as a reward from the king for her honesty.
Diana’s mother, a widow who is concerned about the honor of her daughter and her house.
Violenta (vee-oh-LEHN-tah) and
Mariana (mah-ree-AH-nah), the widow’s honest neighbors.
The duke of Florence
The duke of Florence, the general whose army Bertram joins.
Rinaldo (rih-NAHL-doh), the countess’ steward, who first tells her of Helena’s love for Bertram.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472
King of France
Represents a dying breed of nobility, one in which honor and virtue are tantamount. He is suffering from a debilitating illness and is nostalgic for the past. He is persuaded by Helena to let her try to cure him, she succeeds, and in return the King makes good on his promise that she may marry any of his noblemen.
Young Count of Rousillon, son of the Countess of Rousillon and the recently deceased Count of Rousillon. Finding himself trapped in a marriage to Helena, whom he does not love, he flees to Italy to join the wars. While there, he attempts to seduce the virgin Diana but instead beds his wife Helena, unbeknownst to him. After the wars are over, he returns home and discovers his wife is pregnant with his child and possesses his family ring. (See Bertram in the CHARACTER ANALYSIS section.)
An old lord, friend of the Countess. Perceives the true character of Parolles and warns Bertram against him, although he saves Parolles at the end of the play by offering him a position. Lafeu is one of Helena's defenders.
Mentor and confidant to Bertram, social climber and would-be gentleman. Accompanies Bertram to the wars in Italy, where his boasting and deceit finally bring about his unmasking, at last enlightening Bertram as to Parolles' true character. (See Parolles in the CHARACTER ANALYSIS section.)
A clown and servant of the Countess of Rousillon. Provides some comic relief in the play.
Countess of Roustillon
Mother of Bertram and guardian of Helena. Kind and generous, she exemplifies the best of the noble tradition and encourages Helena's love for Bertram, the Countess' son. She rates honesty and virtue higher than valor in battle or nobility of rank, even when this means that she must side against Bertram.
Daughter of the famous physician, Gerard de Narbon, from whom she has inherited healing powers. She is the ward of the Countess of Rousillon and is admired by nearly everyone except Bertram. Helena falls in love with Bertram, which sets her on a quest first to become his wife and then to have him accept her as his wife. (See Helena in the CHARACTER ANALYSIS section.)
Old Widow of Florence
Helena's landlady in Florence and Diana's mother. She tells Helena that Bertram has been trying to seduce Diana. She accompanies Diana and Helena back to Rousillon at the end of the play when Bertram's lies and deceit are exposed.
Daughter of the Old Widow of Florence, courted by the Count of Rousillon after he leaves Helena. Diana agrees to help Helena deceive Bertram so that Helena can fulfill the demands of Bertram's letter concerning their marriage.
Two French Lords
Serve with Bertram in the wars in Italy. They succeed in exposing Parolles as a liar and coward.
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