Context: Helena, daughter of the late physician of great renown Gerard de Narbon, has been taken into the household of the Countess of Rousillon, where she is loved and treated as a daughter. As the play begins, Bertram, the Countess' son, is commanded to attend the king at his court and takes sorrowful leave of his mother and the strangely reticent Helena. Upon Bertram's departure, Helena in soliloquy pours out her secret love for him and thus explains her melancholy silence. Not of noble birth, she has held her love within her heart alone rather than embarrass the Countess, for whom she has great affection. Later in the act, the Countess will discover Helena's secret, encouraging her to take active pursuit by traveling to the king's court in order to be near Bertram and in order to attempt to cure the king of a fistula by a rare prescription which her father has left her. In this present soliloquy, however, she assumes her love to be futile and foolish; her love for a star in the heavens far above would be just as hopeless. As long as Bertram was physically present, she could observe him every hour, but now in his absence the pangs of undeclared love grow unbearable:
. . . My imaginationCarries no favour in't but Bertram's.I am undone, There is no living, none,If Bertram be away. 'Twere all oneThat I should love a bright particular star,And think to wed it, he is so above me.In his bright radiance and collateral lightMust I be comforted, not in his sphere.The ambition in my love thus plagues itself;The hind that would be mated by the lionMust die for love. 'Twas pretty, though a plague,To see him every hour, to sit and drawHis arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,In our heart's table: heart too capableOf every line and trick of his sweet favour.But now he's gone, and my idolatrous fancyMust sanctify his reliques.