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Free Study Guide-All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare-Free Notes
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CONFLICT

Protagonist

Helena is the chief protagonist of the play. In love with Bertram, she is determined to marry him in spite of the huge difference in their social scales. After she cures the King of France of his ulcerous sores, she claims Bertram as her fee. Critics see her as the representative of the "clever wench" of folklore, a girl who is able to fulfill the seemingly impossible conditions imposed on her by an alienated and uncaring husband. She bribes her way into Bertram's bed, pretending to be Diana. She, therefore, meets the conditions set by Bertram. The audience is made to like her immensely and wants her to persevere over every obstacle placed in her way.

Antagonist

Bertram functions as Helena's antagonist. The greatest complication in the play arises from Bertram's refusal to accept Helena as his wife, since he considers it a degrading alliance. He sends Helena a letter in which he states that he will not consummate their marriage until she can obtain the ring he always wears on his finger and beget a child by him. The action of the play chronicles how Helena manages to fulfill these impossible conditions. In the end, there is some attempt, however unconvincing, to make Bertram become a normal fellow and to see his union with Helena as the traditional, happy ending to a normal comedy. Since the play ends well and on a happy note, his bad qualities are set aside.


It could be argued that Bertram himself is a victim of the true antagonist, which is social rank. Bertram's biggest problem with marrying Helena is that he sees such a union as too lowly for him. All his hopes and aspirations revolve around high class and superiority. If it were not for the importance of these things in human nature, perhaps Bertram would prove himself a worthy mate for Helena and be better liked by the audience.

Climax

The play's action rises to a rapid-fire, inevitable climax in Act V, when all the characters are in the Court at Rousillon, and Bertram is at the center of enormous accusations. In a brilliant upstaging, Helena presents herself, confounds the court, and explains the events that have led to the chaos. She presents Bertram's ring that she has schemed to possess and tells everyone she is pregnant with his child. Since she has met his requirements, he must now truly take her as his wife.

Outcome

On the textual level, the play ends happily. Helena finally wins Bertram, who at last declares he is prepared to "love her dearly, ever, ever dearly," and the King's closing words are "All yet seems well ". The play, indeed, appears to end with mirth and hope for the future. Realistically, however, this "comedy" does not have a traditional ending. The audience cannot help but be a little skeptical of Bertram, since he has continued to lie and deceive. This dichotomy is at the heart of the "problem" in this Shakespearean comedy.

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