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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT III, SCENE 5
The scene opens outside the walls of Florence. A Florentine widow, her daughter Diana, and a girl named Marianna enter with some citizens. Mariana urges the young Diana to be cautious of the great French Count, Bertram, who is pursuing her. The widow tells Marianna that the Count and his companion, Parolles, have been coming around. She says that Parolles seems to be influencing the young Count to act in a way less than gentlemanly. She also cautions Diana to beware and reminds her that a maiden's honor is her unsullied name. The widow tells Mariana that she knows that she has been solicited by a gentleman companion of the Count. Mariana replies that the man is Parolles.
As the ladies are talking, a pilgrim, who is Helena in disguise, comes asking for a place to stay. The widow directs her to a lodge at Saint Francis. They are interrupted by the sound of marching in the distance. The widow offers to escort Helena to St. Francis after the soldiers come through the town. She tells Helena a noble and valiant Count from France will be among them. When Diana informs Helena that the count is Bertram, Helena pretends not to know who he is, only to have heard of him. Diana tells Helena the rumor that Bertram has come to Florence to escape from an arranged marriage and wife he detests, and Helena says she has heard the story and knows it is true. Diana sighs that it must be terrible to be a detested wife. The widow sympathetically remarks that his wife must have a heavy heart and be in need of help. Then she tells Helena that Bertram has attempted to seduce her daughter, but Diana has kept her guard.
A section of the Florentine army, headed by Bertram and Parolles, enters to the sound of drumbeats. The widow points out Antonio, the Duke's eldest son, and Escalus. Diana identifies Bertram and remarks that it is a pity that a man so gallant is not honest. She blames Parolles, "that jack-an-apes with scarfs" for leading the Count astray. Helena thanks the widow for directions and invites them all to dinner that night, an offer they accept.
The significant aspect of this scene is that while there is public praise for Bertram's military achievements, in private many citizens deride the "hero's" treatment of his wife. Even though Bertram has received the honor he so desperately wanted, his lack of character has stripped him of true respect. Also, Parolles is once again suspected by many of being inconstant and shifty.
Helena humbles herself, dressing as a holy pilgrim; it is an appropriate disguise for this character who seems willing to sacrifice all for love. It also furthers the theme of deception. When the disguised Helena arrives in Florence, she hears all about her husband and remains calm, not revealing her true identity. She learns that Bertram has been trying to seduce the widow's daughter. As a result, a plan begins to formulate in Helena's quick and competent mind. She invites the ladies to dinner to gather more information.
It is important to note that this scene is filled with dramatic irony. The audience, of course, knows that the pilgrim is really Bertram's wife Helena. As a result, there is double meaning in much of what transpires throughout the scene, for the three ladies have no idea that they are talking to Bertram's spouse.