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CHARACTER ANALYSIS (continued)
The King of France
At the beginning of the play, the King is an ailing monarch who still manages to exert complete control over his people. He acts as the voice of authority, promising rewards when due, and punishment when deserved. His primary role in the play is that of patriarch. He makes things happen in the play, such as a forced marriage, a trial, a reconciliation. His character, however, is of extreme importance to the plot movement in this play. If Helena had not cured the ailing King, she would never have been able to marry Bertram and the plot could not have existed.
Lafeu is the trusted confidante of the King of France and the Countess of Rousillon. He is among the older characters of the play, a wise man with fatherly love for Bertram and for Helena. Lafeu is the first to warn Bertram that Parolles is not to be trusted. He is also among those who condemn Bertram early on for his treatment of Helena. Lafeu is a peacemaker and a trusted person who constantly seeks to protect and pacify those in need, and put an end to all troubles. Lafeu's commitment to peace is most evident in the final scenes, when he offers his daughter as a second bride to Bertram, in order that forgiveness might be complete and life might go on as before.
Parolles, though base and deceitful, is also a genuinely comic character. He is the evil angel who tempts Bertram and is generally disliked by all the other characters. Parolles seems to have been intended by Shakespeare as a contrast to Bertram. He enables the audience to view Bertram's misdoings with less intensity, since they are but a minor duplication of Parolles' actions and lies.
Some critics have suggested that he functions as an alternative to Helena on the level of a morality play. He is Bertram's confidante and flatterer. His name Parolles means "words," and he is a mercenary soldier who lives by his wits. He is a braggart and a liar. At the opening of the play, Helena says of him, " I know him a notorious liar, / Think him a great way fool, solely a coward". All the characters detest him and the First Lord summarizes him as "a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality worthy your lordship's entertainment".
Still, Parolles does provide some laughter in the play. His exposure is comic and provides great entertainment. Thinking that he is alone, Parolles sets out to formulate a plan not to recover the drum lost to the enemy. He is bent upon turning everything to his advantage and thinks about self-inflicting wounds to provide a credible story. But he refrains from doing so, owing to his cowardly nature. After he has been exposed and thoroughly humiliated, Parolles still says, " There's a place and means for every man alive". Although Parolles is a fool and a knave, in the end even Lafeu forgives him. Parolles is assured of "place and means", "drink and sleep".
Shakespeare finds it difficult to villainize a character completely, especially in a comedy. By the end of the play, Parolles seems to have been fully reconciled to Lafeu, even offering his handkerchief to the elder Lord. And Lafeu, for his part, offers Parolles a home, so that all can end well.
Countess of Rousillon
The Countess, though Bertram's mother, spends much of the play sympathizing with Helena and voicing displeasure with Bertram. She is merely an accessory most of the time, facilitating Helena's plans in the beginning, observing the chaos in the end, and occasionally verifying some fact or recounting some opinion.