365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

158. All’s Well That Ends Well: Act I

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I announced a while back that I was going to start really rereading every single work by Shakespeare, and that I was going to attempt to finish the entire canon by the end of the 365 days. Well, I got distracted. But now I’m back on track, and I’ve started with All’s Well That Ends Well.

I read Act I tonight, trying to remember what the production I saw at the American Shakespeare Center was like. I remember an outstanding Helena and an overall very enjoyable production, even though All’s Well has never actually made me laugh that much.

Well, except for this gem from Act I, scene I:

HELENA

117 Bless our poor virginity from underminers and
118 blowers up! Is there no military policy, how
119 virgins might blow up men?

PAROLLES

120 Virginity being blown down, man will quicklier be
121 blown up: marry, in blowing him down again, with
122 the breach yourselves made, you lose your city. It
123 is not politic in the commonwealth of nature to
124 preserve virginity. Loss of virginity is rational
125 increase and there was never virgin got till
126 virginity was first lost. That you were made of is
127 metal to make virgins. Virginity by being once lost
128 may be ten times found; by being ever kept, it is
129 ever lost: ’tis too cold a companion; away with ‘t!

I forgot just how awesome Parolles is. It’s a role I would love to see my fiance, Adam, play – he’d be great. I’m really not biased, I promise.

The summary: Count Bertram, whom Helena loves, is sent to serve the dying King of France. The king laments that Helena’s father – who was a famous and skilled doctor – is no longer alive, for only he could save the life of the ailing king. The Countess of Rousillon has a chat with her Clown (who is also awesome), then learns that Helena is in love with her son Bertram. This is when Helena really becomes a true heroine: she announces that she will go to the king and offer her services as a doctor, since she learned from her father.

The verdict: So far, I love Helena (expected) and want to punch Bertram (also expected). The opening of the play is a little strange for a comedy. Though it’s not as if all the comedies exactly open with a laugh line – quite the opposite, they usually start with a bad situation – they don’t often start with a grieving widow. I love so much seeing Helena as a sort of career woman. This makes her a little different from other heroines of Shakespeare. While his women are often clever and strong, Helena has a real, coveted skill, as well as a darker edge to her sense of humor that I really enjoy. I have a feeling that Helena may become my favorite heroine of the comedies.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

March 8, 2010 at 12:49 AM

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