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Ber. My wife, my licge! I shall beseech your highnean,
Know'st thou not, Bertram,
Yes, my good lords
King. Thou know'st she has raised me from my sickly bed.
Ber. But follows it, my lord, to bring me down
All's Well that Ends Well, act ii. scene 3. This openly expressed contempt, this angry refusal, in spite of the monarch's fluent oration in her favour, wounds Helena so deeply that she seems inclined to forego her wish. She says to the king, “That you are well restored, my lord, I am glad. Let the rest go!” But Bertram, threatened by the angry king with banishment and loss of favour, declares himself ready, in spite of his unwillingness, which he takes no pains to conceal, to marry her, and offers her his hand, which she accepts. This incident requires a separate examination. We feel tempted to call it ignoble, incompatible with the pride and self-respect of a virtuous maiden, who stands upon her dignity, to insist on taking for a husband a man who repulses her, and repeatedly announces his objection to this union. But this is excused by Helena's character, and especially by a certain trait we have already mentioned. Helena, namely, as we have already seen, is devoutly possessed with the conviction that a love so sincere and warm as hers cannot for ever remain unreturned. She holds it to be impossible that the man to whom her faithful heart, her glowing soul, the last breath of her life, is consecrated, can remain untouched by so much devotion. When once she calls him her own, she hopes, through her perpetual care, her humble tireless tenderness, always ready and waiting its opportunity, in the end to touch and win his heart. She has never contemplated the possibility that Bertram will carry his objection to the marriage so far as to refuse her a wedded life on which she had counted as a means of conquest, through the magic of her tenderness. Little does she dream that he will send her away. From this romantic conviction, which gives her strength to hope for the best, she also draws the power to bear all indignities, and to tread her maiden pride under foot, in order to reach a distant difficult goal, in which she has placed all hopes of happi. ness, and which she firmly believes she can attain. She has already laid aside her womanly timidity, since she has chosen Bertram for her husband before the whole court. It would be contrary to Helena's steadfast resolute determination, now that things have gone so far, to lose, through exaggerated timidity, the hand of her beloved, and to become a lost and despised creature, the object of continual ridicule. Pride only bars the way to her felicity. It is not she herself whom Bertram dismisses; it is the "poor physician's daughter." Her understanding is too clear and sharp not to see that this is no fatal insult. She is intimately convinced that her softening and taming affection will overcome this strong pride of ancestry, that it will in time give way to the influence of her victorious devotion. So she sacrifices momentarily her womanly pride for the sake of her high and precious aim, and accepts the hand that is given only on compulsion, and through fear of the king's anger. But for the moment the outraged Bertram allows no time or opportunity for her love and gentleness to work on him. He parts from her on the spot. She obeys the order he gives her to proceed immediately to his mother at the Castle of Roussillon, while he goes off to the wars in Tuscany. Cruel is the letter he sends her, which we have already given; difficult, almost impossible the conditions under which he will return to her. "Until I have no wife," he says, “I have nothing in France." The old Countess espouses Helena's side, and is angry with her son. But Helena is too noble to banish the Count, on account of her presence, from his native land and ancestral castle. She resolves to go:
Hel. Nothing in France, until he has no wisc !
Then hast thou all again. .... No, no, although
All's Well that Ends Well, act ii. scene 2.
She goes to Florence disguised as a pilgrim. Here nothing is talked of but the heroic deeds of the young French captain of cavalry, Bertram, Count of Roussillon. She makes the acquaintance of a beautiful Florentine, Diana, and her mother, and hears from them that the Count has fallen in love with the girl, and pursues her with a passionate suit she steadfastly resists. Helena's quick eye detects that here may be the opportunity she is seeking. She discovers herself to the women, and promises a rich reward if they will aid her in her bold plan. The young girl must promise to receive the Count in her chamber, but only at the hour of most profound darkness, and after he has given her the family ring which had never left his finger. Led by his blind unreasoning passion, he fulfils the conditions, and finds in Diana's chamber, without perceiving the exchange, Helena, who passionately returns his embrace, and gives him a ring she received from the King of France. Their meeting has the consequence she hoped, but for a time she remains concealed, until the right moment comes, and meantime she spreads a report of her death. She travels with Diana and her mother, of whom she does not wish to lose sight, as they are her most important witnesses. At last a favourable opportunity offers at Roussillon Castle, whither the King of France has gone to meet Bertram, returned from Florence full of glory. After many comic adventures, difficult to relate, Helena proves that the two conditions are fulfilled, and Bertram acknowledges her as his wife. He assures her that when he heard of her death he recognised her worth, and was filled with love and regret. But Bertram showed his real character too clearly for us to trust him; still we do not feel uneasy concerning the happiness of the young married pair. Helena's love is so deep, her strength of character, and especially her tact, so great, that we are convinced she will exert a purifying and ennobling influence over her husband, and so enchain his affections that, in time, when, by prudence, energy, and steadfastness, she has, through much suffering, reached her wished-for goal, she will be able truly to say, “All's well that ends well."
“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM"
The fantastic play Shakespeare called A Midsummer Night's Dream was written between the years 1594 and 1596, and apparently, like the Tempest and Henry VIII., for some high court festivity. A wonderfully beautiful passage is worded in direct homage to the Virgin Queen Elizabeth. Oberon says to his attendant sprite Puck:
It fell upon a little western flower,
A Midsummer Night's Dream, act ii. scenc 1.
A merry fantastic fairy piece, constructed on a very simple action. Theseus, king of Athens, orders Philistratus, the ruler of his revels, to do everything that can be done to make his nuptials with Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, as gay.and brilliant as possible. There comes before Theseus, Ægeus, and complains of his daughter Hermia, who despises Demetrius, the husband he has chosen for her, and whom until now she has looked upon with favour, and has chosen instead Lysander, who has won her heart with poems, flowers, and such like things. Hermia is described as a beautiful little personage, already “a vixen when she went to school," now positively headstrong in her new fancy, defying all threats. She prefers a cloister to Demetrius, in spite of his tender love, in spite of his outward and inward superiority to Lysander. The tall slender Helena, whom Demetrius formerly courted, still loves him tenderly, although he has turned to the tiny Hermia, who despises him. Thus we see Helena running after Demetrius, who will not listen to her, but runs after Hermia, who will not listen to him. Strife also has broken out between the rulers of the realm of Faery, Oberon and Titania, partly through jealousy, as each accuses the other of preferring respectively Theseus and Hippolyta, partly on account of a little Indian boy whom they both wish to own. The fairy queen uses her tongue so sharply that the king leaves her in anger. He revenges himself by squeezing upon her eyelids, while she sleeps, the juice of a flower which has the effect of making her fall in love with the first creature she sees on waking. A group of Athenian mechanics has assembled in the wood to rehearse a dramatic performance they intend to act at the king's wedding. The drollest personage among them, the