Thanks for you patience, guys! That was s long unintentional hiatus.
If I were asked to summarize what this play is “about” from only reading the first act, I would tell you, among other things:
- The playing out of the next generation
- Inherited rank versus inherited merit
- How virtues imbued in birth are ramified by good action
Insofar as I am concerned about the first point, the very first line of the play revolves around the death of the head of household of the first generation, “In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband” (I.i.1). Not to mention, love of Bertram replaces the love that Helena had for her father after his death. And, well, the rest of my point is made with the last two.
The cause of Helena’s despair over Bertram revolves heavily in my second point. She loves a man that outranks her in birth. Clearly she’s a pretty feisty, smart, rad lady, and she’s the main heroine of a Shakespeare comedy, which means that she’s one of those ladies you marry the instant you meet her. And we have evidence of that by the countess’ comment, “…her education promises her dispositions she inherits which makes fair gifts fairer; for where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, there commendations go with pity; they are virtues and traitors too” (I.i.39-42).
Sadly, I’m pressed for time, as per usual, but I wanted to get back on schedule, at least a little bit.
I’ll leave you with this last line from Helena (I’m not getting into the roots of her name–Helen–and what I think it says about her): “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,/Which we ascribe to heaven” (I.i.216). Natural disposition cultivated in action?
We’ll see tomorrow.