Names redux

Toward the beginning of our time discussing All’s Well That Ends Well, I talked a little about names (and the lack thereof in the play). Today, I want to revisit this with a few more monikers I gathered upon the second deeper read.

I noted at the time at a couple of the soldiers/captains had names mentioned in the script though in my text their speeches were still attributed to First Lord and Second Lord. But as I noted then, these two are “brother(s)” (IV.iii.275) by the name of Dumaine. As a matter of etymology, dumaine would refer to something or someone from the Maine region in northern France. Also, the old French demeure might be a ancestor of the name as well. Why important? demeure meant “residence” or “home.” This would help set up a contrast between Bertram and the bothers Dumaine. Rossillion is from the south of France, the two brothers from the north; the two brothers’ name seems associated with home and hearth while Rossillion carelessly tossed aside his wife Helena (who later “died”) and seduced the virgin Diana–Bertram’s “shame” (IV.iii.69) in the matters garnering the brothers disapproving comments.

The Countess of Rossillion’s steward is named Rinaldo, to whom she gives a message for Bertram. Is it just me (yeah, probably) or does this traveling messenger sound like Reynaldo, Polonius’ spy in Hamlet, who is sent to check on his son Laertes? But wait, remember that the countess’ final speech to her son before he leaves for the French court in Act One, Scene One, is very reminiscent of Polonius’ parting advice to Laertes: “Love all, trust a few…Be checked for silence, // But never taxed for speech” (I.i.64, 67-8). On a side note and another reminder: remember that Helena’s first words of the play, the aside “I do affect a sorrow indeed, but I have it too” (I.i.53-4), calls to mind one of the melancholy Dane’s first lines. Important? Don’t know. But interesting (for me, at least).

Lafew’s duaghter, whom the old lord attempts to have wed to Bertram following Helena’s “death” and Bertram’s return home, has a name as well: Maudlin. Today, we think of the word meaning “sad, sentimental,” but its adjectival use (meaning “given to tears” [“maudlin, adj.; 1a” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 11 September 2015.]) was only first noted in 1607; more likely, the name was meant to take on the noun meaning: “a penitent resembling Mary Magdalene” (“maudlin, adj.; 1a” OED Online.). A penitent. One who’s attempting to amend her sins. Could it be that the reason Bertram claims to have “stuck (his) choice on her” (V.iii.45) before the king forced Bertram to marry Helena is that Bertram did more than just stick his choice? Ooooh, train approaching Bawdyville. Of course, his claim may be disingenuous… most of what comes out of his mouth in this last scene is untrue. But it does raise some interesting questions.

Which leads me to revisit Diana. Yes, she has a name. Yes, we discussed it. But I’m now thinking there’s more to the story. Back when I was first talking about names, I discussed two other women introduced in the same scene as Diana: Mariana and Violenta. I said at the time that Violenta appears only in some texts’ stage direction, but not all, and that

Violenta–not Violeta, which is more common–coming from the French adjective violent which had meanings of “impetuous, unrestrained” as well as “overpowering” but also from the Latin violentus which is where we get the common current meaning of “operating with destructive force.”

What’s interesting here? Well, in the stage direction of my text, it reads,

Enter old Widow of Florence, her Daughter [Diana], Violenta, and Mariana, with other Citizens
  • III.v opening stage direction

In the Folger text, it reads,

Enter old Widow of Florence, her Daughter [Diana], and Mariana, with other Citizens

In both cases, the inclusion of Diana’s name is an editorial amendment. The name is not there in the original published text. It has been proposed by some that Violenta might have been an early draft version of the daughter. No longer a demure virgin, but an impetuous, fiery young woman. If that’s the case, could this be the reason Bertram is so attracted to her–especially if Maudlin had been his earlier partner in sin?

This uncertainty over her name seems to carry over from external criticism to internal character confusion, as Bertram’s opening line to her is “They told me that your name was Fontybell” (IV.ii.1). What? First, who is “they”? Second, what is Fontybell? A reference to the French fon et belle which could mean either “doting and beautiful” or “and his beautiful” (can she be owned?)? Maybe. Or maybe femme belle meaning “beautiful woman”? Possibly. Maybe even a reference to Fontainebleu, a location in Paris that by Shakespeare’s day carried the connotation of royalty. Is this Bertram’s pick up line: they told me you were a princess… ?

Names, names, names… what do they mean?

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