A couple more random thoughts and questions re: All’s Well That Ends Well…
Just how old is Bertram?
Young enough to be named ward of the king, not old enough to run his household… and yet old enough to go to war (of course, my father quit high school in tenth grade and joined the US Army at 16 … they sent him back until his mom wrote him an “it’s-ok-take-my-underage-son” note at 17).
Was Bertram telling the truth regarding Maudlin, the daughter of Lafew?
He claims to have previously loved her:
I stuck my choice upon her, ere my heart
Durst make too bold a herald of my tongue;
Where the impression of mine eye infixing,
Contempt his scornful perspective did lend me,
Which warped the line of every other favor,
Scorned a fair color or expressed it stol’n,
Extended or contracted all proportions
To a most hideous object. Thence it came
That she whom all men praised and whom myself,
Since I have lost, have loved, was in mine eye
The dust that did offend it.
He says he had been so in love with Maudlin that it distorted his view of the world and perception, leading to his crass response to Helena’s proposal. If this was the case, Lafew certainly knew nothing of it, or at least he doesn’t say anything about it–even when he tries to warn Bertram off Parolles (which would speak to an almost fatherly concern)… and this was after the marriage to Helena, of which Lafew says Bertram “did well” (II.iii.185). Personally, I’m not buying his story, especially as he’s not the most reliable narrator in that final act. I’m not saying that Bertram didn’t know her. My take is that her name points to the conclusion that he did “know” her, but that he loved her “as a gentleman loves a woman…loved her…and loved her not” (V.iii.244-5, 247).
What is the timeline of the events and revelations during the play’s climactic “evening” (III.vi.71) in Florence?
In Act Three, Scene Four, the Countess of Rossillion sends a letter informing Bertram of Helena’s flight. We’re not sure when it arrives, but I think we can safely assume that it happens after “ten o’clock” (IV.i.24) on the night in question; otherwise it would have been delivered to him in Act Three, Scene Six. At the end Act Four, Scene One, neither Rossillion nor the first lord have returned from their reconnaissance mission to check out the “fair creature” (III.vi.112) Diana, as the second lord sends a messenger to the two to inform them of the capture of Parolles. It is less than two hours later in the next scene when Bertram and Diana agree to meet at “midnight” (IV.ii.54). Based on the agreement of his staying “but an hour” (IV.ii.58), the earliest Bertram will return to his comrades is 1 a.m.
Between the end of Act Four, Scene One, and the middle of Act Four, Scene Three (when Bertram arrives…again, no earlier than 1 a.m.), we can assume the following have taken place in the intervening three-plus hours:
- Bertram’s “mother’s letter” (IV.iii.1) arrives.
- The first lord leaves Bertram.
- The letter is given to the first lord to give to Bertram.
- Bertram meets with Diana in an attempt to seduce her, during which he refers to his wedding “vows” (IV.ii.14). This would infer that he has not received the letter yet.
- The letter is given by the first lord to Bertram (at least “an hour” [IV.iii.3] before the beginning of Act Four, Scene Three). At this point, Bertram is “changed almost into another man” (IV.iii.5) because “something in (the letter) that stings his nature” (IV.iii.4).
- Bertram tells the second lord that he has also received multiple letters (from Helena and “the rector of” (IV.iii.58) Jaques le Grand) confirming her pilgrimage, grief, and death.
- The Bed Trick.
- The first lord tells the second lord of the delivery of Bertram’s mother’s letter, and the second lord tells the first lord of Helena’s pilgrimage and death.
I figure this is pretty much the sequence of events. (though I’d love to hear from you if you have a dissenting opinion…)