Today we’re going to take a look at one of Helena’s Monologues from All’s Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare. This is considered by many to be Problem Play, and as such has suffered the fate of many Problem Plays in that it has been often forgotten. But to better understand the monologue let’s first take a look at the story…
Meet Helena, a lower class ward to the French-Spanish Countess. Helena is madly in love with her son Bertram but he doesn’t really feel the same. Bertram is sent off to aid the sick King of France and leaves. After he’s gone Helena confesses her love of Bertram to his mother the Countess and decides to go to the King to offer him some medicine to cure him of his illness.
Fast forward to the Kingdom where Bertram is wanting to go off and fight in the war while at the same time Helena has arrived with the cure and offered it to the King. It’s decided that if it works she’ll be allowed to pick her own husband.
And it does! So the King allows her to choose a husband and she, of course, chooses Bertram.
Bertram on the other hand has other plans, and doesn’t want to marry her because of her class. But the King forces him to marry her. After the ceremony he leaves town stating that he will only marry her if she carries his child and wears his family ring, and tells her to go home ahead of him. She does so and he runs away to the war in Italy.
Upon returning home a letter arrives, stating that he will only marry her if she bares his child and wears his family ring. His mother is mortified and sends servants to tell him so. They all leave and Helena is left alone with her letter…
‘Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France.’
Nothing in France until he has no wife.
Thou shalt have none, Roussillon, none in France;
Then hast thou all again. Poor lord, is’t I
That chase thee from thy country and expose
Those tender limbs of thine to the event
Of the none-sparing war? And is it I
That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou
Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark
Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers
That ride upon the violent speed of fire,
Fly with false aim, move the still-piecing air
That sings with piercing; do not touch my lord.
Whoever shoots at him, I set him there.
Whoever charges on his forward breast,
I am the caitiff that do hold him to’t,
And though I kill him not, I am the cause
His death was so effected. Better ’twere
I met the ravin lion when he roared
With sharp constraint of hunger; better ’twere
That all the miseries which nature owes
Were mine at once. No, come thou home, Roussillon,
Whence honour but of danger wins a scar,
As oft it loses all. I will be gone:
My being here it is that holds thee hence.
Shall I stay here to do’t? No, no, although
The air of paradise did fan the house
And angels officed all. I will be gone,
That pitiful rumour may report my flight
To consolate thine ear. Come, night; end, day;
For with the dark, poor thief, I’ll steal away.
‘Until I have no wife, I have nothing in France’
Nothing in france until he has no wife?
You’ll have no wife Rousillion, none in France;
Then you’ll have everything again. Poor lord!
Is it me who’s made you run away from your home and risk your life on the battlefield?
And is it me that chased you from the leisurely kingdom, where you were the target of wanting eyes only to become the target of muskets?
Oh you bullets that fly so fast do not hit your targets, fly through the air again and again but do not hit my Lord.
Whoever shoots at him it’s my fault that they are.
Whoever charges at him, I’m the wretch that told them to do it.
Even though I won’t kill him myself, It will be my fault he’s dead.
I’d rather meet a ravenous, roaring and hungry lion.
It would be better if all of nature’s wrath came down on me alone.
No come home Rousillion, where danger only scars men it doesn’t kill them.
I’ll go away. It’s me being here that keeps you away.
Shall I stay here and let you die? No, no, not even if heaven itself came to our house.
I’ll go so that rumours can reach your ear that I have left.
Come, night. End, day! When the night steals the sunlight I’ll run away.
Notes on Performance
First thing to keep in mind is that this is a soliloquy, meaning it’s a collection of thoughts posed alone and often to the audience, or at least within their earshot such as in this monologue. These are her private thoughts and so you know that she’s telling the truth.
Think of the stakes here. Bertram is the only thing she really cares about and so it speaks volumes to her love of him if she’s willing to never see him again just to keep him safe.
This is a turning point in the play, and so keep in mind she doesn’t know what’s going to happen until the very end of the speech either. Formulate the plan and let the thoughts come to you in the moment.