Helena Monologue Act 1 Scene 3 (All's Well That Ends Well) | StageMilk
helena monologue act 1 scene 3

Helena Monologue Act 1 Scene 3 (All’s Well That Ends Well)

Written by on | Monologues Unpacked

All’s Well That Ends Well is not one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, but it does feature some terrific monologues. The monologue that we are exploring here is one of my favourite monologues from All’s Well That Ends Well. It is Helena’s Monologue from Act 1 Scene 3. Helena is, without a doubt, the most compelling and exciting character from the play; she is also a great choice of character for auditions.

In this article, we will explore this monologue in detail and do our best to explain and unlock this Shakespeare monologue.

All’s Well That Ends Well Synopsis

Whenever you are looking at a new monologue, the first thing you need to do is to understand its context in the larger text. Really knowing the world of the play is going to give your monologue authenticity and detail. As All’s Well That Ends Well is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, we thought we’d start with a broad look at what happens in the play:

The story centres around Helena, who is a ward of the Countess of Rousillon (Province of France). She is not a noblewoman, but has managed to fall madly in love with the son of the Countess, Bertram. She is aware that she is not an appropriate match for Bertram because of her rank in society, but all the same is completely in love.

Bertram leaves to Paris to become an attendant to the sick King of France. Helena also heads to Paris, and offers to heal the sick King (her father is a famous physician and she believes she will be able to heal him). Yes, this all seems a little random: but welcome to Shakespeare. Helena is so confident in her abilities, she even bets her life on it.

The King is cured! To say thank you, Helena is allowed to marry anyone she likes. She asks to marry Bertram, who isn’t thrilled with the idea. The King is not too pleased with this effrontery and forces Bertram to marry. However, upset about Helena’s lower social status, Bertram leaves immediately to go to war in Italy. He says he will only marry her after she is pregnant and has the family ring.

Dejected, Helena returns home. The Countess is appalled by her son’s behaviour, and basically ends up 100% on team Helena. Bertram proves to be a good soldier, but also seems to be enjoying the single life a little too much…

Helena eventually heads to Italy in search of Bertram. She befriends Diana—Bertram’s current flame—and they organise a classic Shakespeare bed swap. Thusly, Helena and Bertram consummate their marriage without him knowing. Diana also manages to wrangle the ring from Bertram with some flirting skills. In this way, Helena has achieved both goals required to secure her marriage with Bertram.

However, Helena’s plan is not yet complete. In a shock manoeuvre, she fakes her death and Bertram finally returns home, hopeful that he is free of this unwanted marriage. He is then about to marry another woman, but Diana comes forward and confesses everything. Helena then ‘returns from the dead’ with the family ring. Bertram is seemingly impressed with this elaborate deception and, as it says on the box: all’s well that ends well.

Who is Helena?

Helena is the ward of the Countess of Rousillon, Bertram’s mother. This basically means that the Countess is looking after Helena—who acts as the Countess’ waiting woman and attendant—but is of much lower status. Helena is madly in love with Bertram, but as this monologue expounds, she is does not “deserve” him in her current rank/social position. Helena’s father has passed away before the play begins; even though he was a famous physician, she is not of noble birth.

Context

Immediately before this monologue, Helena is talking with the Countess. The Countess is pressing and pressing her to confess her feelings. This is helpful in the playing of the piece and the monologue does not come out of nowhere, but is coerced. Use this ‘moment before’ to help build tension and stakes in the scene, and determine Helena’s objective in the scene.

Helena (Act 1 Scene 3) Monologue Original Text

HELENA
Then I confess,
Here on my knee, before high heaven and you,
That before you, and next unto high heaven,
I love your son.
My friends were poor but honest, so’s my love.
Be not offended, for it hurts not him
That he is loved of me. I follow him not
By any token of presumptuous suit,
Nor would I have him till I do deserve him,
Yet never know how that desert should be.
I know I love in vain, strive against hope;
Yet in this captious and intenible sieve
I still pour in the waters of my love
And lack not to lose still. Thus, Indian-like,
Religious in mine error, I adore
The sun that looks upon his worshipper,
But knows of him no more. My dearest madam,
Let not your hate encounter with my love
For loving where you do; but if yourself,
Whose aged honour cites a virtuous youth,
Did ever in so true a flame of liking
Wish chastely and love dearly, that your Dian
Was both herself and Love, O then give pity
To her whose state is such that cannot choose
But lend and give where she is sure to lose;
That seeks not to find that her search implies,
But riddle-like lives sweetly where she dies.

Unfamiliar words

Friend: Relative, kinsman.
Honest: Genuine, honourable.
Token: Signal, sign, evidence.
Presumptuous: Arrogant, overconfident.
Suit: Courtship, wooing.
Desert: Deserving, due recompense.
Captious: Critical, fault-finding or roomy, spacious
Intenible: Unable to retain (debated meaning among scholars). Could potentially be “intemible” = unable to be poured out. I think the first makes more sense as the next section is about how like a sieve your love is.
Indian-like, religious in mine error: I have seen this section explained as she is doing something wrong, like an Indian person who is worshiping the wrong religion (going against Christianity). I don’t think this makes sense. For me she is talking about “Indian-like” as in people of Indian religions who are very dedicated, and she is “religious” as in she consistently keeps being devoted in the “error” which is loving Bertram.
Encounter: Dispute, confront.
Wish: Hope, desire.
Dian: Goddess of chastity.
Riddle-like: Like a riddle, hiding the truth of the situation.

Modern Translation

For the modern translation I have broken it up into sections and then I give an overview of each section. I believe this is the best way to learn the piece anyway, going through beat by beat.

Then I confess,
Here on my knee, before high heaven and you,
That before you, and next unto high heaven,
I love your son.

Well then I confess, down on my knees in front of god and you, first to you of course and then to heaven and god, that I love your son.

My friends were poor but honest, so’s my love.
Be not offended, for it hurts not him
That he is loved of me. I follow him not
By any token of presumptuous suit,
Nor would I have him till I do deserve him,
Yet never know how that desert should be.

My friends and relatives are poor, but honest, people and that is what my love is like. Don’t be offended as it doesn’t affect Bertram that I am so in love with him. I don’t love him with any expectation of being with him, nor would I ever be with him unless I deserved him and was of a noble rank. Yet I don’t know how I would ever make that happen.

I know I love in vain, strive against hope;
Yet in this captious and intenible sieve
I still pour in the waters of my love
And lack not to lose still. Thus, Indian-like,
Religious in mine error, I adore
The sun that looks upon his worshipper,
But knows of him no more.

I love him in vain and keep loving him against any hope of it ever being requited. It’s as if I’m pouring my love into a big, wide sieve and the love is just pouring out. But as I never had anything to begin there is no need to catch what is falling away. It’s like I am like an Indian worshipper, who is so devoted in this error of loving Bertram, I love him like a devotee loves the sun but the sun doesn’t care for one random devote.

My dearest madam,
Let not your hate encounter with my love
For loving where you do; but if yourself,
Whose aged honour cites a virtuous youth,
Did ever in so true a flame of liking
Wish chastely and love dearly, that your Dian
Was both herself and Love, O then give pity
To her whose state is such that cannot choose
But lend and give where she is sure to lose;

My dearest lady. Please don’t get angry with me for having this love for your son. If you, whose honour as an older woman, shows that you must have had a pure youth did ever love some one so much that it was virginal and pure but also full of passion, as if you were praying to Goddess of Diane and Venus at the same time, then give me pity to me who has no choice but to keep giving love to this person who can’t love me back.

That seeks not to find that her search implies,
But riddle-like lives sweetly where she dies.

I seek not to have what my wanting might imply that I want. But instead my love will live as a secret until I die.

Playing Helena from All’s Well That Ends Well

Why Helena loves Bertram is beyond me. He seems to have almost no redeeming qualities and she deserves better! But that being said, we no longer live in a society where class and social rank are such an important factor (at least on the surface, that is). So it’s hard to know whether that is playing a big role in her desire for him. Is it his power, status or money? Or does she truly just love him for who he is?

Helena also heals the King of France. We know that she is intelligent, as well as savvy in the way of the prevailing social system, which further mystifies her choice of this man-child for a true love. We know her dad was a famous physician, but how much knowledge did she get from him and what was their relationship? This is not explored in depth in the play, so it’s up to you to uncover this.

However you justify it to yourself, the important thing is that you find the LOVE. For this monologue to work, we have to believe this love truly and deeply.

Conclusion

This is a terrific audition monologue, but it requires work. Much like Juliet’s famous “Gallop apace!” monologue from Romeo and Juliet, Helena’s speech is as much a declaration of love as it is an opportunity for you to explore her own beliefs and insecurities. What drives this character? And why does she want what she wants? As this character and play are not familiar to most actors, you will need to spend more time uncovering the world of the play and the words of the text. Be rigorous in your investigation and take your time to unpack its varied meanings. Once you have unlocked it, this monologue needs love and commitment. Helena is a striking character who knows what she wants. She is determined, clever and not someone who is defeated by her circumstances. Lean into her strength of character, and your performance will triumph!

 

 

About the Author

Andrew Hearle

is the founder of StageMilk. Andrew trained at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and is now a Sydney-based actor working in Theatre, Film and Television.

About the Author

Andrew Hearle

is the founder of StageMilk. Andrew trained at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and is now a Sydney-based actor working in Theatre, Film and Television.

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