If this play’s title had a subtitle, it would be “…But Does It Really?” After my first reading, I remember being thoroughly confused, frustrated, and disgusted at the trite simplistic ending, where perfect Helena ends up with the seemingly unrepentant scumbucket Bertram.
However, coming back to it several years later (and I’d like to think moderately wiser, at least in terms of Shakespeare), this play intrigued me. It really is such a bizarre little thing, that I don’t know how to articulate what it is or exactly how I feel about it, aside from perplexed.
As usual, Shakespeare crafts his characters so they are impossible to truly hate or fully love, and for being little known, this play is full of hilarious, lovable and hate-able, characters.
The interplay between the court and the battlefield, love and war, male and female, runs at such a pace I’ve no doubt I missed a great number of details. Even though the plot line runs pretty straight–there are no major subplots or disguises like we see in Taming of the Shrew or As You Like It–the mystery and suspense carry through the final scene.
Thematically, the similarities and differences between this play and Romeo and Juliet kept catching my eye. Both deal with young people quelling their passions, both deal with young people growing up too quickly, and both deal with faked deaths. However, one ends well, the other not; one has too many meddling parental figures, the other not; one has two lovers loving across social class, the other sees the impediment of class enforced by one of the would-be lovers. I’ve no idea if there is anything tenable in those comparisons, but there they are.