The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1651  Tuesday, 16 July 2002

From:           Paul Swanson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 15 Jul 2002 22:00:38 EDT
Subject:        Heaven and Christ Images in All's Well

I have a question I hope SHAKSPERians will discuss. In again studying
All's Well That Ends Well, I have noticed an abundance of instances
which establish Helena as an instrument of heaven and possibly even a

The Countess says that Heaven "delights to hear / And loves to grant"
Helena's prayers (3.4.27-28). Lafew describes her as "a medicine /
That's able to breathe life into stone" (2.1.71-72) and the "very hand
of heaven" (2.3.31), a miracle-like description perhaps bringing to mind
Christ's resurrection of Lazarus, as does perhaps Helena's resurrection
of the King.  Helena herself uses numerous religious inferences in
persuading the King to allow her to practice her healing on him,
equating herself with Heaven in telling the King "Of heaven, not me,
make an experiment" (2.1.153) and earlier hinting that her healing power
is "The help of heaven" (2.1.151).  Even the King says that in Helena
"some blessed spirit doth speak" (2.1.174).

My trouble with the equation of Helena to the "hand of heaven" -- and
hence my question for SHAKSPERians -- is that these images do not seem
at all congruent with the end of this play. Given the ambiguous nature
of this play -- the dubious ending, Helena's questionable moral state
(she bribes numerous people in the play to get what she wants, she
deceives Bertram in a mighty way) -- how are we to interpret what seems
to me to be a pretty clear alignment of Helena with heaven's will?

Much thanks for your comments and ideas.

Paul Swanson

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