119 - Helena's plan also has a darker element, for she does...

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A "noble" Count (Bertram) agrees to entrap a friend, and a "chaste" maiden (Helena) offers large  sums of money to a mother to get her daughter to arrange to have sexual intercourse with a legally  married man. The plot now grows murky in this unusual "comedy." As Parolles is himself dishonest,  however, there is a kind of justice in ensnaring him: the trickster will himself be tricked. Yet Bertram  himself (like Parolles) seems disloyal. A similar parallel exists in Shakespeare's  Henry IV, Part 1,  in  which Hal's delightful scoundrel-companion, fat Jack Falstaff, is exposed publicly as a coward for the  good of young Prince Hal. The difference, of course, is that Hal has known all along what mettle  Falstaff is made of, and Hal himself is of enormously greater stature than Bertram. Bertram is petty  by comparison, as is this scheme to expose and tease the loathsome Parolles.
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Unformatted text preview: Helena's plan also has a darker element, for she does have the matter of "right" on her side: Helena: Why then tonight let us essay our plot, Which, if it speed, is wicked meaning [Bertram's] In a lawful deed, and lawful meaning In a lawful act [Helena's] Where both not sin, and yet a sinful fact. But let's about it. (43-48) Helena undertakes the adventure with relish, and she paves the way with purses of gold to the Widow of Florence and her virgin daughter, Diana. The quoted passage captures all the ambiguity of the plot Bertram will be making love to Helena, his rightful wife, though he thinks that she is Diana, an attractive virgin whom he fancies. His intention will be sinful, although the act will be lawful. "Ethics be damned!" seems to be Helena's attitude, so long as "all ends well" and is just....
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