Helen is a clever, determined, and beautiful young woman, the orphaned daughter of the famous doctor Gerard de Narbon. Because of her intelligence and good nature, she is admired by almost all who know her. She loves young Bertram, the new Count of Rossillion, who has been called to the court of the ailing king of France after the death of his own father. Using the medical knowledge she gained from her father, Helen cures the king of France and is given her choice of husband as a reward. She chooses Bertram, who is forced to marry her but is resentful of the situation and disturbed by Helen's lack of social standing. Before the marriage can be consummated, he abandons her to fight in the Tuscan wars and sends a letter saying he will not marry her until she wears his family ring, which he never takes off, and becomes pregnant with his child. Helen displays both her determination and resourcefulness by devising a scheme where she tricks the young man into relinquishing his ring to an ally of Helen's, a woman he has been trying to seduce, and then taking her place in the woman's bed. When her scheme is successful, the entire court rejoices, and even Bertram realizes she is a woman worthy of his love.
Bertram is a callow and selfish young man who becomes Count of Rossillion after his father's death. He has an inflated sense of his own importance and social rank, and resents being told what to do. For that reason, he chooses Parolles—a liar and coward who tells Bertram just what he wants to hear—as his adviser and closest companion. When Bertram is commanded by the king of France to marry Helen, he initially resists the order because of her lack of social standing. When the king forces him to comply, Parolles encourages Bertram to abandon Helen to fight in the Tuscan wars. Bertram runs off, sending Helen a note saying he will not marry her until she wears his family ring, which he never takes off, and becomes pregnant with his child. Bertram proves to be an able leader in the wars but, otherwise, continues to be a cad, attempting to seduce a virtuous, young noblewoman named Diana by promising to marry her. Luckily, Diana has been recruited by Helen to help her in a scheme that will allow Helen to meet Bertram's impossible requirements. Only when Bertram has been tricked, embarrassed, and shamed does he finally realize Helen is superior to him, and he promises to love her from that point on.
Parolles is Bertram's closest companion. But Parolles is also a liar, a coward, a human parasite, and a terrible influence on Bertram, usually advising the young man to do exactly the wrong thing: abandon his wife, run away to the wars, and seduce young women whenever he can. Luckily, everyone but Bertram sees Parolles for what he is. First Lord Dumaine and Second Lord Dumaine, friends of Bertram's, devise a trap to show Bertram Parolles is not only a liar and a coward but disloyal. Parolles's one redeeming feature is once his weaknesses are revealed and Bertram casts him off, he takes full ownership of his flaws. He also decides not to hide away in shame but, instead, to move forward with his life.
King of France
The king is a good man, beloved by his subjects. Once a valiant warrior, he is now close to death and hopes only to die before he stops being a good example to the younger people of his country. When Helen miraculously cures him, the king of France shows his gratitude by giving Helen her choice of husband and then making sure Bertram's arrogance does not get in the way of their marriage.
The Countess of Rossillion, like many of the older characters in this play, is good, wise, and perceptive. She loves her son but sees his flaws and does not hesitate to berate him when he behaves badly. She is also quick to embrace Helen as a daughter despite the girl's lack of wealth or social status. The countess sees Helen as a perfectly suitable match for her son.