Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: France - Court of Rossillion and French court. Italy - Florentine court and streets of Florence
Act I, Scene 1: The Countess of Rossillion's son Bertram is leaving for the court of the King of France. The Countess and Lord Lafew discuss the King's poor health, she regrets that the father of her ward, Helena, has died. Helena's father was a great doctor and easily could have cured the ailing king. The Countess bids Bertram farewell and departs, and Bertram, after a cursory farewell to Helena, leaves with Lafew. Helena soliloquizes on her seemingly hopeless love for Bertram. Bertram's friend Parolles arrives and engages Helena in an exchange of verbal jests on the subject of her virginity and virginity in general. Parolles leaves, and Helena decides that she must act if her love is to be rewarded. She sees an opportunity in the King's illness.
Act I, Scene 2: The King discusses the war between Florence and Siena, stating that he has decided to permit French noblemen to fight in the conflict if they wish. Bertram arrives and is welcomed warmly by the King. The King remarks on his ill health and regrets the death of the famed doctor who had served in the court at Rossillion.
Act I, Scene 3: The Countess jester Lavatch (or referred to in some texts as just 'Clown'), requests permission to marry, making obscene jokes and singing songs. The Steward wishes to speak about Helena and the Countess sends Lavatch to get her. The Countess remarks on her fondness for Helena and the Steward confides that he has overheard the young woman musing on her love for Bertram. As the Steward leaves, Helena arrives, and the Countess elicits from hr a confession on her love for Bertram and of her intention to go to Paris. Helena asserts that she has secret prescriptions of her father's that she is convinced will cure the King, and he Countess agrees to help her travel to Paris to try them.
Act II, Scene 1: The King bids farewell to the First and Second Lords and other young nobleman leaving to fight in Florence. Bertram regrets that he is commanded to remain at court. Lafew appears and introduces Helena as young woman who can cure the King's illness Helena convinces the King to try her medicine, offering to wager her life that it will work within 24 hours. In return, she ask the King to approve her marriage to the man of her choice.
Act II, Scene 2: Lavatch jests about life at the King's court an the Countess gives him a message to take to Helena.
Act II, Scene 3: Lafew, interrupted repeatedly by Parolles, tells of the King's return to health. The King arrives with Helena, who is to choose from among the young gentlemen of the court. She selects Bertram, but he refuses to marry her, saying that her social rank is too low. However, the King orders him to accept, and he accepts. Parolles puts on airs, and Lafew disdains him with elaborate insults. Lafew leaves, and Bertram reappears, declaring that he will run away to the wars in Italy before he will consummate his marriage to Helena. He plans to send Helena back to the Countess alone.
Act II, Scene 4: Parolles conveys Bertram's instructions to Helena.
Act III, Scene 1: The Duke of Florence receives the First and Second Lords
Act III, Scene 2: The Countess reads Bertram's letter declaring that he has run away from his new wife, as Helena appears with the First and Second Lords, who are on leave from Florence. She reads aloud a letter from Bertram, he will not acknowledge her as his wife until she wears his ring and bears his child., which, he insists, will never happen. In a soliloquy, Helena decides that she must leave France and become a wanderer so that her husband may lived unhindered by an unwanted wife.
Act III, Scene 3: The Duke of Florence makes Bertram his general of cavalry. Bertram rejoices to be engaged in war, not love.
Act III, Scene 4: The Steward reads a letter from Helena stating that she has become a holy pilgrim. The dismayed Countess orders him to write Bertram, asking him to return hoping that Helena will eventually come back as well.
Act III, Scene 5: The widow Capilet, a landlady in Florence, her daughter Diana, and their neighbor Mariana remark that eh new French general, Bertram, has tempted to seduce Diana, sending Parolles as his go between. Helena appears, identifying herself as a French pilgrim, and she is told about the general, whom the ladies have heard has rejected his wife. Helena agrees to lodge with the widow.
Act III, Scene 6: The two lords propose to prove to Bertram that Parolles is a coward. They will kidnap him and make him believe he has been captured by the enemy; they are sure the he will betray his comrades out of fear while Bertram overhears his interrogation. Parolles enters and brags that he will retrieve a captured regimental drum, a prized emblem. He leaves, and the First Lord follows to prepare the plan, Bertram invites the Second lord to visit Diana with him.
Act III, Scene 7: Helena has told the widow that she is Bertram's wife, and she proposes a plot, if Diana pretends to accept Bertram as a lover , Helena will substitute for the young woman in bed; Bertram will not recognize her in the dark. The widow agrees.
Act IV, Scene 1: The First Lord instructs his men to pose as foreign mercenaries, pretending to speak in an "exotic" language, which is only gibberish, to Parolles. The first solider volunteers to act as their interpreter. Parolles appears, wondering what excuse he can offer for returning without the drum. He is captured and immediately promises, through the 'interpreter', to reveal military secrets if his life is spared.
Act IV, Scene 2: Bertram attempts to talk Diana into sleeping with him. She demands that he give her his ring, a family heirloom, and also asks him to promise not to speak to her when they meet later that night. He agrees.
Act IV, Scene 3: The First and Second Lords discuss Bertram's disgrace for having left his wife, noting also that he has seduced a young woman by giving her his family ring. They have head that his wife has died, and they regret that he is probably pleased by this. Bertram arrives, and the blindfolded Parolles is brought in to be 'interrogated'. He reveals military secrets, disparaging both Bertram an the Lords as he does so. The blindfold is removed, and Parolles sees who has exposed him. Alone, Parolles, declares that having proven a fool, he will simply have to become a professional fool or jester.
Act IV, Scene 4: Helena intends to take the widow and Diana to the King's court at Marseilles, where she can get an escort to Rossillion and arrive ahead of Bertram.
Act IV, Scene 5: In Rossillion, Lafew, the Countess and Lavatch mourn Helena. Lafew proposes that Bertram marry his daughter, and the Countess agrees. Lafew has learned that the King will visit Rossillion shortly. Lavatch reports Bertram's approach.
Act V, Scene 1: In Marseilles, Helena and her companions encounter a gentleman who informs them that the King has gone to Rossillion.
Act V, Scene 2: In Rossillion, Parolles, now in rags, is teased by Lavatch. Lafew appears, and Parolles begs him for assistance. After chastising him for having earned his misfortune through knavery, Lafew promises him a position in his household.
Act V, Scene 3: The King pardons Bertram for his part in Helena's death and tells him of his prospective marriage to Lafew's daughter. Bertram offers Lafew a ring to give his daughter. The King recognizes it as the one he had given Helena, but Bertram claims that it cam from an admirer in Florence. The unbelieving King orders him arrested Diana arrives and asserts that Bertram cannot deny that he took her virginity. She produces his family ring and says that Parolles can testify to her relationship with him. Bertram insists that she seduced him and then demanded his ring; he equates the gift with payment to a prostitute. Parolles appears and states that Bertram's infatuation with Diana extended to promising marriage. Helena appears an claims Bertram as her husband, reminding him that he had said he would accept her when she wore his ring and bore his child. She says these things are done and tells of her impersonation in Diana's bed. The delighted and amused King promises Diana a dowry if she wants to marry. He speaks an Epilogue to the audience, asking for applause.
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