A tale of trickery and deception, this play contains some of Shakespeare’s most brilliant female characters.
Helena, a poor physician’s daughter, has dared to fall in love with the young Count Bertram. After she cures the king, who was suffering from a terrible disease, she asks for Bertram’s hand in marriage as a reward. Undaunted by his contemptuous rejection, Helena contrives to gain his ring and become pregnant by him, all without his knowledge.
George Bernard Shaw called it ‘a bitter play with a bitter title’, although he greatly admired the female characters, thinking the Countess ‘the most beautiful old woman’s part ever written’. Other 19th -century critics were appalled by Helena’s bold pursuit of Bertram, while all commentators have struggled with Bertram himself – is he a spoilt boy or a rogue? Does the ending offer happiness or is the play’s title ironic? Many have noted the king’s ambiguous words, ‘All yet seems well’, and the conditional in Bertram’s promise: ‘If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly, /I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly.’
Published by Oxford University Press and bound in hardback buckram by The Folio Society, The Oxford Shakespeare series offers authoritative editions of Shakespeare’s plays. The early printings have been scrupulously re-examined and interpreted by eminent scholars, who also provide introductory essays covering all relevant background information, together with an appraisal of critical views and of the plays in performance. The exhaustive commentaries pay particular attention to language and staging. Reprints of sources, music for songs, genealogical tables and maps are included where necessary; many of the volumes are illustrated, and all contain an index.
Each book has an individual editor, with the whole series overseen by Stanley Wells.
Susan Snyder was a respected Shakespeare scholar. She gathered her essays from across three decades into The Wayward Journey, published by Delaware University Press.
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