To say that William Shakespeare has a beautiful way with words it so state the obvious. What takes his talent beyond his language is his ability to appeal to particular human emotions and draw specific responses from his audience. His play Alls Well that Ends Well has many themes that appeal to audiences such as war, motherhood, marriage, politics, and humor. The play as a whole is entertaining, but it is the small veins of the story that appeal to the audience on different levels and in different ways that makes the play so successful. I was drawn to Shakespeare’s words regarding unrequited love. My favorite scene where these words are found is the sorrowful parting of Bertram for war. His mother, the Countess, wishes him a tearful goodbye. The Countess’s young female assistant, Helena, voices an even deeper remorse for his departure.
“I am undone: there is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. ‘Twere all one
That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so above me:
In his bright radiance and collateral light
Must I be comforted, not in his sphere.
The ambition in my love thus plagues itself:
The hind that would be mated by the lion
Must die for love. ‘Twas pretty, though plague,
To see him every hour; to sit and draw
His arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,
In our heart’s table; heart too capable
Of every line and trick of his sweet favour:
But now he’s gone, and my idolatrous fancy
Must sanctify his reliques…”
I stood among the “groundlings” at the Globe Theatre and listened to these words delivered by a thirty something blonde actress. The painful words were choking her as her hand clasped her throat and tried to help them out of her thin, red lips. Her facial muscles were scrunched around her nose and eyes in misery, and her eyes were misty with visions of Bertram. I saw this woman admitting the torment her love put her through and a familiar face misted over my own eyes. I was standing shoulder to shoulder among a crowd of sweaty strangers constantly shifting their weight from one foot to another, but my mind was seeking those laughing blue eyes and joyously boyish grin under the messy mop of dusty brown hair. Shakespeare’s language made my own experience with unrequited love return to me as I watched his play.
Despite my best efforts at self-discipline and denial, earlier this year I had fallen for a boy back at my school in America even though I knew he already had a girlfriend. I had noticed him, but never let myself take genuine interest because his serious girlfriend back home was well known on campus. However, when we were in the same class together over the course of the semester I was no longer able to hold myself back. I shamelessly flirted with him in spite of myself. He was too kind to give me the cold shoulder, but continually treated me as a friend. His friendliness only encouraged me. Before long, after the initial head swimming fantasies of falling in love had petered out, the reality of his commitment to his girlfriend began to sink in. I loathed myself when in that class with him, but it was the highlight of my day. I waited anxiously to see him, but anticipated the stomach-churning reminder that my affections were not reciprocated.
Helena voices this double-edged blade of wanting to see the object of her affections and not wanting to see him. To see him is to have the useless fire of unrequited love fueled. However, with his parting, Helena is “undone.” I have grappled with myself over the thought that if I were to never see the man I love again I could perhaps get over him. But then I argue that what if I were to get over him just in time to see him break up with his girlfriend and his affections turned to me? I would never forgive myself. I am jealous of Helena in that she had the strength and opportunity to pursue her man and win him in the end. Alls Well that Ends Well served not only to make my amorous emotions resurface, but also to inspire them to stay alive. One day, perhaps I will share in Helena’s happiness and victory. I am stuck, “The ambition of my love thus plagues itself.” The hope that love could one day be returned will never cease, thus the pain of unrequited love will never cease.
The Globe Theatre’s website: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/