Shakespeare's Characters: Helena (All's Well That Ends Well)

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In the character of Juliet we have seen the passionate and the imaginative blended in an equal degree, and in the highest conceivable degree as combined with delicate female nature. In Helena we have a modification of character altogether distinct; allied, indeed, to Juliet as a picture of fervent, enthusiastic, self-forgetting love, but differing wholly from her in other respects; for Helena is the union of strength of passion with strength of character. . . . Helena; touched with the most soul-subduing pathos, and developed with the most consummate skill. Helena, as a woman, is more passionate than imaginative; and, as a character, she bears the same relation to Juliet that Isabel bears to Portia. There is equal unity of purpose and effect, with much less of the glow of imagery and the external colouring of poetry in the sentiments, language, and details. It is passion developed under its most profound and serious aspect; as in Isabella, we have the serious and the thoughtful, not the brilliant side of intellect. Both Helena and Isabel are distinguished by high mental powers, tinged with a melancholy sweetness; but in Isabella the serious and energetic part of the character is founded in religious principle, in Helena it is founded in deep passion. There never was, perhaps, a more beautiful picture of a woman's love, cherished in secret, not self-consuming in silent languishment — not pining in thought — not passive and "desponding over its idol" — but patient and hopeful, strong in its own intensity, and sustained by its own fond faith. The passion here reposes upon itself for all its interest; it derives nothing from art or ornament or circumstance; it has nothing of the picturesque charm or glowing romance of Juliet; nothing of the poetical splendour of Portia, or the vestal grandeur of Isabel. The situation of Helena is the most painful and degrading

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