Helena

10 Great Shakespeare Soliloquies: Helena

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01.10.2021

Today, we look at number five on our list of 10 great Shakespeare soliloquies, as chosen by our expert panel.

Compiled by Andy McLean

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5. Helena (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 1 Scene 1)

When a character speaks a soliloquy, they aren’t communicating with another character on stage, they are instead either communicating directly with the audience or thinking something through on their own. For academic and writer Dr Anna Kamaralli, the best soliloquies are those where the speaker arrives somewhere different at the end of the speech from where they started.

“In All’s Well That Ends Well the seemingly mousy heroine, Helena, has two long soliloquies right at the outset, in Act 1 Scene 1,” says Kamaralli. “In the first, she rather weakly reflects on the hopelessness of her love. The second is a huge contrast – full of resolve. By the end of it, Helena has talked herself into the bold course of action that will change the path of her life.

“This second speech is a sonnet built of seven rhyming couplets, that begins, Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie and concludes, But my intents are fix’d and will not leave me. The smart, resourceful, daring woman she becomes is born in this speech. The soliloquy performs a master trick of sending us off on an adventure with a companion we have accidentally formed an alliance with, while listening to her find her hidden strength.”

Here’s Helena in full flight:
Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky
Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.
What power is it which mounts my love so high,
That makes me see, and cannot feed mine eye?
The mightiest space in fortune nature brings
To join like likes and kiss like native things.
Impossible be strange attempts to those
That weigh their pains in sense and do suppose
What hath been cannot be: who ever strove
So show her merit that did miss her love?
The king’s disease! My project may deceive me,
But my intents are fix’d and will not leave me.

To read about the other soliloquies in our series, see the Bell Shakespeare blog.

Dr Anna Kamaralli is the author of Shakespeare and the Shrew: Performing the Defiant Female Voice (Palgrave Macmillan).

To be continued…

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