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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT I, SCENE 3
This scene takes place once again at Rousillon, where the Countess meets with her steward and the clown Lavache. The clown requests the Countess' permission to marry because he is driven to do so by the desires of the flesh. In the course of the ensuing quibble, the clown sings a song with the words "your marriage comes by destiny". The Countess impatiently tells him to leave.
When they are left alone, the Steward informs the Countess that he has overheard Helena musing to herself that she loves Bertram. The Countess dismisses the Steward, asking him to keep the matter to himself. Helena enters and the Countess remarks that she appears to be sick with love, then confides she feels like a mother to Helena, who protests. The Countess asks her why she does not want to be thought of as a daughter, and Helena explains that to be the Countess' daughter would make her Bertram's sister, and she feels more than brotherly toward him. The Countess says she now realizes the mystery of Helena's loneliness and her frequent tears, knowing that Helena loves her son. Helena begs forgiveness from the Countess for daring to love Bertram with her poor, but honest, love. She is surprised to discover that the Countess does not disapprove.
The Countess then asks Helena whether she intends to go to Paris. Helena answers that she wishes to help the King. Her father has left her with some rare prescriptions. Among these there is a remedy to cure the disease plaguing the King. The Countess asks her if this is her only reason for going to Paris, and Helena truthfully replies that Bertram's departure for Paris has also been an influence. The Countess gives Helena her permission and support.
The scene opens with a curious conversation between the Countess and the clown, in which the clown describes the use that he will make of his wife Isbel to create friends for himself. The implication is that voluntary cuckoldry can create a natural bond among men. When the Countess remonstrates him for his foolishness and tells him that such friends are in fact enemies, the clown argues that the person who "comforts my wife is the cherisher of my life and blood; he who loves my flesh and blood is my friend; ergo, he who kisses my wife is my friend". This frank sexual discussion, shortly following Helena's graphic exchange with Parolles, is a good suggestion of the highly sexual nature of things to come in the play.
When the Countess learns that Helena is in love with Bertram, she recalls her own youthful days. She sees love as the prerogative of the young. Once again, the older characters view the younger with some nostalgia and yearning. Interestingly, the Countess has high expectations of Helena and is convinced of her worthiness. This is in distinct contrast to her hesitant expectations for her own son, Bertram. She asserts of Helena that "there is more owing to her than paid, and more shall be paid than she'll demand".
The Countess, in this moment of nostalgia, allows Helena to speak without any restraint about her desires. Helena confesses that "I know I love in vain, strive against hope. Yet, in this captious sieve, I still pour in the waters of my love". Helena hopes to deserve Bertram's love, despite her lowly status. The Countess, realizing that Helena's worth has little to do with her class or social bearing, promises to help in every way she can. When Helena reveals her plan of curing the King in an effort to elevate herself in the eyes of the world, the Countess supports her decision. It is more than evident she considers Helena a suitable daughter-in-law, despite the difference in their social statures. She also feels certain Helena can accomplish the task that she has set before herself: winning Bertram's love.