Monday, March 19, 2012

All's Well

Y'know there's lot of people who think Shakespeare was more than one person because his plays are so inconsistent.  Some are incredibly great and some are obscure for a very good reason.  I'd think this was a good argument if I wasn't so aware of my own track record on the issue of consistency.  

Still, there are some pretty dumb plays.  One that really bugs me is "All's Well that End's Well".  Helena is this really amazing woman who dares to become a physician and stand up to the King and his male doctors with really intelligent arguments.   And she heals the King when no one else can.  Her fee is to be married to this guy, Bertram, who is a liar and a womanizer and a braggart and a spoiled rich kid.  The story revolves around all the incredible things she does for his sake and, in the end, this sleaze ball says "Oh!  Okay.  I'll be married to you."  At which point I want to shake Helena into the 21st century.  How many minutes after the play ends does Bertram wander off with someone new?  Still... "All's Well That Ends Well"  which title may indeed Shakespeare throwing up his hands and saying, "The play is lousy but the rent is due."

ANYWAY.  As a writing exercise, I've been trying to write an outline of a book that follows the basic story line but makes it plausible for Helena to wind up with Bertram.   Here's a rough outline.  It takes place in the Vietnam Era, I think.

Add your comments below.  Maybe we'll write a best seller together!

 Helen didn't remember her real mom. When she imagined her, she always looked like Connie; her foster mom since her dad died. She remembered her dad alright. He was a brilliant doctor who couldn't cure himself. A loving dad who never the less left her all alone in the world. How lucky she was to have landed on Connie's doorstep after she became an orphan at age 12. Connie was a great foster mom. She always had several foster kids living with her. Some just stayed for a week or two and some stayed longer. None of them stated as long as Helen had. That was partly because there was no place else for her to go and no one else who wanted her.  But Connie and her son, Bert, took her in and put up with her grief and anger at the unfairness of the world and all her growing pains. They were great. By the time Helen was a junior at the local high school Connie and Bert were her family and she was helping the other foster kids settle in and transition out. She also had developed a major crush on Bert. He treated her like his little sister - sometimes great and sometimes rotten - but she never wavered from her belief that he represented the ideal and he featured prominently in her young fantasies.

Bert was very popular. Captain of the basketball team and student body president with grades just good enough to get him in a local college. Helen had a strong math/science aptitude and was the kind of girl that teachers and parents adored but peers tended to forget existed. Connie helped her apply for scholarships and she went off to university where she majored in pre-med and eventually graduated at the top of her class in med school with offers from all kinds of great hospitals. Even though she stopped being a ward of the state at 18 she still made a point of spending every holiday with Connie, who was getting older and taking in fewer foster kids.  Helen planned to start sending her money once she decided which position to take. Bert, in the meantime, was still enjoying life and not exactly setting the world on fire. Actually, he put out fires for a living. It made enough for him to live on and he liked the opportunity to stay in shape. The hours were another plus. He could easily work in long leisurely weekends with beautiful women but had a very convenient explanation for why he couldn't commit to a long term relationship. Helen still found him irresistible and he still thought of her as a scrawny kid. She eventually accepted an offer from a large hospital in the city near the town where Connie lived. It wasn't the most prestigious offer she received but the pay was enough to cover her expenses and still have plenty to send to Connie. Plus there was always the chance that she might meet Bert when she went to visit Connie.

In her first month at the hospital, Helen cures Rich Guy that no one else thought could be cured.  He gives her an antique cross which is the twin of one he gave his own daughter and sets her up in lucrative private practice.  Then he asks Bert to escort her to big society function that he was angling for invitation from Rich Guy's Daughter for. He goes hoping for chance to flirt with RG'sD  but gets there to find everyone assumes he and Helen are a couple. Rich Guy pressures him to marry Helen and he agrees to set a date rather than  jeopardize  his entre into Rich Guy's circle. He fully expects Helen to go along with the ruse and has no idea she thinks it's for real. But when Helen assumes he is in love with her he is brutally frank with her re: his "eww" reaction. She's a foster kid, no social status, cute enough but actually he secretly resents that his own mother likes her more than him. He has always had to share his mom with lots of "tramp kids" and Helen represents all if them in his mind because she stayed longest and his mom loves her. Rich Guy and daughter overhear the conversation and repudiate him for his lack of sensitivity toward H. They ask him to leave. He storms out and, finding his reputation shot, enlists in the marines saying "fine. You won. You get mom and the whole damn town"

Helen is shocked. She never knew he felt like that. She thinks if he dies it will be her fault. She resigns from her practice and joins Doctors Without Borders. She writes Connie and apologizes for usurping Bert's place in Connie's heart and says she hopes to dedicate her life to doing good to expiate the wrongs she has unwittingly done and hopes, if death is hovering over Connie's family, it will be her instead of Bert who is killed.

RG'sD inspired by H gets a job as a nurse and goes overseas.

In Doctors Without Borders she runs across L who was a foster kid at Connie's for a time but they lost track of him. L&H work side by side and become friends.  In the meantime, B finds several cronies in his unit who were at one time or another foster kids. They form a tight bond of brothers who regularly save each others' lives and B learns how much he and his mom meant to these guys. He begins to appreciate his life in new ways and to wish he hadn't been so hard on Helen. (insert adventures with Parolles and Clown here?)
While out on maneuvers, B's squad  is cut off from the unit and they take refuge in an abandoned house which explodes. Several of the guys are wounded and insurgents surround them. B defends them while medic tries to get the wounded ready for transport. (Use portions of my Dad's story here). B is wounded but keeps fighting. They are finally rescued and B is invalided back to Tokyo. He has 6 mos left in his tour of duty but because of the leg wound he assigned a desk job in Tokyo. A letter from Connie reaches him there which leads him to believe H has been killed while working with Doctors Without Borders.  In the meantime Helen and L have to go to Tokyo to get their visas renewed. They run across B in a bar. He is very drunk and the not quite healed leg wound has broken open again. He hasn't told anyone because he doesn't care. He recognizes L but not H since he thinks she is dead. He finally agrees to let them take him home. There he collapses but H and L think he's just drunk. L leaves and H makes coffee. B is really feverish from festered wound. He imagines H is a hallucinatory vision and tells her how sorry he is and how much he has come to love her. H still doesn't realize that he is sick and thinks "in vino veritas" and this is her one chance to make love with the man she has always loved.  B gives H his purple heart medal. H gives him the cross RG gave her after she took care of him.  But after they make love B falls into a deep sleep and H realizes he is feverish. She finally figures out it's more than drunk. He needs medical attention. She calls the military hospital ambulance.  Then she frantically calls L  They are not allowed on base and are forced to return to D w/B  without knowing how B makes out. B wakes up in the hospital and only vaguely remembers what happened.  RG's daughter is his nurse and is very kind to him and as he recovers he begins to connect the mystery cross around his neck with her.  Back at the field hospital H discovers she is pregnant. L convinces her it is better to return home than to bear and raise a child under the extreme conditions at the field hospital. L writes Connie without telling H and C sends joyful invitation to H to come home. Now 6 mos pregnant, H and L come back to Connie. Everyone assumes L is the father. L suspects B is the father but H wont confirm it. She is embarrassed that she "took advantage" of B because she thought he was just drunk when he was in fact delirious.  Since they don't know whether B is alive , L convinces H to let people keep thinking that he is the father.  They get jobs at the local hospital and they move in with Connie who is thrilled to have them. But they keep separate bedrooms and L starts working on some charity project with Rich Guy's daughter, who has finished her stint as an Army nurse and is back in town. They become close but there is always a wall between them because she can't understand his relationship with H. B returns home to much fanfare but seems as surly as ever. H wonders which was real -the delirious guy in Tokyo who loved her or the PTSD angry guy who now will hardly speak to her. 

H discovers that L has fallen for Rich Guy's daughter and can't keep pretending L is the father. She still doesn't know what to make of B's attitude, but she resolves to tell RG'sD that L is not the baby's father.  RG'SD doesn't know what to believe and confronts L who admits he isn't the father and almost admits he is in love with RG'SD but says he committed to stand by H and her baby and he can't abandon her. His father abandoned his mother and him when he was a small boy and she had to give him up to foster care because she couldn't take care of him. He doesn't want that to happen to H and her baby. Meanwhile C sees how unhappy everyone is and confronts H. She learns that L is not the father and that H has a memento of the real father that she is saving for the baby but H, confused by B's attitude refuses to name the father.  RG'Sd goes for a walk with B and he explains that he is in love with H but angry at her for bearing L's child and also hoping she will be happy and also thinking he is wounded in mind and body and no longer good husband material and he missed his chance with her long ago anyway because he was too stupid to see her as she really was. (whew) RG overhears and decides to intervene. (Too much eavesdropping? Well, it's soooo Shakespeare) He hosts another fundraising gala and announces that he and C have long been in love and are going to get married.  Everyone congratulates them and B comes face to face with RG for the first time since he was asked to leave the party long ago. They confront each other and forgive each other. RG sees the cross he wears and asks about it. B says it was given to him by a nurse when he was really sick and he wears it to remind himself that there is always hope. RG doesn't know what to make of this.  The cross is unmistakable.  It is either the one he gave H or the twin he gave his daughter, but which?  He and C make a speech about the importance of finding love and honesty . He calls H and L up and says he wants them to be happy so if they are truly in love he will host their wedding.  They don't know what to say. Then he calls B and daughter up and makes the same offer. They admit that they are  not in love and RG insists they are citing the cross as proof.  But RG'SD shows that she is still in possession if her cross.  C intervenes and begs H to name the real father. H brings out the purple heart and says she fears that the father of her child no longer exists. They were very much in love and exchanged promises but he was wounded and hasn't returned to her yet. She says she gave him her cross before they parted. B realizes that he wasn't dreaming and he is the father. And they all live happily ever after.



  1. "Helen is shocked. She never knew he felt like that. She thinks if he dies it will be her fault. She resigns from her practice and joins Doctors Without Borders."

    Wait. What? Why? Huh?

  2. "The story revolves around all the incredible things she does for his sake and, in the end, this sleaze ball says "Oh!  Okay.  I'll be married to you."  At which point I want to shake Helena into the 21st century."

    It's tragedy. Oedipus, the three-dozen Henrys, Julius, Othello, Hamlet, Helena: good people struggling to do right in a hard, complex world; inexorably, inevitably drawn into an apocalypse of good intentions.

  3. Doctors Without Borders: Well, I was trying to stick to the plot. Helena, in the original, is shocked that Bertram doesn't love her and feels his potential death is on her head. So she resigns as king's physician and goes on a pilgrimage. I thought joining Drs w/o Borders was a good approximation. There's this whole thing with the Hostel/Refugio Hostess and her daughter, whom Bertram is planning to seduce and abandon, that I dropped. Instead I substituted the Rich Guy's Daughter and the twin crosses as the Deus ex Machina (spelled right??) at the end.

    It isn't tragedy, it's a lousy play and a waste of ink. I guess a better writer (like say the guy who wrote Othello, Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet) could have turned this into either a comedy or a tragedy - but as it stands everyone just comes off looking dumb. It's not a good play. William was having an off day or he had a deadline or something. A tragedy about a good woman "struggling to do right in a hard, complex world; inexorably, inevitably drawn into an apocalypse of good intentions" would really work here and be good; her "Fatal Flaw" being her love for this wastrel. The whole thing about Parolles lying and not quite getting punished for it fits into that "complex world" scenario. But W.S. didn't write the play it could have been. And I'm not good enough.

    So I was trying to figure out a lighter scenario in which it makes sense that Helena has this undying passion for Bertram by making him a pretty good guy. So I made him into a fireman who likes women and has commitment issues. Then after he experiences life a bit, he grows up a bit. More Harlequin than Shakespeare, I guess.

  4. Oh wait! I get it now. As Sam was GETTING sick I was WRITING my own trashy novel! Now he's sick, I'm reduced to reading other people's work again.