Few of Shakespeare’s works offer such a sharp contrast between two generations. The older characters in the play are haunted by death–the Countess has lost a husband and is aging herself; Helena’s father has passed away; Lafew is infirm; Diana’s mother is, appropriately enough, a Widow; and the King is near death as the play begins. In a sense, the shadow of death makes this a very realistic work, since the younger generation–Helena, Diana, and Bertram–are at an age for marriage, and, given the life expectancy of Shakespeare’s time, few people lived to be grandparents. But if the old people are haunted by death, they are also graced with wisdom and discernment: they all see through Parolles, perceive Helena’s worth, and condemn Bertram. The younger generation, while not unsympathetic, lacks this wisdom: Helena is intelligent, but her love for Bertram is misguided; Diana is naive and inexperienced; Bertram is callow, arrogant and spoiled. The prospect of these characters inheriting France from the gentle wisdom of the Countess, the King and Lafew is a disheartening one.