All’s Well That Ends Well, by William Shakespeare

Act I

Scene I. Rousillon. The Count’s palace.

Enter Bertram, the Countess of Rousillon, Helena, and Lafeu, all in black

Countess

In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband.

Bertram

And I in going, madam, weep o’er my father’s death anew: but I must attend his majesty’s command, to whom I am now in ward, evermore in subjection.

Lafeu

You shall find of the king a husband, madam; you, sir, a father: he that so generally is at all times good must of necessity hold his virtue to you; whose worthiness would stir it up where it wanted rather than lack it where there is such abundance.

Countess

What hope is there of his majesty’s amendment?

Lafeu

He hath abandoned his physicians, madam; under whose practises he hath persecuted time with hope, and finds no other advantage in the process but only the losing of hope by time.

Countess

This young gentlewoman had a father — O, that ‘had’! how sad a passage ’tis! — whose skill was almost as great as his honesty; had it stretched so far, would have made nature immortal, and death should have play for lack of work. Would, for the king’s sake, he were living! I think it would be the death of the king’s disease.

Lafeu

How called you the man you speak of, madam?

Countess

He was famous, sir, in his profession, and it was his great right to be so: Gerard de Narbon.

Lafeu

He was excellent indeed, madam: the king very lately spoke of him admiringly and mourningly: he was skilful enough to have lived still, if knowledge could be set up against mortality.

Bertram

What is it, my good lord, the king languishes of?

Lafeu

A fistula, my lord.

Bertram

I heard not of it before.

Lafeu

I would it were not notorious. Was this gentlewoman the daughter of Gerard de Narbon?

Countess

His sole child, my lord, and bequeathed to my overlooking. I have those hopes of her good that her education promises; her dispositions she inherits, which makes fair gifts fairer; for where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, there commendations go with pity; they are virtues and traitors too; in her they are the better for their simpleness; she derives her honesty and achieves her goodness.

Lafeu

Your commendations, madam, get from her tears.

Countess

’Tis the best brine a maiden can season her praise in. The remembrance of her father never approaches her heart but the tyranny of her sorrows takes all livelihood from her cheek. No more of this, Helena; go to, no more; lest it be rather thought you affect a sorrow than have it.

Helena

I do affect a sorrow indeed, but I have it too.

Lafeu

Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living.

Countess

If the living be enemy to the grief, the excess makes it soon mortal.

Bertram

Madam, I desire your holy wishes.

Lafeu

How understand we that?

Countess

Be thou blest, Bertram, and succeed thy father
In manners, as in shape! thy blood and virtue
Contend for empire in thee, and thy goodness
Share with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
Under thy own life’s key: be cheque’d for silence,
But never tax’d for speech. What heaven more will,
That thee may furnish and my prayers pluck down,
Fall on thy head! Farewell, my lord;
’Tis an unseason’d courtier; good my lord,
Advise him.

Lafeu

  He cannot want the best
That shall attend his love.

Countess

Heaven bless him! Farewell, Bertram.

Exit

Bertram

[To Helena] The best wishes that can be forged in your thoughts be servants to you! Be comfortable to my mother, your mistress, and make much of her.

Lafeu

Farewell, pretty lady: you must hold the credit of your father.

Exeunt Bertram and Lafeu

Helena

O, were that all! I think not on my father;
And these great tears grace his remembrance more
Than those I shed for him. What was he like?
I have forgot him: my imagination
Carries no favour in’t but Bertram’s.
I am undone: there is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. ’Twere all one
That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so above me:
In his bright radiance and collateral light
Must I be comforted, not in his sphere.
The ambition in my love thus plagues itself:
The hind that would be mated by the lion
Must die for love. ’Twas pretty, though plague,
To see him every hour; to sit and draw
His arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,
In our heart’s table; heart too capable
Of every line and trick of his sweet favour:
But now he’s gone, and my idolatrous fancy
Must sanctify his reliques. Who comes here?

Enter Parolles

[Aside] One that goes with him: I love him for his sake;
And yet I know him a notorious liar,
Think him a great way fool, solely a coward;
Yet these fixed evils sit so fit in him,
That they take place, when virtue’s steely bones
Look bleak i’ the cold wind: withal, full oft we see
Cold wisdom waiting on superfluous folly.

Parolles

Save you, fair queen!

Helena

And you, monarch!

Parolles

No.

Helena

And no.

Parolles

Are you meditating on virginity?

Helena

Ay. You have some stain of soldier in you: let me ask you a question. Man is enemy to virginity; how may we barricado it against him?

Parolles

Keep him out.

Helena

But he assails; and our virginity, though valiant, in the defence yet is weak: unfold to us some warlike resistance.

Parolles

There is none: man, sitting down before you, will undermine you and blow you up.

Helena

Bless our poor virginity from underminers and blowers up! Is there no military policy, how virgins might blow up men?

Parolles

Virginity being blown down, man will quicklier be blown up: marry, in blowing him down again, with the breach yourselves made, you lose your city. It is not politic in the commonwealth of nature to preserve virginity. Loss of virginity is rational increase and there was never virgin got till virginity was first lost. That you were made of is metal to make virgins. Virginity by being once lost may be ten times found; by being ever kept, it is ever lost: ’tis too cold a companion; away with ’t!

Helena

I will stand for ’t a little, though therefore I die a virgin.

Parolles

There’s little can be said in ’t; ’tis against the rule of nature. To speak on the part of virginity, is to accuse your mothers; which is most infallible disobedience. He that hangs himself is a virgin: virginity murders itself and should be buried in highways out of all sanctified limit, as a desperate offendress against nature. Virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese; consumes itself to the very paring, and so dies with feeding his own stomach. Besides, virginity is peevish, proud, idle, made of self-love, which is the most inhibited sin in the canon. Keep it not; you cannot choose but loose by’t: out with ’t! within ten year it will make itself ten, which is a goodly increase; and the principal itself not much the worse: away with ’t!

Helena

How might one do, sir, to lose it to her own liking?

Parolles

Let me see: marry, ill, to like him that ne’er it likes. ’Tis a commodity will lose the gloss with lying; the longer kept, the less worth: off with ’t while ’tis vendible; answer the time of request. Virginity, like an old courtier, wears her cap out of fashion: richly suited, but unsuitable: just like the brooch and the tooth-pick, which wear not now. Your date is better in your pie and your porridge than in your cheek; and your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears, it looks ill, it eats drily; marry, ’tis a withered pear; it was formerly better; marry, yet ’tis a withered pear: will you anything with it?

Helena

Not my virginity yet.
There shall your master have a thousand loves,
A mother and a mistress and a friend,
A phoenix, captain and an enemy,
A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign,
A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear;
His humble ambition, proud humility,
His jarring concord, and his discord dulcet,
His faith, his sweet disaster; with a world
Of pretty, fond, adoptious christendoms,
That blinking Cupid gossips. Now shall he —
I know not what he shall. God send him well!
The court’s a learning place, and he is one —

Parolles

What one, i’ faith?

Helena

That I wish well. ’Tis pity —

Parolles

What’s pity?

Helena

That wishing well had not a body in’t,
Which might be felt; that we, the poorer born,
Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes,
Might with effects of them follow our friends,
And show what we alone must think, which never
Return us thanks.

Enter Page

Page

Monsieur Parolles, my lord calls for you.

Exit

Parolles

Little Helen, farewell; if I can remember thee, I will think of thee at court.

Helena

Monsieur Parolles, you were born under a charitable star.

Parolles

Under Mars, I.

Helena

I especially think, under Mars.

Parolles

Why under Mars?

Helena

The wars have so kept you under that you must needs be born under Mars.

Parolles

When he was predominant.

Helena

When he was retrograde, I think, rather.

Parolles

Why think you so?

Helena

You go so much backward when you fight.

Parolles

That’s for advantage.

Helena

So is running away, when fear proposes the safety; but the composition that your valour and fear makes in you is a virtue of a good wing, and I like the wear well.

Parolles

I am so full of businesses, I cannot answer thee acutely. I will return perfect courtier; in the which, my instruction shall serve to naturalize thee, so thou wilt be capable of a courtier’s counsel and understand what advice shall thrust upon thee; else thou diest in thine unthankfulness, and thine ignorance makes thee away: farewell. When thou hast leisure, say thy prayers; when thou hast none, remember thy friends; get thee a good husband, and use him as he uses thee; so, farewell.

Exit

Helena

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.

Exit

Scene II. Paris. The King’s palace.

Flourish of cornets. Enter the King of France, with letters, and divers Attendants

King

The Florentines and Senoys are by the ears;
Have fought with equal fortune and continue
A braving war.

First Lord

  So ’tis reported, sir.

King

Nay, ’tis most credible; we here received it
A certainty, vouch’d from our cousin Austria,
With caution that the Florentine will move us
For speedy aid; wherein our dearest friend
Prejudicates the business and would seem
To have us make denial.

First Lord

His love and wisdom,
Approved so to your majesty, may plead
For amplest credence.

King

He hath arm’d our answer,
And Florence is denied before he comes:
Yet, for our gentlemen that mean to see
The Tuscan service, freely have they leave
To stand on either part.

Second Lord

It well may serve
A nursery to our gentry, who are sick
For breathing and exploit.

King

What’s he comes here?

Enter Bertram, Lafeu, and Parolles

First Lord

It is the Count Rousillon, my good lord,
Young Bertram.

King

  Youth, thou bear’st thy father’s face;
Frank nature, rather curious than in haste,
Hath well composed thee. Thy father’s moral parts
Mayst thou inherit too! Welcome to Paris.

Bertram

My thanks and duty are your majesty’s.

King

I would I had that corporal soundness now,
As when thy father and myself in friendship
First tried our soldiership! He did look far
Into the service of the time and was
Discipled of the bravest: he lasted long;
But on us both did haggish age steal on
And wore us out of act. It much repairs me
To talk of your good father. In his youth
He had the wit which I can well observe
To-day in our young lords; but they may jest
Till their own scorn return to them unnoted
Ere they can hide their levity in honour;
So like a courtier, contempt nor bitterness
Were in his pride or sharpness; if they were,
His equal had awaked them, and his honour,
Clock to itself, knew the true minute when
Exception bid him speak, and at this time
His tongue obey’d his hand: who were below him
He used as creatures of another place
And bow’d his eminent top to their low ranks,
Making them proud of his humility,
In their poor praise he humbled. Such a man
Might be a copy to these younger times;
Which, follow’d well, would demonstrate them now
But goers backward.

Bertram

His good remembrance, sir,
Lies richer in your thoughts than on his tomb;
So in approof lives not his epitaph
As in your royal speech.

King

Would I were with him! He would always say —
Methinks I hear him now; his plausive words
He scatter’d not in ears, but grafted them,
To grow there and to bear — ‘Let me not live,’—
This his good melancholy oft began,
On the catastrophe and heel of pastime,
When it was out — ‘Let me not live,’ quoth he,
‘After my flame lacks oil, to be the snuff
Of younger spirits, whose apprehensive senses
All but new things disdain; whose judgments are
Mere fathers of their garments; whose constancies
Expire before their fashions.’ This he wish’d;
I after him do after him wish too,
Since I nor wax nor honey can bring home,
I quickly were dissolved from my hive,
To give some labourers room.

Second Lord

You are loved, sir:
They that least lend it you shall lack you first.

King

I fill a place, I know’t. How long is’t, count,
Since the physician at your father’s died?
He was much famed.

Bertram

  Some six months since, my lord.

King

If he were living, I would try him yet.
Lend me an arm; the rest have worn me out
With several applications; nature and sickness
Debate it at their leisure. Welcome, count;
My son’s no dearer.

Bertram

Thank your majesty.

Exeunt. Flourish

Scene III. Rousillon. The Count’s palace.

Enter Countess, Steward, and Clown

Countess

I will now hear; what say you of this gentlewoman?

Steward

Madam, the care I have had to even your content, I wish might be found in the calendar of my past endeavours; for then we wound our modesty and make foul the clearness of our deservings, when of ourselves we publish them.

Countess

What does this knave here? Get you gone, sirrah: the complaints I have heard of you I do not all believe: ’tis my slowness that I do not; for I know you lack not folly to commit them, and have ability enough to make such knaveries yours.

Clown

’Tis not unknown to you, madam, I am a poor fellow.

Countess

Well, sir.

Clown

No, madam, ’tis not so well that I am poor, though many of the rich are damned: but, if I may have your ladyship’s good will to go to the world, Isbel the woman and I will do as we may.

Countess

Wilt thou needs be a beggar?

Clown

I do beg your good will in this case.

Countess

In what case?

Clown

In Isbel’s case and mine own. Service is no heritage: and I think I shall never have the blessing of God till I have issue o’ my body; for they say barnes are blessings.

Countess

Tell me thy reason why thou wilt marry.

Clown

My poor body, madam, requires it: I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil drives.

Countess

Is this all your worship’s reason?

Clown

Faith, madam, I have other holy reasons such as they are.

Countess

May the world know them?

Clown

I have been, madam, a wicked creature, as you and all flesh and blood are; and, indeed, I do marry that I may repent.

Countess

Thy marriage, sooner than thy wickedness.

Clown

I am out o’ friends, madam; and I hope to have friends for my wife’s sake.

Countess

Such friends are thine enemies, knave.

Clown

You’re shallow, madam, in great friends; for the knaves come to do that for me which I am aweary of. He that ears my land spares my team and gives me leave to in the crop; if I be his cuckold, he’s my drudge: he that comforts my wife is the cherisher of my flesh and blood; he that cherishes my flesh and blood loves my flesh and blood; he that loves my flesh and blood is my friend: ergo, he that kisses my wife is my friend. If men could be contented to be what they are, there were no fear in marriage; for young Charbon the Puritan and old Poysam the Papist, howsome’er their hearts are severed in religion, their heads are both one; they may jowl horns together, like any deer i’ the herd.

Countess

Wilt thou ever be a foul-mouthed and calumnious knave?

Clown

A prophet I, madam; and I speak the truth the next way:
For I the ballad will repeat,
Which men full true shall find;
Your marriage comes by destiny,
Your cuckoo sings by kind.

Countess

Get you gone, sir; I’ll talk with you more anon.

Steward

May it please you, madam, that he bid Helen come to you: of her I am to speak.

Countess

Sirrah, tell my gentlewoman I would speak with her; Helen, I mean.

Clown

  Was this fair face the cause, quoth she,
Why the Grecians sacked Troy?
Fond done, done fond,
Was this King Priam’s joy?
With that she sighed as she stood,
With that she sighed as she stood,
And gave this sentence then;
Among nine bad if one be good,
Among nine bad if one be good,
There’s yet one good in ten.

Countess

What, one good in ten? you corrupt the song, sirrah.

Clown

One good woman in ten, madam; which is a purifying o’ the song: would God would serve the world so all the year! we’ld find no fault with the tithe-woman, if I were the parson. One in ten, quoth a’! An we might have a good woman born but one every blazing star, or at an earthquake, ’twould mend the lottery well: a man may draw his heart out, ere a’ pluck one.

Countess

You’ll be gone, sir knave, and do as I command you.

Clown

That man should be at woman’s command, and yet no hurt done! Though honesty be no puritan, yet it will do no hurt; it will wear the surplice of humility over the black gown of a big heart. I am going, forsooth: the business is for Helen to come hither.

Exit

Countess

Well, now.

Steward

I know, madam, you love your gentlewoman entirely.

Countess

Faith, I do: her father bequeathed her to me; and she herself, without other advantage, may lawfully make title to as much love as she finds: there is more owing her than is paid; and more shall be paid her than she’ll demand.

Steward

Madam, I was very late more near her than I think she wished me: alone she was, and did communicate to herself her own words to her own ears; she thought, I dare vow for her, they touched not any stranger sense. Her matter was, she loved your son: Fortune, she said, was no goddess, that had put such difference betwixt their two estates; Love no god, that would not extend his might, only where qualities were level; Dian no queen of virgins, that would suffer her poor knight surprised, without rescue in the first assault or ransom afterward. This she delivered in the most bitter touch of sorrow that e’er I heard virgin exclaim in: which I held my duty speedily to acquaint you withal; sithence, in the loss that may happen, it concerns you something to know it.

Countess

You have discharged this honestly; keep it to yourself: many likelihoods informed me of this before, which hung so tottering in the balance that I could neither believe nor misdoubt. Pray you, leave me: stall this in your bosom; and I thank you for your honest care: I will speak with you further anon.

Exit Steward

Enter Helena

Even so it was with me when I was young:
If ever we are nature’s, these are ours; this thorn
Doth to our rose of youth rightly belong;
Our blood to us, this to our blood is born;
It is the show and seal of nature’s truth,
Where love’s strong passion is impress’d in youth:
By our remembrances of days foregone,
Such were our faults, or then we thought them none.
Her eye is sick on’t: I observe her now.

Helena

What is your pleasure, madam?

Countess

You know, Helen, I am a mother to you.

Helena

Mine honourable mistress.

Countess

Nay, a mother:
Why not a mother? When I said ‘a mother,’
Methought you saw a serpent: what’s in ’mother,’
That you start at it? I say, I am your mother;
And put you in the catalogue of those
That were enwombed mine: ’tis often seen
Adoption strives with nature and choice breeds
A native slip to us from foreign seeds:
You ne’er oppress’d me with a mother’s groan,
Yet I express to you a mother’s care:
God’s mercy, maiden! does it curd thy blood
To say I am thy mother? What’s the matter,
That this distemper’d messenger of wet,
The many-colour’d Iris, rounds thine eye?
Why? that you are my daughter?

Helena

That I am not.

Countess

I say, I am your mother.

Helena

Pardon, madam;
The Count Rousillon cannot be my brother:
I am from humble, he from honour’d name;
No note upon my parents, his all noble:
My master, my dear lord he is; and I
His servant live, and will his vassal die:
He must not be my brother.

Countess

Nor I your mother?

Helena

You are my mother, madam; would you were —
So that my lord your son were not my brother —
Indeed my mother! or were you both our mothers,
I care no more for than I do for heaven,
So I were not his sister. Can’t no other,
But, I your daughter, he must be my brother?

Countess

Yes, Helen, you might be my daughter-in-law:
God shield you mean it not! daughter and mother
So strive upon your pulse. What, pale again?
My fear hath catch’d your fondness: now I see
The mystery of your loneliness, and find
Your salt tears’ head: now to all sense ’tis gross
You love my son; invention is ashamed,
Against the proclamation of thy passion,
To say thou dost not: therefore tell me true;
But tell me then, ’tis so; for, look thy cheeks
Confess it, th’ one to th’ other; and thine eyes
See it so grossly shown in thy behaviors
That in their kind they speak it: only sin
And hellish obstinacy tie thy tongue,
That truth should be suspected. Speak, is’t so?
If it be so, you have wound a goodly clew;
If it be not, forswear’t: howe’er, I charge thee,
As heaven shall work in me for thine avail,
Tell me truly.

Helena

  Good madam, pardon me!

Countess

Do you love my son?

Helena

Your pardon, noble mistress!

Countess

Love you my son?

Helena

  Do not you love him, madam?

Countess

Go not about; my love hath in’t a bond,
Whereof the world takes note: come, come, disclose
The state of your affection; for your passions
Have to the full appeach’d.

Helena

Then, I confess,
Here on my knee, before high heaven and you,
That before you, and next unto high heaven,
I love your son.
My friends were poor, but honest; so’s my love:
Be not offended; for it hurts not him
That he is loved of me: I follow him not
By any token of presumptuous suit;
Nor would I have him till I do deserve him;
Yet never know how that desert should be.
I know I love in vain, strive against hope;
Yet in this captious and intenible sieve
I still pour in the waters of my love
And lack not to lose still: thus, Indian-like,
Religious in mine error, I adore
The sun, that looks upon his worshipper,
But knows of him no more. My dearest madam,
Let not your hate encounter with my love
For loving where you do: but if yourself,
Whose aged honour cites a virtuous youth,
Did ever in so true a flame of liking
Wish chastely and love dearly, that your Dian
Was both herself and love: O, then, give pity
To her, whose state is such that cannot choose
But lend and give where she is sure to lose;
That seeks not to find that her search implies,
But riddle-like lives sweetly where she dies!

Countess

Had you not lately an intent — speak truly —
To go to Paris?

Helena

  Madam, I had.

Countess

Wherefore? tell true.

Helena

I will tell truth; by grace itself I swear.
You know my father left me some prescriptions
Of rare and proved effects, such as his reading
And manifest experience had collected
For general sovereignty; and that he will’d me
In heedfull’st reservation to bestow them,
As notes whose faculties inclusive were
More than they were in note: amongst the rest,
There is a remedy, approved, set down,
To cure the desperate languishings whereof
The king is render’d lost.

Countess

This was your motive
For Paris, was it? speak.

Helena

My lord your son made me to think of this;
Else Paris and the medicine and the king
Had from the conversation of my thoughts
Haply been absent then.

Countess

But think you, Helen,
If you should tender your supposed aid,
He would receive it? he and his physicians
Are of a mind; he, that they cannot help him,
They, that they cannot help: how shall they credit
A poor unlearned virgin, when the schools,
Embowell’d of their doctrine, have left off
The danger to itself?

Helena

There’s something in’t,
More than my father’s skill, which was the greatest
Of his profession, that his good receipt
Shall for my legacy be sanctified
By the luckiest stars in heaven: and, would your honour
But give me leave to try success, I’ld venture
The well-lost life of mine on his grace’s cure
By such a day and hour.

Countess

Dost thou believe’t?

Helena

Ay, madam, knowingly.

Countess

Why, Helen, thou shalt have my leave and love,
Means and attendants and my loving greetings
To those of mine in court: I’ll stay at home
And pray God’s blessing into thy attempt:
Be gone to-morrow; and be sure of this,
What I can help thee to thou shalt not miss.

Exeunt

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29