Virtuous maidens, vulgar soldiers, and witty fools populate this extraordinary play, a lively romp that ranges from low farce to moments of great insight. Although the play is a romantic comedy, Shakespeare offers some serious and thought-provoking dramatic fare before fulfilling the promise of the title.
In the fine tradition of the Bard's plucky heroines, All's Well That Ends Well concerns Helena, the daughter of a renowned physician, and her dauntless passion for the elusive Bertram, Count of Rousillon. Risking her very life for the opportunity to choose Bertram as her husband, Helena's bid for Bertram's hand turns out to be only the beginning of a series of trials and tribulations. Finally, at the end of a comic maze of mistaken identities, betrayals, repentance, and dramatic revelations, Helena's efforts to corral her unwilling lover achieve joyful fulfillment.
An ambiguous work in which mirthful entertainment is interwoven with a powerful subtext condemning class prejudice, this play possesses a singular combination of amusement and profundity that has intrigued scholars and theatergoers for four centuries.
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About the Author
"He was not of an age, but for all time," declared Ben Jonson of his contemporary William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Jonson's praise is especially prescient, since at the turn of the 17th century Shakespeare was but one of many popular London playwrights and none of his dramas were printed in his lifetime. The reason so many of his works survive is because two of his actor friends, with the assistance of Jonson, assembled and published the First Folio edition of 1623.
Date of Death:2018
Place of Birth:Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom
Place of Death:Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom
Read an Excerpt
All's Well That Ends Well
By WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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.
BER. 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.
LAF. 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.
COUNT. What hope is there of his majesty's amendment?
LAF. He hath abandoned his physicians, madam; under whose practices he hath persecuted time with hope, and finds no other advantage in the process but only the losing of hope by time.
COUNT. This young gentlewoman had a father,—O, that "had"! how sad a passage 't is!—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.
LAF. HOW called you the man you speak of, madam?
COUNT. He was famous, sir, in his profession, and it was his great right to be so,—Gerard de Narbon.
LAF. 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.
BER. What is it, my good lord, the king languishes of?
LAF. A fistula, my lord.
BER. I heard not of it before.
LAF. I would it were not notorious. Was this gentlewoman the daughter of Gerard de Narbon?
COUNT. His sole child, my lord; and bequeathead to my overlooking. I have those hopes of her good that her education promises; her disposition 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.
LAF. Your commendations, madam, get from her tears.
COUNT. 'T is 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 to have—
HEL. I do affect a sorrow, indeed, but I have it too.
LAF. Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead; excessive grief the enemy to the living.
COUNT. If the living be enemy to the grief, the excess makes it soon mortal.
BER. Madam, I desire your holy wishes.
LAF. How understand we that?
COUNT. 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 check'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;
'T is an unseason'd courtier; good my lord,
LAF. He cannot want the best That shall attend his love.
COUNT. Heaven bless him! Farewell, Bertram.
BER. [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.
LAF. Farewell, pretty lady: you must hold the credit of your father.
[Exeunt BERTRAM and LAFEU.
HEL. 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. 'T were 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. 'T was pretty, though a plague,
To see him every hour; to sit and draw
His arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,
In our heart's table; heart top 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?
[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 fix'd 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.
PAR. Save you, fair queen!
HEL. And you, monarch!
HEL. And no.
PAR. Are you meditating on virginity?
HEL. 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?
PAR. Keep him out.
HEL. But he assails; and our virginity, though valiant, in the defence yet is weak: unfold to us some warlike resistance.
PAR. There is none: man, sitting down before you, will undermine you and blow you up.
HEL. Bless our poor virginity from underminers and blowers up! Is there no military policy, how virgins might blow up men?
PAR. 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. Virtinity by being once lost ' may be ten times found; by being ever kept, it is ever lost: 't is too cold a companion; away with 't!
HEL. I will stand for 't a little, though therefore I die a virgin.
PAR. There's little can be said in 't; 't is 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 lose by 't: out with 't! within ten years it will make itself ten, which is a goodly increase; and the principle itself not much the worse: away with 't!
HEL. HOW might one do, sir, to lose it to her own liking?
PAR. Let me see: marry, ill, to like him that ne'er it likes. 'T is a commodity will lose the gloss with lying; the longer kept, the less worth: off with 't while 't is 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, 't is a withered pear; it was formerly better; marry, yet 't is a withered pear: will you any thing with it? HEL.
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—
PAR. What one, i' faith?
HEL. That I wish well. "T is pity—
PAR. What's pity?
HEL. 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
Returns us thanks.
PAGE. Monsieur Parolles, my lord calls for you.
PAR. Little Helen, farewell: if I can remember thee, I will think of thee at court.
HEL. Monsieur Parolles, you were born under a charitable star.
PAR. Under Mars, I.
HEL. I especially think, under Mars.
PAR. Why under Mars?
HEL. The wars have so kept you under, that you must needs be born under Mars.
PAR. When he was predominant.
HEL. When he was retrograde, I think, rather.
PAR. Why think you so?
HEL. You go so much backward when you fight.
PAR. That's for advantage.
HEL. 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.
PAR. 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.
HEL. 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
To 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.
SCENE II. Paris: The King's Palace.
Flourish of comets. 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 't is reported, sir.
KING. Nay, 't is most credible; we here receive 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.
SEC. 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.
BER. 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.
BER. 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.
Excerpted from All's Well That Ends Well by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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