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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act I. Scene I.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Rousillon.A Room in the COUNTESS’S Palace.


Count.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 ’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.

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 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.

Laf.Your commendations, madam, get from her tears.

Count.’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.

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.

Hel.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;

’Tis an unseason’d courtier; good my lord,

Advise him.

Laf.He cannot want the best

That shall attend his love.

Count.Heaven bless him! Farewell, Bertram.[Exit.

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. It 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. ’Twas 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 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?

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 in 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 war-like 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. 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!

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

Par.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 lose by ’t! Out with ’t! within the year it will make itself two, which is a goodly increase, and the principal 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. ’Tis a commodity that 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 toothpick, 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?

Hel.Not my virginity yet.

There shall your master have a thousand loves,

A mother, and a mistress, and a friend,

A phœnix, 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. ’Tis 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.

Enter a Page.

Page.Monsieur Parolles, my lord calls for you.[Exit.

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.[Exit.

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.[Exit.