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

Act I. Scene III.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Rousillon.A Room in the COUNTESS’S Palace.

Enter COUNTESS, Steward, and Clown.

Count.I will now hear: what say you of this gentlewoman?

Stew.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.

Count.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.

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

Count.Well, sir.

Clo.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.

Count.Wilt thou needs be a beggar?

Clo.I do beg your good will in this case.

Count.In what case?

Clo.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.

Count.Tell me thy reason why thou wilt marry.

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

Count.Is this all your worship’s reason?

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

Count.May the world know them?

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

Count.Thy marriage, sooner than thy wickedness.

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

Count.Such friends are thine enemies, knave.

Clo.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 joul horns together like any deer i’ the herd.

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

Clo.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.
  • Count.Get you gone, sir: I’ll talk with you more anon.

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

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


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

    Clo.One good woman in ten, madam; which is a purifying o’ the song. Would God would serve the world so all the year! we’d 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 for every blazing star, or at an earthquake, ’twould mend the lottery well: a man may draw his heart out ere a’ pluck one.

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

    Clo.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.

    Count.Well, now.

    Stew.I know, madam, you love your gentlewoman entirely.

    Count.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.

    Stew.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.

    Count.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.

    Hel.What is your pleasure, madam?

    Count.You know, Helen,

    I am a mother to you.

    Hel.Mine honourable mistress.

    Count.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?

    Hel.That I am not.

    Count.I say, I am your mother.

    Hel.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.

    Count.Nor I your mother?

    Hel.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?

    Count.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 asham’d,

    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 behaviours

    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,

    To tell me truly.

    Hel.Good madam, pardon me!

    Count.Do you love my son?

    Hel.Your pardon, noble mistress!

    Count.Love you my son?

    Hel.Do not you love him, madam?

    Count.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.

    Hel.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 lov’d 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.

    Count.Had you not lately an intent, speak truly,

    To go to Paris?

    Hel.Madam, I had.

    Count.Wherefore? tell true.

    Hel.I will tell truth; by grace itself I swear.

    You know my father left me some prescriptions

    Of rare and prov’d 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, approv’d, set down

    To cure the desperate languishings whereof

    The king is render’d lost.

    Count.This was your motive

    For Paris, was it? speak.

    Hel.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.

    Count.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?

    Hel.There’s something in ’t,

    More than my father’s skill, which was the great’st

    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’d venture

    The well-lost life of mine on his Grace’s cure,

    By such a day, and hour.

    Count.Dost thou believe ’t?

    Hel.Ay, madam, knowingly.

    Count.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.