All's Well That Ends Well

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Act I, Scene 1

Rousillon. The COUNT’s palace.


Enter BERTRAM, the COUNTESS of Rousillon, HELENA,] [p]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 5
    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 10
    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 15
    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 20
    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 25
    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. 30
  • 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? 35
  • 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 40
    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 45
    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. 50
  • 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. 55
  • 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 60
    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, 65
    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 70
    That shall attend his love.
  • Countess. Heaven bless him! Farewell, Bertram.


  • Bertram. [To HELENA] The best wishes that can be forged in
    your thoughts be servants to you! Be comfortable 75
    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; 80
    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, 85
    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. 90
    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, 95
    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] 100
    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, 105
    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. 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 115
    may we barricado it against him?
  • Helena. But he assails; and our virginity, though valiant,
    in the defence yet is weak: unfold to us some
    warlike resistance. 120
  • 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? 125
  • 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 130
    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! 135
  • 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: 140
    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. 145
    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 150
    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 155
    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 160
    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? 165
  • 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, 170
    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, 175
    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—
  • Helena. That I wish well. 'Tis pity— 180
  • 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, 185
    And show what we alone must think, which never
    Return us thanks.

[Enter Page]

  • Page. Monsieur Parolles, my lord calls for you.


  • 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.
  • Helena. I especially think, under Mars. 195
  • Helena. The wars have so kept you under that you must needs
    be born under Mars.
  • Helena. When he was retrograde, I think, rather. 200
  • Helena. You go so much backward when you fight.
  • Helena. So is running away, when fear proposes the safety;
    but the composition that your valour and fear makes 205
    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 210
    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, 215
    and use him as he uses thee; so, farewell.


  • Helena. Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
    Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky
    Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull 220
    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. 225
    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, 230
    But my intents are fix'd and will not leave me.


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