All’s Well That Ends Well
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Set in France and Italy, All's Well That Ends Well is a story of one-sided romance, based on a tale from Boccaccio's The Decameron. Helen, orphaned daughter of a doctor, is under the protection of the widowed Countess of Rossillion. In love with Bertram, the countess' son, Helen follows him to court, where she cures the sick French king of an apparently fatal illness. The king rewards Helen by offering her the husband of her choice. She names Bertram; he resists. When forced by the king to marry her, he refuses to sleep with her and, accompanied by the braggart Parolles, leaves for the Italian wars. He says that he will only accept Helen if she obtains a ring from his finger and becomes pregnant with his child. She goes to Italy disguised as a pilgrim and suggests a 'bed trick' whereby she will take the place of Diana, a widow's daughter whom Bertram is trying to seduce. A 'kidnapping trick' humiliates the boastful Parolles, whilst the bed trick enables Helen to fulfil Bertram's conditions, leaving him no option but to marry her, to his mother's delight.
Part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World set.
This book has 102 pages in the PDF version, and was originally written in 1623.
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Excerpt from 'All’s Well That Ends Well'
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.
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?