Incidntally, all the act and scene divisions in this and all other editions were put in by editors. There are no such divisions in the Folio. A scene ends when all the characters leave the stage, and different characters enter.2. The second word out of the Countess' mouth is "delivering," which means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter OED), "giving birth." Every time the Countess looks at her son, mixed with her natural maternal feelings is the memory of what a difficult birth Bertram was, how it nearly killed her, and how she could have no more children afterwards (and she had wanted a daughter--see BACKSTORY). She talks about Bertram's painful delivery at least twice more in the play. She loves Bertram, but somewhere in her soul she has a certain resentment about the difficult time he gave her. And she has other reasons, too, for resenting his existence--but let us move on.
|COUNTESS||In delivering my son||I bury a husband|
|BERTRAM||I in going||[I] weep o'er my father's death|
|now in ward||evermore in subjection|
|LAFEW||You shall find of the king a husband||you, a father|
And there are many, many more antitheses scattered throughout this scene and the play. Be alert for them. I can't point them all out--life isn't long enough, and knowledge can't be set up against mortality.4. A fistula, sayeth the Oxford English Dictionary (hereinafter OED), is a long, narrow, suppurating (= pus discharging) canal, the result of a disease in some part of the body. It can't be cured on the surface, at its discharge point: its origin lies deep in the body. For the King, it is a wasting disease which is gradually killing him. If the fistula and its discharging orifice could be miraculously healed, it would probably leave a scar.
Incidentally, Bertram will only be the King's ward ("now in ward") until he reaches his majority which in Shakespeare's England is probably around the age of 18 (although I cannot confirm this, but the point is that he is a very young man). Upon reaching the age of his majority, Bertram will be the King's vassal and subject ("evermore in subjection"), but no longer his ward.
I seem to hear a shreik from the actors: what are we supposed to do about these "antitheses"? Is this not useless "scholarship," if you can even dignify it with such a name?
Actors: you are not to run the thoughts (or the words) together, but to make sure, please, that the audience knows you're talking about two different things. "Deliver" is not the same thing as "bury." "Son" is not the same thing as "husband." "Now" is not the same thing as "evermore." "Knowledge" is not the same thing as "mortality," etc.
I think this line is an aside, but the Arden editor doesn't agree with me. Perhaps we are to understand that Helen's thoughts, which only we can hear, are dramatically more important than the Countess' speech. I am very sure that Helena would never interrupt the Countess; see her behavior in I.3.7. "If the living do not indulge grief, grief destroys itself by its own excess." I quote Hunter, who is quoting Samuel Johnson, for this explanation. The Johnson quote may be found at http://www.online-literature.com/samuel-johnson/shakespeare-comedies/12/ (retrieved May 10, 2016).
Note that the Countess continues to fit the prototype of Unredeemed Man (see the morality); she has the Cardinal (Natural) Virtues of Prudence (or Wisdom), Justice, Temperance and Fortitude (or Courage), but she lacks the Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. She has just told Helena: "Stop sniveling, Helen; people might think you're faking."
No, Shakespeare is not writing a play to fit the Christian template I designed ex post facto. He is concerned with the condition of human beings. If the Countess seems insensitive to Helen--as she is to her own son, as we will see in fewer than ten lines--it is because the Countess has had terrible disappointments in her life. She has faced them with the Roman courage of a Regulus, but the thick skin she has been forced to grow has made her less than totally sensitive to the feelings of others.
But, just as in Pericles, where the birth of Marina transforms the world from a pagan to a saved one, the actions of Helena (who in the morality stands in for Jesus) are going to have a transformative effect on many of the play's characters.
Note that Helen, although defined as "common," is in her character and behavior noble, in the best sense of the word. "She derives her honesty, and achieves her goodness."
"What, teacher, are the Countess' great disappointments?" We will talk about this in the backstory. We will see in about ten lines that the Countess has never forgiven Bertram for the childbed that nearly killed her. And Bertram is not the child of the great love of the Countess' life, but of a marriage she was forced into.
"Succeed thy father / In manners as in shape." The Countess hammers into Bertram what Bertram already believes: that he has no good qualities except for those he acquired by being the son of an illustrious man.
The Countess has a dangerous line, "Thy blood and virtue contend for empire in thee"; dangerous because his "blood," that his, his noble descent, is the only good quality Bertram has been encouraged to believe he has. But "blood" to the religious in the Middle Ages meant "passion, temper, mood, disposition" (OED) none of which is a good spiritual quality, nor a quality which should govern our behavior--such behavior would lead to the hellfire which burns at the back of the play.
Some have complained that Bertram is not a very satisfactory romantic hero, because he doesn't have much to say. Even Parolles is going to complain about Bertram's reticence as a sign of his lack of enthusiasm (at II.1.50). Now we know why: his mother has just said to him, "Be checked for silence, but never taxed for speech" (that is, given a choice, keep your mouth shut), and we can bet that Bertram heard this instruction many, many times while he was growing up.
The Countess goes on to wish that anything further that heaven deigns to grant Bertram should fall on his head. We can only hope these projected blessings aren't made of lead.
After a pause the Countess turns to Lafew and humiliates Bertram by discussing his shortcomings in public. Lafew, who though sometimes indiscreet, as we will see, is so appalled by the Countess' words that his speech goes right out of blank verse. Bertram himself doesn't apparently react to this contumelious "blessing"; it stings him, but it's nothing new to him.10. This is as close as the Countess can come to a blessing. She probably doesn't say "God bless him" because of the 1606 blasphemy law (retrieved May 10, 2016).
Note that there is no indication that the Countess kisses Bertram goodbye, a fact which will be important to our understanding of II.5.11. Shakespeare has Lafew remind the director (and us) that Helena is beautiful.
it creates a problem for the actor: how do you say it? You don't want it to come out as either "gray tears" or "great ears." Michael Langham's solution was: take a brief PAUSE between the two consonants (which is why I put the little line in). But then you have to come up with an ACTING reason for pausing. And it's a different reason every time: it's based on the character, the situation and the play. I learnt this from Michael Langham at Juilliard. No extra charge.
"Wow! Helen has a lot of those pauses or hiccups or whatever they are! Why?"
Helena tells us why in this very line: "And these great | tears grace his remembrance more . . . " Helena is weeping throughout the speech--discreetly, I assume--and the weeping causes her to pause her breath more often than if she were in full control of her emotions. I had better warn you right here that you don't have to believe me about the little lines, or the reason for them, or anything. But as an actor or director, you probably ought to pay attention to Helen's statement that she is weeping.13. This is Helena's first statement that death is preferable to life without Bertram. Please bear in mind that in the morality play structure, Helena stands in for Jesus, who was born for the sole purpose of dying to rescue sinful man (represented here by Bertram):
"Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven . . . And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate." --Nicene Creed, 1789 American Book of Common Prayer
Helena is not Jesus. She is a young woman with human emotions and impulses. All's Well is not a morality play, though it has the structure of one. But there are no evil people in it, and every character in it his a human who strives constantly to do what is right, honorable and good--with occasional lapses.14. Helena explains to us that the difference between her station--a poor physician's daughter, as Bertram will call her in II.3--and his--he is nobility, the Count Rossillion--makes a satisfactory solution to her love problems impossible.
Note that we are in a Ptolemaic universe, where the earth is the center and all the planets inhabit spheres that revolve around the earth. Shakespeare probably knew about the Copernican universe, in which the earth goes around the sun--Copernicus' De revolutionibus was published in 1543, 21 years before Shakespeare was born--but All's Well has a medieval structure, and a medieval cosmology suits it best. The Ptolemaic universe is brought up again in II.1. (The Copernican universe is just a liberal scam, of course, probably designed to make feckless scientists and Al Gore rich. As my MIT Philosophy Professor Giorgio de Santillana pointed out, "Any fool can go out in his back yard and watch the sun go around the earth.")16. his hawking eye: this is the first mention of the hawks / hawking / birds theme. Hunter suggests that it means that Bertram has a hawk-like eye. I think the adjective also indicates that Bertram practices hawking.
But these are mere quibbles, so here's the point: in the Middle Ages, using hawks and other raptors for hunting was the traditional privilege of the nobility and clergy. Bertram, the new Count Rossillion, is here identified with hawks and hawking to differentiate him from the commoner, Helena, who has no hawklike qualities nor any noble attributes. Bertram is about to soar off to Paris, leaving Helena grounded in Rossillion or, if she follows him, to plod along on foot, as she will when she starts on her pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Jacques le Grand in III.4.17. draw . . . in our heart's table: Table is Elizabethan for "notebook," the equivalent of our "tablet." Helena means that Bertram's handsome countenance is engraved on her heart.
But Bertram and Helena were brought up together, and had their lessons together, and this statement of hers brings to mind their art classes, where Helena, after competently whipping off her landscapes and still-lifes, went on to draw careful and accurate portraits of Bertram, secretly of course. Bertram, a boy, with the usual male lack of small-motor skills, was still laboring over his drawing of an apple.18. Virtue's | steely bones: the upright and honest life which Helena tries constantly to follow here appears to her as a skeleton of steel, the image of the death which will overtake her if she cannot have Bertram.
And Helena is virtuous! She has normal human impulses, but she has never said to Bertram, "Hey, Bertram, come around behind the barn with me a second, I want to show you something." And she feels that her virtue is killing her. In the morality play, remember, Helena's character stands in for Jesus, who was so virtuous that he died for us sinners, and his sinless death redeemed us. Helen herself, we will learn, has practically supernatural powers--but she would never use them to make, for example, a love potion or to cast a spell on Bertram. But she could probably do that--if she weren't virtuous.19. withal = "with all"; it usually means "along with the rest," but here it means "notwithstanding." (OED)
I had better point out (again!) that Parolles' character in the made-up morality is that of the Evil Angel. Helen just told us what she thinks about him, and why she's friendly with him.20. i' th' cold wind = in the cold wind. The consonant n and the vowel e were left out by Shakespeare, or maybe the printer, to make the phrase scan.
I suggest you put them back in and say "in the cold wind." It doesn't quite scan, but if you say what's written--"ith cold wind"--nobody will know what you've said. Do not be fooled by the fact that the text is by SHAKESPEARE! Your objective is to talk like a human being, in Tim Monich's felicitous phrase.21. A jocular insult: queen is a homonym with quean, which latter means "prostitute."
"How can the virtuous Helena have this bawdy conversation with Parolles?"26. Helen continues to prefer death to a life without Bertram. See note 13.
They are good friends, and can discuss anything, and Helena has Bertram on her mind and wants to talk about him. Besides, as we will see, Parolles doesn't care for girls at all, and Helena knows it. He's not interested in assailing her virginity. In the morality play they are the Good Angel and the Bad Angel, contenders for Bertram's soul; in Shakespeare's play, they contend for Bertram's affections, as we will see.
Parolles heard Helena say "though I die a virgin," and seizes on that for his topic. He says, "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." This is exactly the wrong thing to say to our Helen, who has been contemplating her own suicide ever since Bertram said goodbye. So when Parolles talks about hanging one's self, Helena becomes fixated on the idea. It is her fate, and her way out. It's not what she wants, but we already heard her say, "There is no living, none, if Bertram be away." To Parolles, she appears horribly depressed (which she is), loses all interest in her miserable life, and probably lets her gaze fall to the ground, where she imagines herself going soon.28. This is a very serious question, woman to man, and Parolles is going to take it seriously. It has to do with Helena's unspoken desire to lose her virginity to Bertram, and both the characters know that fact, and neither mentions it.
But Parolles is her friend, and when he sees Helena's reactions, he doesn't know what he's said, but he's terrified, and he begins wildly flailing about, trying desperately to make amends. First he makes the joke about virginity being like a cheese, which affects Helena not at all. Then--because he is her friend and knows that Helena is virtuous and religious--he begins describing virginity as a cause of sin, which shocks Helena back to her senses. Suicide is a sin, too. She looks up at Parolles, and returns to this world, and to the conversation.
Note that we have just had the astonishing spectacle, in terms of the morality play, of the Bad Angel trying to talk the Good Angel out of suicide.
It's possible that Parolles, who has his own desires for Bertram, is merely trying to eliminate a competitor. But I don't think so. Everybody in the play is good, and Parolles is only advising Helena about what she should do for her own happiness. He will repeat his advice shortly.30. "There": Helena rhapsodizes about the life Bertram will lead at the Court of France. It's an indication of her character--and of the play and its author--that Helen shows no bitterness about the life Bertram is going to lead without her, no rancor, no jealousy. Shakespeare knew that human beings can have good qualities.
"Sweet disaster": a disaster is an unlucky star, here probably interfering in a love-affair, the adventures of Romeo and Juliet being a well-known example. Even Bertram's heartbreaks will have a sweetness to them.32. These two lines are Helena's dreamy, poetic way of saying that people at court will baptize Bertram with loving nicknames, and that the godfather at these baptisms will be blinking (= "blind") Cupid. Wait'll she learns what happens (in II.3, for example)!
Notice how kind and gentle Parolles is being towards Helena! If he had his psychiatric degree, he could easily charge $500 for a session. But his kindness here is personal and unselfish, not professional.35. Parolles has almost completely talked Helen out of suicide. She has this one remaining impulse to throw herself down a well.
But at the same time, and with the same words, she says how much she'd like to get pregnant by Bertram, and have a new body growing inside herself, instead of hers going down the well. We hear her at the instant when the scales are tipping.36. What we alone must think means "What we may only think about, not act upon." But Hellen is also reiterating her feeling that, whatever she does, she must do it all herself; she has nobody to guide or help her. Indeed, even Parolles is about to depart for Paris.
As Shakespeare wrote, "The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together."
This is also an example of one of this play's themes: No Turns to Yes. Helena, who had No hope of winning Bertram, has decided, Yes, perhaps there is some hope.
Finally: why is this speech in rhymed couplets? Hunter suggests that "the couplets seem designed to raise the sense of inevitability and supernatural confidence" (footnote p. 15). I agree, and would take the explanation even farther. I blather in the Introduction about my unprovable theory that by the time Shakespeare wrote All's Well (and probably before) he had himself become an atheist. But he always believed that human beings were capable of good actions and Christian behavior. When he wrote a passage in rhyming blank verse, he is indicating that the characters speaking the rhymed verse are behaving as if they were in a state of grace. You do not have to believe this, or anything else I say. But you might want a reason as to why the characters in the play sometimes speak in rhymed couplets.
While I was patting myself on the back at having made this "state of grace" discovery, I ran across an old inquiry on the Shakesper.net (retrieved November 26, 2016) which says that the New Cambridge editors had figured out pretty much the same thing. However I think I have a few other things to say, so I will press doggedly on, "trumbling in the dismal joust," as Dorothy Sayers characterized scholarly disputations. The image comes from her translation of the Inferno, which is very suitable.
Therefore I suspect--and, as usual, cannot prove--that the text of All's Well is very close to Shakespeare's original manuscipt.44. Florence is at war with Sienna. Wars between the city-states of Italy were common from the Middle Ages right up to the First World War. Outside powers--France, Austria, the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, among others--were frequently invited in to fight for one side or another. Dante (the poet) was a cavalry soldier for Florence.
"By the ears" is a collquial term meaning "in a fight." Shakespeare has taken pains to draw the King as a normal human being, who talks like a human being, not like a cut-out or pasteboard king.45. The King says "No" to France's participation in the war.
Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: --Proverbs 2:1153.  In the first part of his sentence Lavatch mentions the probable damnation of the rich--a frequent Biblical theme--see Lazarus and the Rich Man--and in the second part of his sentence, Lavatch introduces the subject of his proposed immoral partnership with "Isbel" (whom we never meet). The Countess has to define this partnership as a marriage.
Shakespeare says elsewhere in the play that human beings are woven of strands of good and evil. In Lavatch the contrasting strands are very apparent--although his "evil" is mostly silliness.54.  barnes = bairnes = children
In elevating his station, the Countess may be imitating the way Elizabeth's courtiers behaved toward Monarcho (see note 22. above).57.  ears = ploughs
Lavatch cheerily points out that all men, of whatever religion, are united by their ability to be cuckolded.60.  The prophet Lavatch most resembles is Jeremiah; Jeremiah regularly predicted bad things, including the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Our King Zedekiah tired of his depressing harangues and had him imprisoned in a cistern, hoping Jeremiah would drown in the mud. The Countess has a much kindlier attitude towards Lavatch, as we can see in this scene and shall see again in IV.5.
For, you trow, nuncle,63.  Hunter thinks that this is a corrupt and truncated stanza of a ballad "The Lamentations of Hecuba and the Ladies of Troye," which was registered for publication in the Stationers Register on August 1, 1586. The ballad itself has disappeared.
The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,
That it's had it head bit off by it young. (Lr. I.4.205-7)
The word cuckold, the demeaning term for the husband of an unfaithful wife, which is the meaning Lavatch refers to, derives from the word cuckoo. I think the meaning of Lavatch's little song is, "You may or may not get married, but if you marry, you're certain to be made a cuckold," and he apparently believes that cuckoldry will be his own fate.
All I can deduce is that in the first four lines Lavatch is reminding us that Helena is beautiful, as was her namesake, Helen of Troy, and in the rest of the stanza is making the point that, in a world which is mostly evil (one of Lavatch's favorite themes), Helena is the rare good woman.64.  Tithe is a form of "tenth," the portion of agricultural or other produce due to the priests under Mosaic law (Leviticus 27:30: "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord"), a custom ultimately adopted into Christian tradition.
Lavatch seems to be saying that if Helena were presented as the tithe, the "one good in ten," she would certainly be satisfactory. Lavatch also seems to be saying that the birth of a good woman is as rare as an earthquake or the appearance of a comet.65.  I presume this is a very gentle gibe at the Countess, who is Lavatch's boss.
A. I looked like Helena when I was her age, or I wore the same dress, or I wore my hair like that;The correct answer, as we shall see, is C. See the next note. But it is hard to figure out the sense of this entire speech. The Countess' thoughts are in a turmoil. See the next.
B. I had a turbulent youth, as Helena seems to be having;
C. I was exactly like her, "even so," because like her I was in love with somebody I couldn't marry because of the difference in our stations.
|if EV-||er WE||are NA-||ture's THESE||are OURS||this THORN|
I once had a graduate student in class (Hi, there, Wendy!) who, whenever I asked the class for their first impression of a Shakespeare play, replied, "Aw, it's just another play about girls with no mothers." This characterization seems to apply to Helena.73. This line is one of the reasons that I assume Bertram's birth was difficult.
I nagged above (69) that the Countess had gone through Helen's experience: she fell in love with somebody who was above her station. In the Countess' case, it didn't turn out happily. Somebody--probably her father--discovered that the Countess was planning to elope with her higher-ranking love. The Countess' life was probably made miserable by repoaches and recriminations and in addition she was instantly married off to a perfectly nice man of her own station whom she didn't love. So the Countess is determined that Helen's story will have a happy ending, but it reminds her of her own escapade, how she was violently reprimanded and severely punished. While the Countess is trying to help Helen, she is also consumed with the fear she feels at defying remembered authority, even by proxy. Her roughness to Helen arises from her own absolute terror. I can confirm most of this from the text, and so can you.76. I think the doubled M (Charles Tuthill elegantly calls these "abutting consonants") indicates a stammer on Helen's part: she is so flustered that she forgets to address the Countess respectfully ("madam") and has to add the word on.
And Helen is terrified, too! She feels that she has sinned by falling in love with Bertram, her superior, and that she's going to be heavily punished for her presumption and implied ambition, maybe even by death (see Helen's first soliloquy). Ambition, to the Elizabethans, was a vice--at least in theory. In practice scholars have shown that Elizabethans were as ambitious in their daily lives as people were in any other age. See Tillyard. I'll put in the page number as soon as I find my own copy.
At footnote  I pointed out, with a table even, that Shakespeare had embedded the "good vs. evil" structure into the very dialogue. But I was not considering the fact that in this play, the good and the evil (or at least, "not so good") strands of human life are woven together to produce a result. And Shakespeare built this structure into the dialogue, and it is particularly prominent in this scene.
Here are three of Helena's lines that contain the synthesis; my table will not completely satisfy the adherents of Hegel and Fichte, but I hope you get my point:
"My friends were poor, but honest; so's my love."
"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." (Desert means "deserving," not a sandy wasteland.)
"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"
|My friends were poor||But honest||So's my love|
|I follow him not by 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||I still pour in the waters of my love|
Shakespeare is generally considered the originator of the phrase "poor but honest," but the same sentiment is expressed in Proverbs 19: "Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool." This monologue of Helen's is so famous that it appears on what I call Karen's Dreaded List (Karen Kohlhaas is a wonderful monologue and audition coach). Do not despair. Helen has even better monologues than this one.80. Following Hunter, I put these three speeches together to make one line of iambic pentameter. In fact the result is a six-footed monster. The Countess, unconsciously but scrupulously reproducing the severity of the interrogation she herself underwent some 18 (or more) years previously, sticks in the warning to Helen not to lie, even though there's no room for it in the verse.
"How, prithee, do you presume to know that the Countess underwent her interrogation 18 years previously?" I surmise that shortly after the Countess' transgression was discovered, she was married off to a proper match--then Count Rossillion--and that shortly after that--nine months or so--she gave birth to Bertram. Bertram, as noted above, is not yet 18.81. The line is only three feet long. I assume that when Helen says nothing after the question mark, after a pause the Countess prods her roughly with "Speak!" And even then there's probably another pause before poor Helen can continue her shamefaced confession. So the ellipsis and the exclamation point are both my additions, but I think they are justified by the text.
A morality play ought to have a miracle in it, and it's in this scene (or at least one of them is). Much of the dialogue between the Countess and Helen in this speech supports my theory that one of the play's themes is "The Dumb Are Made to Speak."83. Receipt = a formula or prescription (OED)
Helen's ready and polite response is a sign that she has heard the change in the Countess' tone: the Countess is no longer accusing her of being a scoundrelly liar, but merely asking--perhaps hopefully--if Helen's plan will actually work. This is a slight variant on one of the play's themes: "No Turns into Yes."85. Exeunt is Latin for "they go out." In Shakespeare if it's unqualified by listing the exiting characters, it means, "they all go out," clearing the stage and marking the end of a scene.
The Countess probably marches out immediately, preparing to write letters and checks on Helen's behalf. Helen may take a second to close her jaw and follow her, since I assume she's stunned by Wwhat appears to be a complete reversal of the Countess' attitude.
In the Folio, in the line above this, that phrase is spelled "well entred," which may be the way it was pronounced in Shakespeare's time. I strongly recommend you use the contemporary pronunciation, "well-entered" if you don't want to give your audience an unpleasant shock. I assume that "after well-entered soldiers" means "having successfully completed our apprenticeship as soldiers."89. "Those bated that inherit but the fall / Of the last monarchy": Hunter has a long note that includes a discussion of what Shakespeare meant by "bated," and concludes that the passage is a reference to Daniel 2:31-33 (below). McEachern silently assumes "bated" means "excepted" and defines "inherit" as "responsible for." In the context I don't think either explanation is entirely satisfactory, though I'm incapable of coming up with anything better. The actor in rehearsal will probably come up with his own interpretation.
31 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.90. And what would the King do if he had his health back? Why, he'd go out and seek the company of pretty girls. That, at least, is the first thought that comes into his mind. I imagine that daily he has his attendants wheel him over to the window, where he hopes to spy a pretty girl strolling through the Cours du Carrousel. This predilection of the King's will prove of vital importance in exactly 51 lines.
32 This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,
33 His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. (Daniel 2:31-33 KJV)
No, I do not mean that the King is a predator, as will be seen in his treatment of Helen. Measure for Measure and this play, because of their similarities in structure, are generally regarded as twins, or at least siblings. But the Duke in Measure for Measure is a real predator, who stage-manages Isabel's relationship with Angelo and the rescue of her brother with the sole purpose of forcing the very, very unwilling Isabel into his bed.91. There is no stage direction in the Folio, and according to Hunter editors are kept a coil whether the King retires or not, and who, if anybody, goes with him. It's clear that he takes himself out of the scene, even if he only goes upstage.
Hunter points out that when Bertram lusts after Diana, he is falling into exactly the trap the King is warning the departing troops about.
But note that Captain Dumain concludes his speech with "and so farewell." He does not really expect to see the weak-willed Bertram in the Italian wars, and lets Bertram know that with his "farewell," which is another insult to Bertram.99. Bertram imagines himself being torn apart. Hunter thinks this remark is merely a courtly affectation. I don't think Bertram has the sophistication necessary to produce such affectations, and that he really means it. He is desperate to be accepted as a man, and is forever treated like a boy.
Note that Parolles criticizes the quality that makes Bertram an unsatisfactory romantic hero: he doesn't speak enough. As we discussed, this is probably a result of the lifelong advice given him by his mother, "Be checked for silence, but never tasked for speech," discussed at note .105. The Folio doesn't have a stage direction for Lafew to kneel, but editors assume it's necessary since the King immediately tells him to stand up.
But why does Lafew kneel and beg the King's pardon before even opening the conversation? In fact there's a very good reason that Lafew kneels every time he enters the King's presence, and we'll discuss it later.106. The Folio has "see"; the editor Lewis Theobald changed it to "fee" in his 1733 edition of the Shakespeare plays. The line means, approximately, "I'll hire or pay thee to stand up," by which I think the King is merely giving Lafew permission to stand.
But from what we know of Helen's state of mind, she will probably not go back to Rossillion. She will probably hang herself from the nearest tree.125. The King continues his polite remarks. He doesn't say much, except to further deprecate Helen's skill as a physician. The important thing is that the scene has gone fully into rhymed verse. Helen instantly recognizes the King's mood, and continues in rhyme.
I could certainly be wrong, but as evidence I offer Pericles, in which everybody agrees that the verse of the first two acts (or more) is of inferior quality. and, as Coleridge wrote, "At first he proceeded with indifference, now and then only troubling himself to put in a thought or an image, but as he advanced he interested himself in his employment, and the last two acts are almost altogether by him." Well--no. Pericles is about the journey of pagan man into Christian grace (whose presence is represented by Marina), and Shakespeare saw no reason to improve the text he was given to perfection while he was writing about still imperfect man.128. "I am not an imposter, that proclaim myself against the level of mine aim"; Hunter says this means "I am not a braggart who boasts he'll hit the target even before aiming."
I apologize for the fact that I cannot give a reference for the Coleridge quotation, but I have warned the reader multiple times that I am a snake-oil salesman.
There are several versions of a geocentric universe, but I'm going to assume that the one Shakespeare has Helen invoking corresponds with Dante's. Helen sends her incantation out to the farthest sphere, the Empyrean, where God, the greatest Grace, dwells, according to Dante (Paradiso). The Empyrean is a circle beyond the (fixed) stars and is not shown in the diagram below (which I chose for its clarity; retrieved November 27, 2016).
There are two things to note in these two lines: Helen has brought the power from the Empyrean down to the sphere of the sun, and; she has specified that the King will be cured within two days.133. Hesperus is Venus as the setting evening star. Helena has brought her magic down to the orbit of Venus, and repeated her promise that the King's cure will take only two days.
Hunter doesn't like the Folio word "torcher" and substitutes "coacher."
This is a no-lose bet for Helen. First, she knows that the King is cured, since she's performed the incantation. Second, if for some unlikely reason he hasn't been cured, she won't be allowed to get the favor she wants (Bertram for a husband), and she's already told us that she has no desire to live without Bertram. She's been trying to commit suicide since the first scene. Capital punishment holds no terror for her.139. This looks like a quid pro quo, but it isn't. Whatever the King may answer, Helen has already cured him.
You're the director, and the writer and his agent are both dead, so you can do what you want (and you will, as I know from experience). But I think you syhould give the scene a chance. It may help you to get an idea of what the play is about.143. I assume the Countess proposes to catechize Lavatch about his behavior before sending him as her messenger to the court (he apparently already knows that's his destination).
but = "only" in Lavatch's usage145. "put it off: "to pass off for what it is not" (OED). But Hunter points out that Lavatch is merely enlarging on and rebutting the Countess' "put off" in her speech. Whatever the etymology, Lavatch means that he will easily succeed at court, for reasons which he is about to explain.
If you think I'm distorting the Countess' meaning, please consider Parolles' last speech in II.3, discussed at footnote 2000.148. Lavatch began with men ("serve all men") and continues the discussion of male anatomy, but he emphasizes the buttocks. Most of the buttock descriptions are obvious, but not even the OED knows the meaning of quatch.
ten groats = since a groat was nominally worth four pence, Lavatch apparently thinks that 40 pennies was a suitable fee for a lawyer;151. Lavatch continues to be obsessed with buttocks.
French crown = five shillings (with a sexual reference to the "French disease," syphilis, which caused balding), a payment which Lavatch apparently thinks is suitable payment for a:
taffety punk = a prostitute (punk) dressed in silk;
Tib's rush: the rush shaped into a ring worn by the country girl Tib; slipping it over Tom's forefinger is obviously symbolic of coitus;
pancake for Shrove Tuesday: pancakes are a traditional food for the last day before Lent;
nail to his hole: another image of coitus;
cuckold to his horn: cuckolds, husbands of unfaithful wives, were said to grow horns (OED says from 1430 to 1942);
a scolding quean to a wrangling knave; a quean is a whore, and I presume that the wrangling knave is her quarrelsome customer;
the nun's lip to the friar's mouth sounds like illicit fun in the convent;
as the pudding to his skin; a close relationship, not necessarily sexual, but Isabel uses a similar image in the conversation in which Angelo falls in love with her (MFM II.2: "a kind of medicine in itself / That skins the vice o' th' top").
In this case Lavatch's "O Lord, sir" in answer to "Are you a courtier?" means approximately "Can you doubt it?" or more simply, "Yes!" But he didn't have to tell a lie, so he has not broken his own idiosyncratic moral code. He continues to play on the phrase "put off."155. In the game, this sounds to Lavatch like the beginning of a request for a loan or gift of money, and his sequent "O Lord, sir" is a preface to the pleading of his inability to help.
The Countess has concluded her game with Lavatch which, I reiterate, is a capsule version of what happened in her life. She was happy, carefree and had sexual interests, and she was pulled up abruptly and severely punished. She also goes from relaxed verse into formal iambic pentameter to give Lavatch his marching orders.160. Whatever Lavatch means by this, he's not really in Paris yet. See the next note.
Both Lafew and Parolles are showing off their scholarship (and verbosity), and you will notice that when Parolles can't keep up, he interjects the equivalent of "Me, too!"167. Broadside ballads, printed on one side of a single leaf, were very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries; apparently they were frequently written to commemorate some notable current event. Falstaff threatens to have one printed praising his own exploits to discomfit Prince John in Henry IV, Part 2, and Autolycus enchants all the attendees at the sheep-shearing with one in The Winter's Tale by singing one with the Clown's two girlfriends.
Apparently a ballad has already been written and printed to celebrate Helena's curing of the King. So Helen's offer of a penalty if she fails to cure the King ("traduced by odious ballads," II.1.171) has been stood on its head, and she is not being traduced, but celebrated.168. Dolphin is English for dauphin (French), the title of the King's son and heir, who bore a dolphin in his coat of arms. The King mentioned that he had a son in his last line in I.2. Lustier, the comparative of lusty, is a direct relation of the German lustig, here meaning "healthy, strong, vigorous." The word also had sexual connotations from at least Chaucer's time (OED). See  below.
The word also exists in a form with one less syllable, facinorous, but we would expect Parolles to use the most complicated language he can think of.171. Lustig is German, not English, again meaning "healthy, strong, vigorous" (but with the sexual connotation). By Dutchman Lafew means "German."
Note that the King, restored to health, is glad to be able to dance, an act which Bertram abominated (see ).173. Hunter says that mor du vinager (mort du vinaigre in correct French = "death of vinegar") is "meaningless," but allows that "Case, in the Yale edition, says that 'mort du vinaigre' means 'by the crucifixion,' but gives no authority" (Hunter, p. 52). The authority is that on the cross, when the soldiers heard Jesus say, "I thirst," ". . . straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink" (Matt. 47:28, but the incident is in all four Gospels). "Death of vinegar" indeed.
Lafew's answer "'Fore God, I think so" is disingenuous. He knows perfectly well it's Helen; he's the one who brought her in to cure the King. It's also possible that he's being tongue-in-cheek; by now he has found out Parolles' imposture as a man of arms, and enjoys having fun at Parolles' expense.174. Marry, to each but one: I think that Helena is warning the lords against divorcing and remarrying rather than against bigamy. Divorcing and remarrying is forbidden as an act of adultery in all three synoptic Gospels (e.g. Matt. 19:9). Helena will refer to it as "deadly divorce" in the last scene in the play.
Writis an unusual word--here it merely means "had"--but Shakespeare is at pains in this play to emphasize the importance of the written word. See the Introduction and Letters. 178. The short line indicates that Helena has a big pause, maybe before she speaks the word, maybe again afterwards. As usual, in a case like this, it has to be worked out between the actor and the director. Since the actor has to say the line, she should prevail.
This shocking remark of Bertram's causes the King to pause (as you can see if you count the syllables in this line and the next). In the world of the play it's a terrible insult to the King, as well as to Helena. In the morality play, Helena ultimately stands in for Jesus, and the King stands in for God the Father. In rejecting Helena, Bertram, Sinful Man, rejects God's love and chooses his own damnation, as he himself asserts.189. This line has six complete feet.
Note that the King, in the face of this horrific insult, does not fly immediately into a rage, although he will later. Shakespeare modeled the character of the King after the information he found in the Bible: "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy." Psalm 103:8.
|'tis ON-||ly TI-||tle THOU-||dis DAIN'ST||in HER||the WHICH|
No, in fact I cannot say for sure that the pause doesn't come before Helen speaks. I'm trying to figure out what's most dramatic. I think Helen would speak right away, to try to get out of this dreadful, humiliating situation.196. misprision = contempt, scorn, and failure to recognize something as valuable (OED)
When my friend Rob Lanchester played the King in this play at Trinity Church Wall Street, we discussed that since, in the morality play the King is God, in this speech he particularly becomes the wrathful God of the Old Testament. "God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day." --Psalm 7:11199. Bertram, finally realizing he has gone too far, begins speaking on a trochee, stressing his fear--although the rest of the speech (and his subsequent actions) indicate that he is acting under compulsion, not sincere repentance. The dashes are my invention; there is no such punctuation in the Folio. But Bertram's recantation goes against all his instincts and is very difficult for him, as is evident from his highly irregular verse.
But of course the God of the New Testament loses his temper, too: "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." --Revelations 3:16
And as I mentioned in connection with I.3, this is a morality play, and it ought to have a miracle. This is one: "Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel." --Matthew 15:31 The dumb are made to speak in this play, although the procedure is somewhat different from that of the Gospels.
|Pardon, my gracious lord; for I submit||This line begins with a jolting trochee, as Bertram breaks in in a desperate hurry to forestall the King's wrath.|
|My fancy to your eyes. When I consider||This line ends with feminine ending, an indication that Bertram is having trouble considering the King's point of view. He doesn't want to.|
|What great creation and what | dole of honor||The word "honor" creates a feminine ending; Bertram still doesn't think Helena brings any. He also hiccups before he comes out with the unfortunate
word "dole," which means "portion," but since the 14th century has also meant the meager charitable portion given to the poor.(OED)
|Flies where you bid it, I find that she which late||Almost regular verse, but the line begins with a trochee which puts a stress on "flies." I suspect Bertram would like to flee.|
|Was in my nobler thoughts most base is now||"My nobler thoughts"--even as he recants, Bertram is fixed on the idea that he is of greater rank than Helena.|
|The praisèd of the King; who, so ennobled,||Another example in this play of a muddled antecedent; is the "enobled" one the King, or Helen? Bertram is ambiguous.|
|Is--as 'twere--born so.||I put in the dashes because they emphasize the fact that Bertram is greatly qualifying Helen's "noble birth." She wasn't born noble, and he can't forget that.|
When I saw Megan Shea play Helena, by this point her Helena had begun to sob uncontrollably. I have stolen the idea for every production I've done since. Helena, holding hands with Bertram, is sobbing fit to die; Bertram is clenching his jaw and glaring as if he'd like to commit a murder; the King is beaming broadly with a false, forced benignity.200A. whose ceremony / Shall seem expedient on the now-born brief: This passage gives Hunter fits, and I don't blame him. He suggests that "shall seem" means "shall be proper" (seemly) on the authority of the OED (seem, verb.2. def. 1).
The passage is confusing because the King's thoughts are not in order. He has most unsuitably allowed Bertram to drive him into a rage, and though he is trying to tamp down his rage, his thoughts are not yet in order. He doesn't mean to use the word "brief," but Shakespeare does. If fits into the fact that one of the main images in the play is letters. The King is talking some nonsense in his attempt to justify pushing Bertram into a shotgun marriage, but the nonsense fits the play.201. companion: "Do you consider yourself the Count's equal?" Note that after this Lafew stops addressing Parolles by the polite, formal "you" (used between equals) and changes to the condescending and dismissive "thou."
taking up is purposefully ambiguous, and means 1. "picking up," like a stone from the ground; 2."correcting," as in "pull up"; and 3. "to take into one's service," which Lafew ultimately will do for Parolles, as Lafew predicts in about twenty lines. See [209A].204. dram = 1/16 of an ounce; scruple = 1/3 of a dram
Hunter mentions that Persephone has to return to hell for part of the year because while there she ate seven pomegranate seeds while in hell, not just one, like Parolles (Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book V, line 550ff--see http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Metamorph5.php#anchor_Toc64106320, retrieved 11/30/2017).212. I offer this line and Parolles' next speech as evidence that part of his interest in Bertram is amorous and sexual.
Well, why not? In the morality play, Parolles and Helena, bad angel and good angel, struggle for Bertram's soul. Shakespeare always took care to write about human beings, not abstractions or mathematical constructs (which I am sometimes guilty of). It was easy for him to see the logic of changing Parolles desire for Bertram into a sexual one (as Helena's of course is).213. If the actor followed the Folio text exactly, he'd have to say "tooth wars," which, I promise you, would confuse the audience. So I suggest you say "to the wars," and never mind scholarship. See footnote  below.
Anybody with any kind of prurient mind can guess that Parolles' excitement at having beaten Helena, the good angel, and going off with Bertram to Italy à deux has aroused Parolles sexually. The balls are Parolles' testicles (this meaning dates from 1325, according to the OED). The noise is like matter, which OED says can mean "pus" (and Shakespeare uses it so in LLL III.1.116), except in this case noise means semen. That which is hard is Bertram's situation, but also Parolles' penis.219. Shakespeare tries always to write the way people talk--though most of us are seldom in the violently dramatic situations in which his characters find themselves. I' th' is Lavatch's slangy pronunciation of "in the." If you found this written in verse, you'd have to say it as "ith" to make the line scan.
Neither Partridge nor the OED lists noise with the definition I have just used, which makes me either an Intrepid Scholar or a Great Scoundrel, but all notoriety is good.
DON'T DO IT. Say "in the." If you say "ith" the audience may understand that you're compressing "in the." But in other places in Shakespeare, strict observance of the scansion may cause ludicrous problems. For example, when Edmund says in King Lear (Folio), "Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund / As to th' legitimate" (Lr. I.2.17-8), if you pronounce it as written, you will have to say "as tooth legitimate," and the audience will suddenly be thrown from following the play into considering why Edmund has to go to the dentist.220. If you follow the Folio, Parolles has to say "thart." But see the note at .
I know this is the case from experience. When Sam Waterston was playing Polonius in Hamlet in Shakespeare in the Park in 2008, at the final dress rehearsal he pronounced Polonius' line as the Folio indicates: "Though this be madness, / Yet there is method int." The audience was seized, really, with fear. They stopped enjoying the play and began pondering the meaning of the word they had never heard before, "int." It took Sam Waterston ten minutes to regain their confidence that he was not going to speak unintelligible gibberish. By the time I saw a public performance about two weeks later, Sam was saying "in it," and the play was not brought to a screeching halt.
It's a theatrical and active gesture. I think it's wrong. It impugns Lavatch's moral integrity, and makes him, and the spirit of the play, meaner. The stage directions don't help resolve the situation; Lavatch's exit is not marked aftter this line, but the end of the scene is denoted "Exit," meaning that only one person is left to leave after Parolles has gone, namely Helena. But Helena's last line is, "Come, sirrah," presumably to Lavatch, who must still be with her. So perhaps Lavatch was tipped, and left the conversation. As I said: I don't like it. But you, obviously, can choose what you want to do, and may say to me, "I do not like thee, Doctor Fell."224. That is, of course, the consummation of their marriage, the loss of her virginity to Bertram, which Helen has been longing for since the first scene.
But you don't need to take my word for this, except for the fact that the line is short. Actor and director can thrash it out at rehearsal. I cannot find my Shakespeare Codebook.226. This "Exeunt" is "Exit" in the Folio; "Exeunt" is an editor's guess. See footnote .
Parolles' and Helena's final lines in the speech are also ragged, and not iambic pentameter.
Helena's submissive "In everything I wait upon his will" shows her in a frame of mine that will ruin her chances with Bertram. And she's not talking to anyone of rank! She's talking to Parolles, and we know from the first scene what she thinks of him. For Helen's meek subservience, see the next scene.
Made shift according to the OED means "sped up" (see the entry at spur, 2.a.) but I think here it means, "deliberately altered your course."231. Lafew continues his device of comparing Parolles to a bird (begun above at , making Parolles no more impressive or important than a caged pet parrot.
Parolles response would be a suitable reaction whether or not Bertram says "not." But it's possible that Lafew's strong denunciation of Parolles has caused Bertram some doubt.233. Here begins a very difficult conversation for our newlyweds.
Also, Bertram's line may refer to something else entirely: Helen, his new (albeit imposed) bride has just come into view.
Helena is already anxious because Parolles just told her she's not going on a honeymoon. She has to report he conversation with the King to Bertram. I have already explained why I put in those little lines (see footnote ). Helen stammers every time she mentions the King, because it's a very sore subject with Bertram.234. This line is short, only three feet long, and can't reasonably finish Helen's ending line, which is also three feet.
But Bertram has his own problems. He is now married to Helen, whom he has always despised. But now when he looks at her again, he realizes she's a beautiful girl with whom he could have perfectly licit intercourse. If he took her to the Super 8 for the night, he could still flee to Italy the next day--without consequences, except the King's displeasure, which doesn't reach to Italy.
Bill Grossman and I were working on a musical version of As You Like It in the BMI Workshop, and we had Rosalind, worrying about what Orlando would do if he knew how helpless she was to resist him, sing: "Would he try me out once, and then get out of town?" The context is:What to do?Bertram has a similar question about how he should deal with Helen and as a result his verse is very ragged, and fraught with sexual innuendoes. I have marked the irregular lines in his speech.
I'm so deeply in love that I fear I may drown.
If he knew,
Would he try me out once, and then get out of town?
Will he love me? Will he keep me?
Will I be left high and dry?
I've got to be certain before I give in,
'Cause if he ever leaves me, I'll die!
The implied pause is for Bertram to take in Helen's beauty and maybe say to himself, "Gosh! She's changed a lot since kindergarten!"235. Helen: frequently when a Shakespeare character says the name of another characther whom he or she knows well, it implies (at least to me) that the character is viewing the other character in a brand new light. Bertram is realizing that Helena has great attraction as a sexual partner. This thought distracts him throughout the rest of the speech. How should Bertram deal with his sexual impulse?
Note that here at the center of the play, the morality structure is very explicit: Bertram is torn between (probably standing between) Parolles, the bad angel, and Helena, the good angel, and he must decide which one to go with.236. This complicated and wordy passage is an indication that Bertram is having trouble telling Helen that he's not going to consummate their marriage. He had decided on one course of action; his hormones and his gonads are arguing against it. "These balls bound!" as Parolles exclaimed in a different context (see note ). You will notice that the last word, not, doesn't fit into the meter--it falls off the end of the line.
Helen, however, manages to say about the worst thing that she possibly could.240. We have seen throughout the play that Bertram's dislike for Helena stems mostly from the difference in their stations: his only good attribute is that he's a count, and he wants nothing to do with a commoner. The King has by now made Helena rich, perhaps given her her own title (although by her marriage to Bertram she is of course Countess Rossillion). When Helena says "I am your most obedient servant," she forces Bertram to remember that the difference in their stations is the reason he never wanted her in the first place. Describing herself as his "servant" isn't technically true, and makes things worse. All hope of a happy conclusion to this scene evaporates, and Bertram immediately dismisses her.
Note that Shakespeare has stopped writing in pauses. There is no hesitation on Bertram's part. He picks up his cues. He sees no purpose to continuing the conversation.243. O God, another mention by Helen of how unworthy she is. I do not believe Helen is purposely self-destructive; her humility is real. It also happens to be fatal.
Does Bertram kiss her goodbye? I suppose it's remotely possible, but it would go against his expressed dislike of her. He'd sooner kiss the dairymaid, or her cow. Also, please remember how Bertram was raised. Did his mother kiss him goodbye? See note .245. I have used the Folio lineation. But Riverside and some other editions, with no textual authority whatsoever, give some of Helen's lines to Bertram, thusly:
I shall not break your bidding, good my lord.
Where are my other men, monsieur?
Farewell!(Exit HELENA.)Go thou toward home, where I will never come
Whilst I can shake my sword or hear the drum.
Away, and for our flight.
Hunter complains about this outrage to the text in his note to the passage: "To end her words at lord muffles the effect of her exit, and makes her slip out feebly . . . As the favorite of the King and the wife of a count, she cannot be without a retinue . . . " I heartily agree, but I'd add:
When Helen says, "Where are my other men?" it's almost a Freudian slip on her part. She's thinking about all the young lords who were eager to marry her in act II, scene 3, and would probably not have treated her like a doormat. In modern terms, our Helen is thinking, "Where are all those hot boys who wanted to date me in high school?"
Her "Monsieur, farewell" is a very pointed remark to Parolles, who she thought was her friend (remember, he talked her out of committing suicide in I.1), and who, obviouly is not being sent away to Rossillion, as Helena is.
So at this point, the Bad Angel is winning. But the play isn't over yet.
Florence (mainly Guelph, backers of the papacy) and Siena (mainly Ghibelline, backers of the Holy Roman Emperor) were involved in many of the wars between Italian city-states, sometimes as enemies, sometimes as allies. Dante fought as a Florentine knight at the Battle of Campaldino in 1289.
But the battle in which Siena took the evil part is most probably Montaperti in 1260, described by at least one commentator as an ambush. For Dante, the turning point of the battle occurred when, late in the day, Bocca degli Abati, a Ghibelline adherent fighting in the Florentine forces, suddenly charged the Florentine standard-bearer from behind and cut off his hand. Other Ghibellines in the Florentine ranks followed him and changed sides, attacking their own army. For his pains Dante assigned Bocca a place in the Ninth Circle of Hell, reserved for the betrayers of special trust Inf. XXXII. ll.79ff; search for "Montaperti").