Shakespeare For White Trash: All’s Well That Ends Well
August 21, 2013
(Index to the Series appears on Oct. 7, 2010 — https://cradkilodney.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/ )
Bertram — Count of Rousillon (spelling may vary)
Countess of Rousillon — Bertram’s mother
Helena — ward of the Countess
Lafeu (spelling may vary) — an old lord
Parolles — follower of Bertram
King of France
Duke of Florence
Clown (named Lavache)
Steward (named Rinaldo)
Widow — Diana’s mother
Gentlemen (Including the two Lords Dumaine, who are brothers)
Lords (various speaking roles)
(Violenta is deleted)
Gist of the story: Young Bertram has become the new Count of Rousillon after the death of his father. Helena, who lives in the same house, is secretly in love with him, but he has no interest in her because she is not of his social class. When the King of France becomes ill, he sends for Bertram, who is his ward. Helena’s father was a brilliant doctor, who left her his secret remedies, so she decides to go to the King’s court in Paris to try to cure the King and perhaps end up marrying Bertram as her reward. She is successful on both counts, but Bertram doesn’t love her. He runs away to fight in a war in Italy rather than consummate his marriage with Helena. He sends word back to his mother that he will never accept Helena as a wife until she gets his favourite ring off his finger and presents him with a child (which, of course, isn’t possible if they’re not together). Furthermore, he won’t return to Rousillon as long as Helena’s there. Sadly, Helena decides to go away on a religious pilgrimage so Bertram can come home. She doesn’t want him to get killed in the war. He receives a report that she has died, but in fact she is now in Florence, where he is — entirely by coincidence! Bertram is hot for a local girl named Diana, whose widowed mother owns the lodging house where Helena is staying. Helena contrives with Diana to invite Bertram into her bed with the lights out. Helena takes her place and Bertram doesn’t know the difference. Bertram has already given up his ring to Diana, and now, in bed, Helena gives Bertram a ring given to her by the King. The war over, Bertram returns to Rousillon, and the King has gone there for a visit. Following Helena’s instructions, Diana and her mother follow the King, seeking “justice” because Bertram had promised to marry Diana and ran off after “deflowering” her. The King notices the ring Bertram is wearing, which is the one the King gave to Helena. He tells a lie to explain how he got it. With Helena believed dead, Bertram looks guilty of something bad. Then Diana and her mother show up (with Helena behind them, in hiding), and Diana shows the ring she got from Bertram. Bertram follows one lie with another and Diana speaks in riddles until the King becomes vexed with both of them. Then Helena walks in and explains the deception. She is pregnant with Bertram’s child — and she did get his ring off his finger, fulfilling his own promise. Bertram is stricken with remorse and vows his love to Helena. Diana is rewarded with the promise of marriage to the man of her choice, with her dowry to be paid by the King.
(This play was never performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime, and it has not been all that popular. Shakespeare’s text has numerous problems, and even scholars have difficulty with it. Obscure passages, awkward stage directions, and logical inconsistencies are all present. But, really, one finds such glitches in all of Shakespeare’s plays. His fans are used to them, but our non-literary audience is not. So it is up to us to fix, patch, improvise, condense, and clarify so everyone has a good time. This is what we have done, and what you are getting is quite a good, entertaining play. The main weakness in the story is that the male protagonist, Bertram, is a foolish young man we don’t really like that much; and we have to wonder why the female protagonist, Helena, is so in love with him. The experts call this a “problem play” or “dark comedy.” Perhaps I see it as funnier than they do, and I have biased this restyling that way. As always, our mission has been to take what Shakespeare has given us, add our own inspiration, and pitch it to you in such a way that you are now a Shakespeare fan, even if you never read a book before in your life. This play concludes the series “Shakespeare For White Trash.” This is the first time that all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays have been rewritten by one author and published in one place. [Hey, where’s my Lifetime Achievement Award? Where’s my honourary doctorate?] Throughout our ambitious project we have been helped by the spirits of dead writers. We don’t know who they are, but we thank them. May posterity look kindly upon our contribution to the literature of the English language.)
Act 1, Scene 1. The palace of the Countess of Rousillon in France. Coming in are the Countess, Bertram, Helena, and Lord Lafeu, all dressed in black. Helena looks especially sad. (Author’s note: Bertram and Helena are both presumed to be younger than eighteen.)
Countess (To Bertram): Your father’s gone and now I have to lose you, too, Bertram. It’s almost like two funerals.
Bertram: I hate to leave you, mother, but the King wants me with him. And legally he’s my guardian, so I have to go.
Lafeu: Bertram will be in good hands, madam. The King loves you both. He’ll treat Bertram like his own son.
Countess: I suppose.–I’ve heard he’s not well. Is that true?
Lafeu: I’m afraid so. He’s quite sick, really. His doctors don’t seem to be able to cure him. He’s pretty much given up on them.
Countess: Helena’s father was an excellent doctor. He died six months ago. If he were alive, I’ll bet he could cure the King.
Lafeu: And who was he?
Countess: Gerard de Narbon.
Lafeu: Oh, yes. I’ve heard of him. The King has spoken of him. (To Helena) The King admired your father. His passing was a great loss to France.
(Helena is too sad to reply. She just nods shyly.)
Bertram: What’s wrong with the King anyway?
Lafeu: He has a fistula. It’s on the outside–about here. (He indicates.)
Bertram: Ugh!–That must be awful.
Lafeu: It is. (To the Countess) So Helena lives here now?
Countess: Yes. The good doctor made me her guardian before he died. I promised him I’d see to her education–and see that she made a good marriage someday. She has all the fine qualities of her father. She’s a very good girl.
(Helena cries a bit.)
Lafeu: Oh!–You praise her so highly you’re making her cry.
Countess: She’s been crying a lot lately.–Come now, Helena. Too much crying makes a bad impression. People might take it as an act.
Helena: They can take it any way they want. Only I know what I feel.
Lafeu: It’s normal to mourn for someone who has died–but in moderation.
Countess: Exactly so. (To Helena) You see? Lord Lafeu agrees with me. One should not grieve too much–(With a subtle change of tone, meant to be significant to Helena)–even for one who is living.
(Author’s note: We should understand that the Countess knows that Helena is really crying over Bertram’s departure because she is in love with him. The Countess is dropping a hint to Helena to restrain herself. Lafeu senses a hidden meaning in the Countess’s remark, but at this point Bertram interrupts clumsily, unaware of what is really happening.)
Bertram: Wish me good luck, mother.
(The Countess hugs him.)
Countess: I will pray to heaven to watch over you. Just remember that you’re your father’s son and you must try to be like him. Be good to everyone you meet, but be careful whom you trust. Don’t let an enemy get any advantage over you. Never abandon a friend. And know when to keep your mouth shut.–Lord Lafeu, you keep an eye on him. He’s a good boy but still inexperienced.
Lafeu: I understand, Countess. You needn’t worry.
Bertram: Well, goodbye, then, mother.
(Bertram gives her a kiss and begins to leave, but the Countess tugs him on the sleeve.)
Countess: Say goodbye to Helena.
Bertram: Oh.–Yes, of course.–Well, goodbye, Helena. Be sure to help my mother with the, uh, chores and stuff.
(Bertram makes no physical contact.)
Helena (Sadly): Goodbye, Bertram.
Lafeu: Goodbye, Helena. Nice to have met you. And don’t cry too much over your father.
Helena: Yes, my lord.
(Bertram goes out with Lafeu. The Countess watches them briefly and then goes out the other way, leaving Helena alone.)
Helena: He thinks I’m crying over my father, but I’m not. It’s because of Bertram. I can’t bear to see him go. He’s the only star in my sky. I adore him. I love every little thing about him. Now I could just lie down and die. It’s quite hopeless. He’s a noble. He’s the Count of Rousillon now. And what am I? Just a humble doctor’s daughter. I’m not in the same class. I have no chance with him. (Sighs) Oh, Bertram!
(Sound of someone coming in.)
Helena: Who’s that?–Parolles. That miserable bug. The only good thing about him is that his defects fit him as perfectly as a suit. If he wasn’t Bertram’s friend, I wouldn’t bother to be civil to him at all.
(Parolles comes in.)
Parolles (Humourously): God save the Queen!–Just came in to say goodbye.
Helena: Oh. Well.–God save the King.
Parolles: The King? Not I?
Helena: Well, then, I’m not the Queen either.
Parolles: Not the Queen. Just a virgin, eh? Well, enjoy the joys that go with it–ha, ha!
Helena: Yes. What else?–Tell me, Monsieur Parolles–as you are a soldier and a man of experience–what’s a virgin to do when every man is her enemy?
Parolles: Just keep him out.
Helena: But man is always on the attack. What defense can a girl fall back on?
Parolles: Don’t fall back. That’s the worst thing you can do. Then the man will just tunnel through your defenses and–blow you up!–In the belly, of course–ha. ha!
Helena: It’s most unfair, I think.
Parolles: No, no. Virginity is not worth defending in the first place.
Helena: You don’t think so?
Parolles: No. It goes against nature. If every woman tried to preserve her virginity, there’d be no human race, now, would there?
Helena: The human race would get along just fine without my adding to it.
Parolles: Where would you be if your mother had felt that way? Virginity is a pretty idea but not so pretty in the flesh. Keeping it is like keeping a piece of fruit until it shrivels up. There’s no beauty in that. Away with the whole idea! Find a man and marry him.
Helena: Your friend the Count will probably have all the women he wants when he settles in at the King’s court. They’ll probably throw themselves at him, I’m sure. And they’ll be ladies of his social class.
Parolles: Sure. Why not?
Helena: Well, anyway, I suppose it’s perfectly normal for a young man of his rank. I wish him well, no matter what.–But it’s a pity.
Parolles: What is?
Helena: That I can only wish. That’s all a girl can do if she’s not of a certain social class.
(A Page comes in.)
Page: Monsieur Parolles, my lord Bertram is calling for you.
Parolles: Yes, yes, at once.–Well, Helena, if I think of it, I’ll remember you–at the King’s court.
Helena: Thank you for thinking of me–if you remember–at the King’s court. Clearly, you were born under a charitable star.
Helena: Oh, yes, of course–Mars, the god of war. Who else? You’ve seen a lot of war, haven’t you? Over your shoulder, that is.
Parolles: Over my shoulder?
Helena: Yes, while you’re running away.
Parolles: Ha, ha! Clearly, you don’t understand the art of war. The correct term is “tactical retreat.”
Helena: Others might call it something else. But never mind. You just keep doing whatever you’re good at.
Parolles: Yes. Coming. (To Helena) I’m going to be a courtier, you know. I’m going to learn a lot–at the King’s court. Then I can come back and give you a much-needed education–so you don’t die in ignorance. If you get bored, say your prayers. And keep busy enough so you have an excuse not to do favours for your friends. And find a husband and use him the same way he uses you. Farewell!
(Parolles gives an exaggerated bow and leaves with the Page.)
Helena: That guy will be even more detestable as a courtier than he is now.–Ach! Helena, Helena, Helena. What are you going to do, girl? (A pause for reflection.) We look to heaven to solve our problems, but the remedy lies in ourselves. Nothing is impossible but fear of failure makes it so. I must find a way to be with Bertram. (She thinks.) The King is ill. My father could have cured him. And he left me the formulas for all his medicines!–And so, to the King’s court!
Act 1, Scene 2. Paris. The King’s palace. Flourish of cornets. The King comes in holding a letter and accompanied by two Gentlemen. (Author’s note: Shakespeare’s speech prefixes for these characters are inconsistent. These are the two Lords Dumaine, who are brothers. For the sake of consistency, they will be designated throughout this version as the First and Second Gentlemen.)
King: Florence and Sienna are at war. This letter is from the Duke of Austria. He says Florence is sure to ask me for help. He advises me to stay out of it.
1st Gent: His advice has always been reliable, my lord.
King: Yes, and I’m going to follow it. However, if any of our gentlemen want to go over and fight, that’s their business. I won’t stop them.
2nd Gent: It would probably do them some good, my lord. You know what they say. Too much peace makes men soft. A gentleman should have some experience in war.
King: I think you’re right.–Oh. We’ve got visitors.
(Lafeu, Bertram, and Parolles come in.)
Lafeu: Your Majesty! Here’s the new Count Rousillon–Bertram.
Bertram: Your Majesty!
(Bertram bows, but the King lifts him up and embraces him.)
King: Welcome! Welcome, my boy! No need to be so formal. My, my, you’re the spitting image of your father. I’m very happy that you’re here.
Bertram: Thank you, my lord. I was sad to leave my mother, but now I’m glad to be here.
King (Indicating the Gentlemen): You’ll want to be friends with these fellows.–Lord Dumaine–and the other Lord Dumaine. They’re brothers.
(Bertram and the Gentlemen exchange bows.)
Bertram (To the King): And this is my friend Monsieur Parolles.
(Parolles bows effusively.)
Parolles: Your Majesty!
King: Welcome to Paris, sir. (To the Gentlemen) Bertram’s father was a good friend of mine. And a damned good soldier. (To Bertram) We were tough in those days–before time caught up with us. I miss him.
Bertram: I do, too.
King: And considering how sick I am, I think I’d rather be with him than inside this old, useless body.
Bertram: Oh, sir. I’m so sorry you’re sick.
King: I feel like hell. That’s the truth.
Bertram: It will pass, sir. All illnesses do.
King: Except the one that kills you. You know what your father used to say? He said, “I never want to get so old and feeble that all the foolish young dandies laugh at me.” He had a somewhat dim view of the younger generation of gentlemen.–Present company excluded.–He compared them to mannequins. Every season they’d be dressed in the latest fashion, but underneath they were still the same dull pieces of wood. But the world changes. There’s no denying it. The old generation is supposed to die off and get out of the way of the younger one. There’s no room for a sick, old man like me.
2nd Gent: You’re still loved as much as ever, my lord. And you’ll be missed when you’re gone.
King: I’m just marking time. I don’t deceive myself. My doctors haven’t been able–Oh, that reminds me. Doctor Narbon. He was living in Rousillon. How long ago did he die?
Bertram: Six months ago.
King: Now there was a doctor. He was the best. If he were still alive, I’ll bet he could cure me. My doctors have worn me out with all their useless treatments. Anway, I’m glad to have you here, my boy.
Bertram: I’m your servant, sir.
King (Laughing): No, no, no! I have plenty of servants. The King is your guardian now. That makes you–almost a prince, ha, ha!
Bertram: I shall always be devoted to you, my lord.
King: Come. Lend me your arm. We’ll have a drink.–Everyone. Come along.
(They go out, with the King holding Bertram’s arm.)
Act 1, Scene 3. Rousillon. The Countess’s palace. The Countess comes in with her Steward and the Clown. (The Clown is following at a distance.)
Countess: Steward, you’re my eyes and ears in this house. I need to know what’s happening with Helena.
Steward: Madam, for your sake I’ve been a pretty good spy. And I can tell you–
Countess: Just a minute. Excuse me.–You, clown! What are you doing here?
Clown: I live here, madam.
Countess: I’ve heard a lot of bad things about you. I don’t necessarily believe them all, but I know you’re capable of them.
Clown: Ah, madam, you know I am just a poor man.
Countess: A poor man. Indeed. And I suppose you want something from me.
Clown: Just your permission, madam.
Countess: Permission for what?
Clown: To marry Isbel.
Countess: If you’re so poor, why would you want to get married?
Clown: It’s the devil, madam. And God.
Countess: The devil and God?
Clown: The devil is in my flesh, as he is in every man’s. That’s why God created marriage.
Countess: And that’s your reason?
Clown: There’s another reason, too. I have been wicked, as you already know. So I wish to repent.
Countess: I think you will repent of your marriage before your wickedness.
Clown: No, madam. If I marry, I will make new friends–for my wife’s sake.
Countess: For your wife’s sake? Why? Do you want to be cuckolded?
Clown: If they are generous to her, I won’t mind.
Countess: Oh, you rogue! Get away from me! We’ll discuss this later.
Steward: Madam, have him send Helena in. You need to talk to her.
Countess: All right.–Clown, tell Helena I want to see her.
Clown: Helena of Troy! The face that launched a thousand ships!
Clown: How does that song go? “Among nine bad, if one be good, there’s yet one good in ten.”
Countess: What are you talking about, you foolish man?
Clown: If only one woman in ten were born good, that would make for a happy world.
Clown: Yes, madam. I will send Helena.
(The Clown goes out.)
Steward: I don’t know why you keep him, madam.
Countess: My husband found him amusing. For the sake of his memory, I let the fool stay. Now, then. What about Helena?
Steward: I overheard her in her room. I just happened to be outside her door. She was talking to herself. She loves your son. But she’s afraid that because she’s not of his social class, she can’t marry him. She also spoke about going to Paris.
Countess: I see. I suspected she was in love with him. You must keep this matter confidential.
Steward: Of course, madam.
Countess: Thank you, steward. You may go.
Steward: Yes, madam.
(The Steward goes out.)
Countess: Such is youth–to ache for love. I was the same way.
(Helena comes in.)
Helena: You wanted to see me, madam?
Countess: Madam? It’s rather funny that you call me “madam.” It would sound more natural if you called me “mother.”
(Helena reacts with some shock.)
Countess: Why? Is there something wrong with that? I practically am your mother now. Couldn’t you think of me as your mother?
Helena: But madam, if you were my mother, then the Count–Bertram–he’d be my brother.–And I wouldn’t want him to be my brother.
Countess: Why not?
Helena: Well–if he were my brother, then–(She stops, unable to find words.)
Countess: Then you couldn’t marry him. (She waits for a reply, but Helena bites her lip in embarrassment.) You love him, don’t you?
Helena: Madam, I–(She stops.)
Countess: It’s obvious that you do. Why don’t you admit it?
Helena: Please don’t be angry with me.
Countess: I’m not angry.
Helena: I haven’t done him any harm. I haven’t chased after him. I know I’m not his equal.
Countess: I’m not saying you did anything bad. Tell me, is it true that you were intending to go to Paris?
Helena: Because the King is sick. My father left me all the prescriptions that he devised himself. They’re very strong medicines. I know that they would cure the King.
Countess: Is that the only reason why you want to go to Paris?
Countess: But if you went to Paris, what makes you think anyone would take you seriously? You’re just a girl with no particular training, and the King’s own doctors have been unable to help him.
Helena: I know my father’s remedies will work. I have faith in them–and in heaven. All I want is a chance.–To save the King, that is.
Countess: All right. If you’re that confident, I’ll provide what you need to make the trip. And I’ll pray for your success.
Helena: Thank you, madam!
(Scene ends without an exit.)
Act 2, Scene 1. Paris. The King’s palace. The King comes in with three Gentlemen, who are bound for Italy; also Bertram and Parolles. (The First and Second Gentlemen are the Lords Dumaine.)
King (To the Gentlemen): Now you fellows take my advice and you’ll be all right.
1st Gent: With any luck we’ll be back from the war in a short time and your Majesty will be completely recovered.
King: Ach!–I wish. In any case, don’t be thinking about me. Just go out there and show those Italians how a Frenchman can fight. Kick some butt, eh? Get famous!
2nd Gent: We won’t disgrace you, my lord.
King: And watch out for those Italian girls. They love soldiers–especially foreign ones. Don’t let them seduce you before you even get into the war.
2nd Gent: We won’t, sir.
King: I know you’ll do just fine. (To the Third Gentleman) A word with you, please.
(The King takes the Third Gentleman aside for a private conversation.)
1st Gent (To Bertram): Not coming with us?
Parolles: I’ve been trying to persuade him. I know he wants to.
2nd Gent: War is the real test of a man.
Bertram: I’d love to go, but the King doesn’t want me to. He thinks I’m too young.
Parolles: You should go anyway.
Bertram: No, I’m stuck here. The only sword I’ll get to wear is one of those cute little ones you wear in the ballroom. But I really would love to go.
1st Gent: We’d be glad to have you with us.
Parolles (To Bertram): Go on. Why don’t you?
Bertram: I can’t. The King’s my guardian.
2nd Gent: Then we’ll say goodbye.–And you, too, Monsieur Parolles.
Parolles: Say, if you run into an Italian captain named Spurio, give him my regards. He’s got a scar on his cheek. I gave it to him. Tell him I’m alive and well–in the King’s court. I’d love to know how he reacts.
2nd Gent: We’ll let you know.
Parolles: May Mars, the god of war, be with you.
(The Gentlemen leave, including the Third Gentleman, who has finished his conversation with the King. The King has wandered offstage, musing to himself.)
Parolles: Well? What do you intend to do?
Bertram: I have to stay here. The King insists.
Parolles: We should at least walk out with the lords. You didn’t say goodbye properly. We should wish them good luck.
Bertram: All right. Let’s go.
(Bertram and Parolles go out, and Lafeu comes in with the King.)
Lafeu: My lord, have I got good news for you!
King: Do you now?
Lafeu: My lord, do you want to be cured?
Lafeu: Aww!–But you will, sir! A new doctor has arrived.–Well, sort of a doctor.
King: Do I know him?
Lafeu: Not him. Doctor she.
King: Doctor who?
Lafeu: No, sir, not Doctor Who. Doctor she. A woman.–Well, a young lady.–Or an older girl.
King: A girl?
Lafeu: She insists on seeing you, sir. She’s quite determined. Believe me, you won’t be sorry.
King: Now you’ve got me curious. All right, bring her in.
(Lafeu goes out and returns with Helena.)
Lafeu: This is the King.–My lord, this is Helena. I’ll leave you two alone to talk.
(Lafeu goes out.)
King: Now, girl, what is your business with me?
Helena: My lord, I’m the only child of the late Gerard de Narbon, who I’m sure you knew.
Helena: Oh! The doctor. Yes, yes. What about him?
Helena: Well, sir, before he died, he entrusted me with certain medicines–very strong medicines. And when I learned of your condition, I decided to bring you one of my father’s medicines that I knew would cure you.
King: Ah. Cure me. Well, it’s very nice of you to think of me, but after all I’ve been through with my doctors, I’ve more or less reconciled myself to death. I wouldn’t want to get my hopes up and then be disappointed. It would make things even worse. I think you can understand.
Helena (Discouraged): Oh.–Then I’ve made the trip for nothing.
(The King is considering.)
King: I’m very grateful for your kindness, of course. I can tell you’re a fine girl. Your father was a good man. (Pause.) It’s just that I’m really very sick. You’ve no idea.
(Helena revives her courage.)
Helena: But if you would just give me a chance, my lord. I know I’m not a doctor, but sometimes heaven sends a humble believer to do a great work. Sometimes when no one else believes, heaven works a miracle.
King: A miracle. No, no, no. A dying man mustn’t hope for a miracle. It’s too–foolish. Dying is bad enough. One should not look like a fool at the very end.
(The King turns partly away, but his body language suggests he wants to believe Helena.)
Helena: My lord, I am sure. If I had any doubt about my father’s medicines, I wouldn’t have come. I know you can be cured.
King: Your father was a brilliant doctor. I know that.–And you’re really that confident?
Helena: Yes, my lord.
King: And how long would it take to cure me?
Helena: Two days.
King: Two days! That fast?
Helena: Yes, my lord. And I would stake my life on it.
King: Would you really?
Helena: Yes, my lord. If my father’s remedy fails to cure you, you can have me executed.
(Pause. The King is amazed.)
King: You’re some girl. You’ve got a real spirit inside you. I’m willing to believe you–even against my own common sense.
Helena (Nervously): And if you are cured, my lord, what would my reward be?
King: Anything you like.
Helena: Then–I would want–a husband–from the gentlemen in your court.
King: You have a deal. (He shakes hands with Helena.) You can have your pick from the available bachelors. That’s if you cure me. Come along.
(They go out.)
Act 2, Scene 2. Curtain up finds the Countess at home. She is holding a letter.
Countess (Calling): Clown!
(The Clown rushes in and bows in an exaggerated way.)
Clown: Your loyal clown, madam!
Countess: I need a messenger.
Clown: Yes, madam!
(The Clown rushes out.)
Countess (Calling): No, no! Come back!
(The Clown returns.)
Countess: I meant–you will be my messenger.
(The Clown looks puzzled.)
Clown: When, madam?
Countess: Right now.
Clown: Oh.–Am I to be two things at once?
Clown: Of course, you fool.
Clown: And a fool? Madam, how can I be three things at once?
Countess: Don’t be silly. A clown and a fool are the same.
Clown: No, madam. A clown is of a higher social class–or so I’ve always believed.
Countess: I didn’t know that.
Clown: I think so, madam. But if I cannot be silly, then I cannot be either a clown or a fool. So where does that leave me? Without employment?
Countess: You can be a messenger now and a clown when you return. Or a fool, if you prefer.
Clown: I prefer to be a clown.
Countess: Fine. I assume you know how to deliver a message.
Clown: Yes, madam. I’ve done it before. Perhaps not recently, but I’m sure I remember how.
Countess: I hope so. Show me how you do it.
Clown: I need a letter, madam.
(The Countess gives him the letter.)
Countess: Here. Now show me how you would deliver it to–Monsieur Le Grand.
Clown: Monsieur Le Grand? I’m afraid I don’t know the gentleman. What does he look like?
Countess: He’s standing right over there. Now let me see you deliver the letter to him.
(The Clown looks where the Countess has indicated and becomes nervous.)
Clown: I don’t see him, madam.
Countess: Never mind that. He can see you. He’s right in front of you. Now deliver the letter.
(The Clown steps forward tentatively, looking around.)
Clown: Em–Monsieur Le Grand?
(The Clown feels the air, trying to find the imaginary Le Grand.)
Countess: Go on.
Clown (Nervously): Em–Monsieur Le Grand. A letter for you, sir.
(The Clown holds out the letter.)
Clown: He’s not taking it, madam.
Countess: Yes, he has taken it. Now bow–but don’t overdo it–and take your leave of him.
(The Clown bows.)
Clown: Should he not tip me, madam?
Countess: No. You’re not to expect a tip in the King’s court.
Clown (Excitedly): The King’s court? Is that where I’m going? To Paris, you mean?
Clown: Oh! So Monsieur Le Grand was never here, was he?–Ha, ha!
(The Countess laughs.)
Clown: You were just testing me, weren’t you, madam? Very clever, madam. Very clever.
Countess: Now pay attention. You are to deliver that letter to Helena. She is at the King’s court. And you are to bring back her answer. And give my love to Bertram, too.
Clown: Yes, madam.–Em–and what about Monsieur Le Grand?
Countess: Oh.–Him.–Tsk! I’ve just received word that he died horribly. A piano fell on him and killed him.
Clown: Oh, my goodness! That’s terrible!–And when did you find this out, if I may ask?
Countess: Just now. The messenger brought me word.
Clown: The messenger? (He looks around.) I don’t see any messenger.
(The Countess points.)
Countess: He’s right there.
(The Clown looks around nervously.)
Countess (Pointing): Right there.
Clown (Nervously): Oh.–That messenger.–Of course.
Countess: He’ll be happy to accompany you to Paris.
Clown: He’ll–accompany me–to Paris?
Countess: Yes. He’ll be right beside you the whole way. Isn’t that nice of him?
Clown: Oh.–Yes.–Yes, it certainly is.–Very nice.
Countess: Fine. Now you run along and be quick about it.
Clown: Yes, madam. I’ll go at once.
(The Clown leaves, looking around nervously.)
Act 2, Scene 3. The King’s palace. Bertram, Lafeu, and Parolles come in, remaining to one side of the stage.
Lafeu: It’s like a miracle! Medical science said it wasn’t possible.
Parolles: It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.
Bertram: And in only two days.
Lafeu: Just like she said.
Bertram: She? Who’s she?
Lafeu: You’ll see.
(The King and Helena come in from the other side, with Attendants.)
Parolles (To Bertram): It’s Helena!
Bertram: What in the world?
King (To an Attendant): Bring in those bachelors.
(The Attendant goes out.)
King (To Helena): I promised you the bachelor of your choice to marry, and I have some fine, young lords for you to meet.–Ah, here they are.
(The Attendant returns with four young Lords.)
King (To Helena): I have guardianship over these fellows, and I can arrange a marriage for any of them. Anyone you like.
Helena: I’m happy to meet you, gentlemen.
Lords: Our pleasure, madam.
Helena: As you know, with God’s help I have cured the King.
Lords: Bless you, madam.
Helena: It’s only fair to tell you, however, that I’m just a commoner with no title or lands or wealth.
(The Lords exchange discreet sideways looks. The suggestion is that they are discouraged but are forcing themselves to be polite. Helena approaches the First Lord.)
Helena: Bachelor number one–
King: Ha, ha ! That’s funny. Bachelor number one.
Helena: Whom would you obey first–the King or your own heart?
1st Lord: The King, madam.
Helena: And so you should.
(She approaches the Second Lord.)
Helena: Bachelor number two. I can tell you were meant for great things. I wish you twenty times more wealth than the one who seeks to marry you.
2nd Lord: At least–ha, ha! Thank you, madam.
(She moves on to the Third Lord.)
Lafeu (Discreetly to Bertram): What’s wrong with these guys?
Helena: Bachelor number three. Don’t be afraid that I’ll take your hand. I wouldn’t do you wrong. May you find greater fortune.
3rd Lord: Thank you, madam.
(She moves on to the Fourth Lord.)
Helena: Bachelor number four. You, sir, are too happy and too good to make a son for yourself out of my blood.
4th Lord: Oh, no, no, no.
Lafeu (Discreetly to Bertram): That’s the spirit.
(Helena turns and goes to Bertram, which startles him.)
Helena: My lord of Rousillon, I would not presume to say I take you. Rather, let me say that I give myself to you.
King: Take her, Bertram. She’s your wife,
Bertram (Upset): Em, but my lord, I–I–
King: What’s the matter?
Bertram: Well, I–I–I really would prefer not to be forced into a marriage.
King: But you know this girl. She lives in your house. You should be close friends by now.
Bertram: Well, em–I suppose. But, em–
King: Don’t you know what she did for me? She cured me. She saved my life.
Bertram: Yes, my lord. It’s wonderful. We’re all extremely happy.–Em–but just because she cured you, that shouldn’t mean that I have to marry her. I mean, well, she’s just a poor girl. Relatively. She has no rank. Her father was a doctor, not a lord. It would be an unequal match.
King: Why should that matter to you? She’s a wonderful girl. She’s one of the nicest, sweetest girls I’ve ever met. And she has a noble character. That’s why heaven helped her. If you’re concerned about social rank, I’ll give her a title. I’ll give her money. You mean you couldn’t love a fine girl like this?
Bertram: Well–no, my lord. To be honest. And I wouldn’t force myself to try to love her.
Helena (To the King): My lord, if he doesn’t want to–
King: Never mind. I made a promise, and I’m going to keep it.–Now listen, Bertram, you stop being foolish. I’m your guardian, and if I can make a good marriage for you, I will. This is a wonderful girl, and I say you’re going to marry her. If you don’t–I’m kicking you out of here.
(Pause for effect. Lafeu clears his throat loudly for Bertram’s benefit.)
Bertram: Ah. Well.–Considering that you have such a high opinion of her–and it goes without saying that you’re much wiser than I am–I will agree to marry her.
King: That’s better. And don’t worry about money. She’s going to get plenty from me.
(Bertram forces a smile and takes Helena’s hand.)
Bertram: I’m taking her hand, my lord. See?
King: Good. And I think we’ll do this marriage immediately. Come with me.
(All leave except for Parolles and Lafeu.)
Lafeu: Your master did well to defer to the King.
Parolles (Angrily): My master?
Lafeu: Yes. You’re the Count’s man, aren’t you?
Parolles: No.–Well–yes–sort of.–But he’s not my master.
Lafeu: Don’t mince words. If you’re his man, then he’s your master. It’s all the same.
Parolles (Raising his fist): Why, you–! It’s lucky for you you’re such an old man or I’d give you such a beating! I swear!
(Lafeu gives Parolles a smile of contempt and takes his time answering.)
Lafeu: You know, for a while I thought you were more or less okay and a gentleman. Now I see that you’re just a poser. You’re just a jerk with an attitude.
Parolles: I swear, if you weren’t an old man–!
Lafeu: Oh, go chew on your underwear, Parolles.
Parolles: This is an insult! An insult!
Lafew: Yes, and well-deserved, too.–Excuse me.
(Lafeu goes out.)
Parolles: What a bastard! He thinks he can get away with insulting me because of his age. He knows I’m too–high-class–to beat up on an old man. Well, I’m not letting this pass. If he doesn’t apologize–
Lafeu: Your master is now married. That means you have a new mistress, too.
Parolles: Now listen here, Lafeu. The only master I have is the one up there. (He points to heaven.)
Lafeu: Who? God?
Lafeu: No. Your master is down there. (He points down.) The devil is the master of all pretentious little men like you.
Parolles: Don’t push your luck with me, sir!
Lafeu: Honestly, if I were just a year younger, I’d beat you. You’re nothing but a general nuisance to polite society.
Parolles: Lafeu, I’m warning you!
Lafew: Oh, go on. You got your ass kicked in Italy by a fruit-seller. Whatever social status you have is an accident of birth.
Lafeu: I leave you. Goodbye.
(Lafeu goes out. Then Bertram comes in, looking unhappy.)
Parolles (Pretending to pursue Lafeu): Yeah, you’d better get lost before I punch you out!–That guy burns me, I swear.
Bertram: I’m screwed, Parolles.
Parolles: What’s the matter?
Bertram: What’s the matter? I’m married. That’s what’s the matter. (He holds up a gold wedding band.) It’s official. I’m a slave. But I swear I’m not going to consummate this marriage. No way. I’d sooner run off to Italy and get in that war.
Parolles: That’s a great idea! Let’s go!
Bertram: My mother wrote a letter to Helena, but I don’t know what it’s about.
Parolles: Forget about it. We’ll go to Florence and fight against Sienna. That’s a man’s work. You don’t want to go back to Rousillon and be tied to a wife.
Bertram: Yeah. I know what I’m going to do. I’ll send her back home to my mother, and I’ll write her a letter explaining what’s happened. The King has given me some money. That means I can buy some fighting gear and go to Italy. I’ll write him a letter, too–after I sneak out of here.
Parolles: Now you’re talking! Take control of your life!–Em, I’m coming with you, right?
Bertram: Sure, if you want to.
Parolles: Hell, yes! Your fortune is my fortune.
Bertram: I’m glad you think so. Good. Let’s go.
(They go out.)
Act 2, Scene 4. The King’s palace. Helena comes in with the Clown. She is holding the letter from the Countess.
Helena: And how is my mother? Is she well?
Clown: Your mother?–Oh, you mean the Countess.
Clown: I suppose she’s well. Or else I’m not well.
Helena: What do you mean?
Clown: Either she sees invisible people–or I don’t know what. (Looking around) I hope he’s not still here.
Clown: The messenger.
Helena: What messenger?
Clown: The one who brought word of Monsieur Le Grand’s death.
Helena: Who is Monsieur Le Grand?
Clown: I don’t know, but a piano fell on him and killed him.
Helena: A piano? Where did that happen?
Clown: Right here. Wasn’t he here in the court?
(Helena is puzzling over this when Parolles comes in.)
Parolles: Lucky you, madam.
Helena: I hope you mean that sincerely.
Parolles: Am I not the very soul of sincerity? My prayers have been all for you from the very beginning.
Helena: The beginning of what?
Parolles: You know. Whatever. It’s just a figure of speech, that’s all. I’m on your side. I always have been.
Helena: Ah. And when do I get that much-needed education–so I don’t die in ignorance?
Helena: That’s what you said you’d give me after your stay at the King’s court.
Parolles: Did I say that?
Parolles: Oh, if I said that, I’m sure I was joking. (He addresses the Clown to change the conversation.) And how does the Countess?
Clown: How does she do what?
Clown: Whatever what? Whatever you say?
Parolles: Me? I’ve said nothing.
Clown: Then you’re a wiser man than I. To say nothing, to do nothing, to know nothing, These are your best qualities, sir.
Parolles: What?–Take a hike, you beatnik.
Clown: You first, sir. Whither thou goest, I shall follow.
Parolles: I find you tedious in the extreme.
Clown: If you have found me at all, count it as a small victory. And I hope the search was worth the effort.
(Parolles is about to lose his temper but then remembers he came to speak to Helena.)
Parolles: Ahem.–Madam, my lord the Count regrets that he must go away on serious business. He will not be able to, em–you know–like, consummate the marriage thing–at least temporarily.–But he wants you to know that the, uh, eventual, you know, whatever, will be worth the wait. So to speak.
(Pause. Helena is unhappy and somewhat suspicious.)
Helena: So what am I supposed to do?
Parolles: He would like you to return to Rousillon and wait for him.
Helena: Am I to go now?
Parolles: Well, yes. Like tonight. Of course, you should make some excuse to the King about leaving. And the Count will have a quick word with you before you go.
(Pause. Helena is trying to understand this.)
Helena: All right. Whatever he wants.
Parolles: Very good, madam. I’ll tell him.
(Parolles goes out.)
Helena (To the Clown): You come with me.
(Helena goes out, with the Clown following.)
Act 2, Scene 5. In the King’s palace. Lafeu and Bertram come in.
Bertram: You’re not to say a word to the King about Italy until I’m out of here.
Lafeu: You’re taking Parolles with you?
Bertram: Of course.
Lafeu: You think you can depend on him in a war?
Bertram: Sure. He’s a good soldier.
Lafeu: Or so he says.
Bertram: I’ve heard it from other people, too.
Lafeu: If they’re right, then I don’t know how to size up a man after all my years of experience.
Bertram: My lord, I have complete confidence in Monsieur Parolles.
Lafeu: Then perhaps I’m guilty of underestimating him.
(Parolles comes in.)
Parolles (To Bertram): I spoke to her. Everything’s arranged, just as you wanted.
Bertram: She’s going tonight?
Bertram: Good. That simplifies my life.
Lafeu (To Parolles): Off to Italy to fight, eh?
Parolles: Yes. (Stiffly) If that’s quite all right with you.
Lafeu: I wouldn’t think of discouraging you. Just make sure you pack a white flag and learn how to surrender in Italian.
Parolles (Angrily): You–!
Bertram: Is there a quarrel between you two?
Parolles: I don’t know why his lordship is being so critical.
Lafeu: Perhaps you’re right. I should not criticize a fool for being foolish.
Bertram: I think you are mistaken about Monsieur Parolles, my lord.
Lafeu: He’s a shell without a nut inside.
Parolles: Oh! (To Bertram) You see?
Lafeu: If I were to judge you solely by your appearance, Monsieur Parolles, I would esteem you more highly than you deserve.–Farewell, gentlemen.
Parolles: That guy’s a jerk.
Bertram: Everyone says he’s the wise man of the court. I guess he just doesn’t like you for some reason.–Oh. Here comes the bitch.
(Helena comes in, followed by the Clown. [Author’s note: Oddly, the Clown appears here in the Yale edition but not in the New Penguin edition.])
Helena: I’ve done as you asked, my lord. I’ve spoken with the King. I’ve told him I’m returning to Rousillon. He’d like a word with you before you go–wherever it is you’re going.
Bertram: Yes, yes, I’ll speak to him. You mustn’t be annoyed that I’m going away. I know it’s a very inconvenient time, but, em, you know, important business happens when it happens. Sorry I can’t explain it in detail. Anyway, the best thing is for you to go home and wait for me. I’ve written a letter to my mother. You can give it to her.
(He gives Helena a sealed letter.)
Helena: How long will you be away?
(Bertram and Parolles exchange ambiguous looks.)
Bertram: Em–not too long. A few days, let’s say. You can keep yourself occupied, I’m sure.
Helena: Of course, I will do as you wish. I intend to be an obedient wife.
Bertram: Oh–ha, ha! Whatever.
Helena: And I will always try to raise myself to a stature more deserving of my good fortune.
Bertram: Yes, yes. Good for you. Anyway, I’m in a hurry.
Helena: Don’t I at least get a goodbye kiss?
Bertram: A kiss?–Oh–pfoof! That’s so silly. I know how you women are about goodbyes. I’ll never get out of here–ha, ha! So just, you know, get on your horse and, uh, have a nice trip. That’s a good girl.
Helena (Downcast): Whatever you say, my lord. (To the Clown) Am I packed?
Clown: Yes, madam, you’re all ready to go.
Helena: Goodbye, then, gentlemen.
(Helena and the Clown leave.)
Bertram: Good riddance.–Are we ready to go?
Parolles: All set.
Bertram: Then let’s roll.
Act 3, Scene 1. The Duke’s palace in Florence. Trumpet flourish. The Duke comes in with the two Gentlemen who are the Lords Dumaine.
Duke: So now that I’ve explained the reasons for the war, you can understand why I refuse to back down.
1st Gent: I agree you’re totally in the right, my lord.
2nd Gent: The fault is obviously with Sienna.
Duke: Yes, it should be obvious to anyone. That’s why I’m disappointed that the King of France has chosen to stay out of it.
2nd Gent: I’m sure he has his reasons. He doesn’t necessarily divulge them to others.
Duke: I suppose.
1st Gent: On the other hand, he didn’t stop anyone from coming here. And I think a lot of fellows will want to come over. It’s a bit of adventure for them. Better than sitting around playing cards.
2nd Gent: Right.
Duke: They’ll be welcome here. We need them. And you two fellows will be captains–as soon as two captain positions become vacant–if you get my drift.
1st Gent: We get it, my lord. Don’t worry. We’re not afraid. And we’ll do a good job for you.
Duke: I know you will. You’ll be on the field tomorrow. But right now, I’ll open a nice bottle of wine for you. Come on.
(They all go out.)
Act 3, Scene 2. The Countess’s palace in Rousillon. The Countess comes in with the Clown. She is holding a sealed letter. (Author’s note: Shakespeare’s stage directions in this scene have required major fixing. In particular, the two Gentlemen who show up are supposed to be the same ones we just met with the Duke of Florence. But that would be preposterous. They wouldn’t go to Florence, then travel to Rousillon, and then travel back to Florence. So we have to have two others appearing here, whom we shall call Lords.)
Countess: Bertram didn’t come back with her?
Clown: No, madam. But two lords offered to escort us.
Countess: But why didn’t Bertram come?
Clown: He made some excuse that he had to go away on important business. I got the impression that he just wanted to get rid of her.
Countess: Tsk!–What is going on?
Clown: I assume his letter explains it. Helena’s carrying another one. The Count gave me this one. I offered to run on ahead to bring you word of her arrival, but actually I wanted to give you a chance to read this first, in case it was something bad.
Countess: Thank you. That was smart.
(A noise is heard — people arriving.)
Countess: That must be them. Go help with Helena’s baggage.
Clown: Right, madam.
(The Clown goes out. The Countess opens the letter and reads it.)
Countess (Reading aloud): “Dear Mother, I have married Helena, as the King demanded, but I’ll be damned if I treat her like a wife. By the time you get this, I will have made my escape, so to speak. Ha, ha!–Your unfortunate son, Bertram.”–Made his escape? Of all the stupid things!
(The Clown returns.)
Clown: Helena’s here with the two gentlemen from the King’s court.
Countess: All right. Leave us.
(The Clown goes out as Helena comes in with the two Lords.)
1st Lord: God save you, madam.
Countess: Where’s my son?
Helena: He’s gone away–for a long time, I’m afraid.
2nd Lord: No, no, madam. Just a short time.
Countess: Can someone tell me what’s going on?
2nd Lord: Madam, the Count has gone to Florence to fight in the war against Sienna.
Countess: What! What on earth for?
Helena: He gave me a letter for you. I took the liberty of reading it.
(She gives the Countess the letter. The Countess reads it, her face expressing shock.)
Helena: He says–when I can get his beloved ring off his finger and present him with a child–then–I can call him “husband.” Of course, how can I have a child with him if he’s in another country?
Countess: Oh, for goodness sake!–Helena, I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless. I wanted him to marry you, you know.
Helena: I appreciate that. It means a lot to me that you approve.–But now–
Countess: Now he’s lost his mind. (To the Lords) He’s actually run off to fight in the war?
2nd Lord: Yes, madam.
Countess: To avoid being with his wife?
(The Second Lord shrugs.)
Countess: He basically admits it. He says he won’t return as long as he has a wife in France.
1st Lord: We’re sorry to bring you such bad news, madam.
Countess: I’m disgusted with my son. I feel disgraced.
1st Lord: Maybe he only acted on impulse, madam. You know, the adventure of war and all that.
Helena: He doesn’t want me. That’s plain enough. He’d rather risk getting killed.
Countess: My dear, you are too good for him. (To the Lords) Whom did he run off with?
1st Lord: Monsieur Parolles.
Countess: Parolles!–That low-life. I’ll bet it was his idea to run off to Florence.
1st Lord: That could very well be, madam.
Countess: Are the two of you going to Florence?
1st Lord: Yes, madam.
2nd Lord: A lot of the gentlemen of the court are going.
Countess: I’m being a poor hostess. Please let me serve you something before you return. You’re both very kind to escort my daughter-in-law. Come with me.
Lords: Thank you, madam.
(The Lords follow the Countess out.)
Helena: Well, Helena–your husband will never return as long as he has a wife in France. He’ll fight in a war instead.–And perhaps die.–And it’ll be my fault.–So there’s only one thing I can do if I want to save his life. I must leave. I must get out of France. Then he can come back.
(Helena goes out, on the verge of tears.)
Act 3, Scene 3. Florence. Before the Duke’s palace. Trumpet flourish. The Duke comes in with Bertram, Parolles, and Soldiers.
Duke: Count of Rousillon! As of this moment you are general of the cavalry. I have every confidence in you.
(Parolles give a thumbs-up as an aside to the audience.)
Bertram: General of the cavalry! Wow!–I mean–I shall do my best to prove worthy of this assignment. Even in the face of extreme death.
Duke: Good. Now you go out there and lead us to victory. And may Lady Luck ride with you.
Parolles: On the same saddle–ha, ha!
Duke: Ha, ha! Very good.
Bertram: Lady Luck and Mars, the god of war!
Parolles: A winning combination!
Duke: Ha, ha! Excellent!–Let’s go!
(They all leave.)
Act 3, Scene 4. Rousillon. The Countess’s palace. The Countess comes in with her Steward. She is holding an opened letter.
Countess: Didn’t you realize when she gave you a letter that she was going away?
Steward: I didn’t want to disturb you so late at night, madam. And besides, she said no one could stop her from leaving. She was determined to go.
Countess: I’m so upset now! (She looks at the letter.) She’s going to the shrine of Saint Jacques. She blames herself for putting Bertram in danger. She wants me to write to him to tell him he can come home now. (Holding back tears) And she doesn’t care if she dies!
(The Steward tries to say something to comfort her, but he can’t find the words.)
Countess: My foolish son! Heaven is looking down on him and frowning. Heaven’s against him for sure.–But she still loves him.–She cured the King. Heaven was on her side then. So she’s the only one who can save Bertram’s soul now. Otherwise he’s lost. Lost from me, lost from the world. He’d rather fight in a war than be with the most wonderful wife in the world. He’s lost his mind, Rinaldo.
Steward: So it appears, madam.
Countess: I’m so upset I can’t even hold a pen to write. Rinaldo, you write him a letter for me. Tell him Helena is gone and he should come home.–Maybe–maybe she’ll come back to him. That’s all I can hope for.–I’m exhausted. I must lie down. Just do this for me.
Steward: I will, madam. Trust me.
(They go out.)
Act 3, Scene 5. Outside the walls of Florence. A crowd is waiting on the road. The Widow, Diana, and Mariana are there. Distant drums and trumpets can be heard. (Violenta is deleted from this scene as she has no lines. An Author’s note is required here. Helena shows up in this scene dressed as a pilgrim. She is supposed to be on her way to the shrine of Saint Jacques. Shakespeare would have us believe that she has just happened to stop in Florence by coincidence. The New Penguin edition observes that the Saint Jacques shrine is in Spain, which makes it geographically impossible for Helena to pass through Florence on her way there. The Yale Shakespeare edition of 1926 says that this shrine has not been identified. So where does that leave us? We know that Shakespeare sometimes disregards geography and does what he wants to move the story along. But moving Helena to Spain via Florence is absurd. The online plot summary provided by the Shakespeare Resource Center says that Helena has deliberately followed Bertram. But this contradicts her speech in 3.2. Another possibility is that Helena lied in her letter to the Countess about her intended destination. However, we find out shortly that other pilgrms to Saint Jacques are also staying in Florence. The best explanation for this geographical mystery is that Shakespeare chose the name “Saint Jacques” for a fictitious shrine in Italy, and it is not intended to be related in any way to the one in Spain. That’s my contribution to Shakespeare scholarship, and you will please forgive the extended note and rejoin the story!)
Widow: I love a parade! I can’t wait to see the Florentine army. I hope we’re standing in the right place.
Diana: They say that French count has been brilliant.
Widow: Your friend Rousillon–ha, ha! I think he likes you.
Diana: Mm, perhaps.
Widow: I think the trumpets are going the other way. We’re going to miss them.
Mariana: It doesn’t matter. We’ll hear all the excitement.–You, Diana, should think about your honour.
Diana: I do, Mariana.
Mariana: Once you give in to a man–even if he is a noble–your value goes straight down!
Widow: His sidekick has been coming around. He’s come on to you, hasn’t he, Mariana?
Mariana: Oh, that miserable Monsieur Parolles! I don’t like him. I wouldn’t trust him any more than a snake.–You be sensible now, Diana. The only thing those Frenchmen care about is seducing women–especially when they’re in another country. And the nobles are the worst.
Diana (Humourously): Don’t worry about me. My honour is–intact!
(Helena comes in, dressed as a pilgrim.)
Widow: Here, lady, are you looking for a place to stay?
Helena: Yes, actually.
Widow: Are you a pilgrim?
Helena: Yes. I’m going to Saint Jacques.
Widow: I thought so. I own a lodging house–the Saint Francis. I have some other pilgrims staying. I have room for you.
Helena: Oh! Thank you very much. That solves that problem.–Is there something happening here today?
Widow: We’re waiting to see our troops pass by. We’re in a war, you know.
Helena: Yes. So I’ve heard.
Widow: You’re French, aren’t you?
Widow: One of your countrymen has made himself rather famous. With any luck we’ll see him.
Helena: Oh, really? What’s his name?
Diana (Lovingly): The Count of Rousillon. Have you heard of him?
(Helena forces herself to hide her emotions.)
Helena: Only by reputation. He’s supposed to be–quite noble.–However, I wouldn’t recognize him.
Widow: My daughter rather likes him. And he definitely likes her.
Helena: Oh.–Isn’t that nice.
Diana: They say–he was forced to marry against his will by the King of France. And he came here to Florence to get in the war just to get away from his wife. Do you think that’s true?
Helena: Yes, I think so. I’m slightly acquainted with her, as it happens.
Diana: Are you now? What’s she like?
Helena: Apart from her chastity–which I assume she still has–she hasn’t much to recommend her to anyone noble. She’s simply not his equal socially.
(The Widow gives Diana a cautionary look.)
Widow: Something for you to remember.
Diana (To Helena): There’s a gentleman who’s a friend of the Count, who speaks rather badly of the wife.
Diana: Monsieur Parolles.
Helena: Ah.–Well, whatever he says, I wouldn’t presume to disagree.
Diana: Still, I do feel sorry for her. Imagine getting married and then having your husband run away to a war because he doesn’t love you.
Widow: My daughter could have him if she wanted. That is, if he were available. Parolles brings messages and presents from the Count.
Helena (To Diana): Does he–love you?
Diana: Yes. Or so he says. I think it’s just physical. After all, I have no title or lands. I’m just a commoner.
Widow (To Helena): The Count is seriously interested, but Diana is not giving in to him.–Are you, dear?
Diana: Not as things stand.–Oh! Here they are!
(The troops come marching in, with drums and colours in front, and Bertram, Parolles, and the Soldiers behind. Parolles looks annoyed as one drummer apparently is holding drumsticks but no drum.)
Widow: Ah! He’s there!
Helena: Which one is the Count?
Diana (Pointing): That fellow there, with the plume on his helmet. Isn’t he handsome?
Diana: The one next to him is Parolles. I don’t like him.
Mariana: I think he’s annoyed with one of the drummers. He must have lost his drum.
(Parolles is chastising the drummer, then sees the ladies and gives them an exaggerated bow.)
Mariana (To Helena): He’s trying to impress me, but I’m not impressed.
Widow: He’s such a phony.
(The troops all march out. The bystanders clap.)
Widow (To Helena): You’ll come stay at my house, all right?
Helena: Yes, I will. And if you will be my guests at dinner, I have some things to tell you that will be to your benefit.
Widow: A wise pilgrim! I welcome them all.–Come along.
(The ladies leave.)
Act 3, Scene 6. (Author’s note: In the original text there are two Lords in this scene, who are the same ones who met the Countess in Rousillon. Presumably, Shakespeare meant them to be the Dumaine brothers. But we made a change in that scene and have saved the Dumaines for this scene. They will be identified as the First and Second Gentlemen.) The army camp at Florence. Bertram comes in with two Gentlemen, who are now captains. These are the Dumaines.
1st Gent: My lord, believe me. Just put him to the test and you’ll find out what sort of person he really is.
2nd Gent: He’s a total faker and a phony.
Bertram: But he’s my best friend. Could I be that wrong about him?
1st Gent: Yes, you could. Maybe you’re too close to see him for what he really is. He’s a coward and a liar.
2nd Gent: You need to find this out, sir. We’re thinking of your own good. Otherwise you might depend on him at a critical moment and then find out too late that he can’t be trusted.
Bertram: What sort of test am I supposed to put him to?
2nd Gent: He’s been bitching about a lost drum. Tell him to go and find it.
1st Gent: We’ll prank him. I’ll round up a few soldiers he won’t recognize, and we’ll capture him and blindfold him and take him somewhere. We’ll tell him we’re on the side of Sienna, and we’ll force him to tell us everything about the Florentine army. You’ll be there as a witness. You’ll see how quick he is to betray Florence to save his own life.
Bertram: If you’re so sure about this, okay, I’ll go along with it. I hope you’re wrong, though.
(Parolles comes in, frowning.)
Bertram: What’s the matter, Parolles? Still angry about your lost drum?
2nd Gent: It’s only a drum. It’s not that important.
Parolles: Only a drum! Only a drum! Why, man, you can’t lead an army into battle without all your drums! You need discipline! You need order! Otherwise everything will get confused. Command and control. That’s what it’s all about.
2nd Gent: Drums get lost occasionally. I’m sure Julius Caesar must have lost a drum or two in his time.
Parolles: But there’s also the question of honour. The drum is a symbol of honour. What if they stole it?
Bertram: If they stole it, I don’t see that there’s anything we can do about it.
Parolles: We have to get it back. Somehow.
Parolles: I’m sure there’s a way. It just takes some superior thinking.
Bertram: Do you think you could do it?
(Parolles thinks for a moment.)
Parolles: Yes! I could. And I would–provided that I got full credit for doing it.–You know, tell the Duke who did it.
Bertram: Do you have a plan?
Parolles: A plan? (Pretends to think) Why, yes, as a matter of fact. Of course, I have to keep it a secret. It’s rather intricate. But it’s got mathematical logic behind it. And I’ve got nerves of steel. You know that.
1st Gent: Oh, yes. Nerves of steel.
Bertram: I tell you what, Parolles. If you can recover that drum, I’ll see to it that the Duke learns all about it, and you can expect very high honours.
Parolles: Then consider it done. I speak as a soldier.
Bertram: You must do it tonight. If you sleep on it, you may change your mind.
Parolles: Ha! Change my mind! I’ll do it tonight, don’t worry. In fact, you can expect good news by midnight. I’ll go to my tent right now and go over all the details of my plan–make sure I’ve got everything figured out with mathematical precision.
Bertram: Is it all right if I tell the Duke what you intend to do?
Parolles: Em–don’t make it sound like a guarantee. Just tell him I’m going to try.
Bertram: I’ll tell him I have the highest confidence in you.
Parolles: Excellent. Thank you.–(He snaps to attention.) Gentlemen, seeing as how I’m a man of few words, I bid you adieu.–So to speak–ha, ha!
(He salutes and leaves.)
1st Gent: If he’s a man of few words, then there’s no such thing as a wet fish.
2nd Gent (To Bertram): You’ll see what happens. He won’t be able to do it, and then he’ll make up some bullshit excuse.
Bertram: He seems quite serious about it.
2nd Gent: It’s all words.
1st Gent: I’m going to get things ready.
Bertram: All right. I want to talk to your brother.
1st Gent: I leave you, gentlemen.
(The First Gentleman leaves.)
Bertram: I want to take you to have a look at this girl I told you about.
2nd Gent: I take it that you haven’t actually–you know what I mean.
Bertram: Not yet. I’ve been using Parolles as my go-between. But every little present I send her, she sends back. She’s really a beauty, though. I just want you to see her.
2nd Gent: Sure. I’m curious.
Bertram: Come on.
Act 3, Scene 7. The Widow’s lodging house in Florence. Helena and the Widow come in.
Helena: It’s true. I swear it. Count Rousillon is my husband. The only way I could prove it to you would be to step out of my disguise and confront him. But that would ruin my plan.
Widow: Madam, I’m just a humble lady, and all I’ve got is this business and my good reputation here in town. I don’t want to be involved in anything that could be embarrassing to me or my daughter.
Helena: Trust me. I wouldn’t put either of you in any sort of jeopardy. Nothing bad will happen.
Widow: Well–you do seem to be a lady of means. And very smart. I guess I’m willing to believe you.
Helena: Here. Take this purse. (Helena gives the Widow a purse.) Consider this a down payment for your help. There’ll be more for you when this is all over with. Now here’s my plan. The Count wants to have sex with Diana. Let her agree to it. But he has to give her his ring. It’s his most precious possession. Once she gets it from him, she’ll tell him when to meet her in her room. The room will be dark when he arrives. I’ll be in her bed.
Widow: Ah, I get it.
Helena: If she does this for me, I’ll guarantee that she gets a nice dowry so she can get married someday.
Widow: Well, that’s all right, then.
Helena: You see how this is a good thing. Your daughter keeps her virginity, and I get my husband back. Nobody is doing anything wrong.
Widow: You are a clever lady. And quite determined. I’m glad to help you.
Helena: Thank you!
(They go out.)
Act 4, Scene 1. Evening near the Florentine camp. The First Gentleman (Lord Dumaine) comes in with five or six Soldiers. (The stage is dimly lit for this scene.)
1st Gent: Okay, here’s the plan. Parolles is going to come this way. You’ll ambush him and blindfold him immediately. Now, we have to be foreigners, okay? So we all have to talk in some fake foreign language. Just gibberish, not any real language. He’ll assume we’re allies of Sienna.–(To the First Soldier) You’re going to be the interpreter, and I’m going to be the general. You’ll be the one Parolles has to talk to, and you’ll pretend to translate. We want him to be scared, okay? We’ll take him to our tent and make him spill his guts–you know, tell all the military secrets. Count Rousillon will be there to hear everything. Do you think you can pull it off?
1st Soldier: Sure. Parolles doesn’t know me or my voice.
1st Gent: Good.–Does everyone understand?
1st Gent: Okay. Now we’re all going to hide.–(To the First Soldier) You stick with me. When I tap your shoulder, you jump out screaming, and everyone else follows.–(To the Soldiers) Understand?
1st Gent: Who’s got the blindfold? (A Soldier holds up the blindfold.) Good. You have to get it on him right away. I don’t want him to recognize me.–And the rest of you hold him and tie his hands. Okay, everyone? Let’s do this real fast, and remember to scream a lot of gibberish.–Okay, let’s hide.
(They all conceal themselves. After a short interval, Parolles comes in slowly.)
Parolles: Fuck me. What did I talk myself into? Me and my big mouth. It’s ten o’clock and I said I’d have that drum by midnight. What am I gonna tell them? (Thinks) I was–let’s see–I was attacked by the enemy. I had to fight them off.–I’ll have to mess up my clothes to make it convincing.–Or else–wait a minute–I had to jump out of a window into a river to escape.–I’ll have to get wet.–No, I’m not sure they’d buy that.–Damn!–All because of a lousy drum. How the hell was I supposed to find a drum out here?
(The First Gentleman taps the First Soldier on the shoulder as a signal. The First Soldier jumps out screaming, followed by the other Soldiers. They blindfold and tie the terrified Parolles. Then the First Gentleman steps out of concealment.)
Soldiers: Gragga nabagga!–Thranavacki!–Krooba bonkago!–Vunu casca!
Parolles: No! No! Who are you? What do you want?
1st Soldier: Flanamabaga!
Parolles: Please don’t hurt me! I can speak French, Italian, German, or Dutch!
1st Soldier: I understand you. The others do not. You will speak to me.
Parolles: But who are you? Where are you from?
1st Soldier: You are with Florence, so you are our prisoner.
Parolles: You’re with Sienna? But what are you? Russians? Hungarians?
1st Soldier: Never mind. You will obey if you want to live.
1st Gentleman: Bwana oscorbidendo.
1st Soldier: The General will spare your life–but only if you tell us everything we want to know.
Parolles: Okay! Yes! I’ll cooperate!
(The First Gentleman holds one Soldier by the sleeve and signals to the others to take Parolles away.)
1st Gent: Boogna lithero!
1st Soldier (To Parolles): You come with us to our camp. You make any trouble and we kill you.
Parolles: No trouble! I promise!
(All the Soldiers except the one held back by the First Gentleman take Parolles out.)
1st Gent (To the Soldier): You run back and get Count Rousillon and my brother and bring them to the tent. We’ll wait for you before we start making Parolles talk.
(They leave separately.)
Act 4, Scene 2. Florence. In the Widow’s house. Bertram and Diana come in walking softly. They speak softly throughout the scene, as if not to be overheard.
Bertram: Aw, come on, honey bun, why don’t you give me a chance? Don’t you have any female passion in you?
Diana: I’m an honest girl. And you, sir, are married.
Bertram: Don’t remind me of that. I was forced into it. But you’re the one I love.
Diana: You men are all alike. You’re just out for another conquest.
Bertram: No, no. I really love you. I swear it.
Diana: Any man will swear anything if it’s convenient. But it’s just words.
Bertram: But I’m sick over you. Can’t you see? It’s like an illness. And only you can cure it.
Diana: Ha!–Illness. It’s just your hormones.
Bertram: What do I have to do to prove I’m sincere?
Diana: You must give me something. Like that ring.
Bertram: This? (Indicating the ring) No, not this. This is an heirloom. It’s been in my family for generations.
Diana: My virginity is just as precious to me as that ring is to you. It’s a fair exchange.
Bertram: All right. Take it.
(He gives her the ring.)
Diana: Good. Come to my bedroom window tonight at midnight. The room will be dark. You can get in. You can stay for one hour only, and you mustn’t speak. There’ll be no talking at all.
Bertram: Why not?
Diana: Because that’s the only way I’ll do it, that’s all. When we’re in bed I’ll put a ring on your finger.
Bertram: What for?
Diana: It’s just something I want you to wear at all times. Just indulge me. You’ll understand later. Now, will you do this my way, or not?
Bertram: Sure. Whatever you want. Thank you!
Diana: Go now. I’ll see you tonight.
(Bertram gives her an awkward kiss on the cheek and then leaves.)
Diana: Huh!–Just as my mother predicted.
(She goes out.)
Act 4, Scene 3. Near the Florentine camp. Evening. The two Gentlemen (Lords Dumaine) come in.
1st Gent: Where’s the Count?
2nd Gent: He’s coming. He just had to go see his girlfriend.
1st Gent: Who’s that?
2nd Gent: The girl at the Saint Francis.
1st Gent: Oh. The widow’s daughter.
2nd Gent: He’s desperate to fuck her. I’ll tell you, he’s complicating his life more than he should. He abandoned his wife, and the King’s unhappy with him.
1st Gent: I’d like to talk some sense into him, but I think I’d be wasting my breath.
2nd Gent: Best leave it alone.
1st Gent: Oh! I almost forgot! Big news!
2nd Gent: What?
1st Gent: Florence and Sienna are signing a peace treaty.
2nd Gent: Oh! Brilliant! The war’s over!
1st Gent: Yeah. We won, of course.
2nd Gent: There was never any doubt. So what’s the Count going to do? Return to France?
(The First Gentleman nods, then becomes very serious.)
1st Gent: He got a letter from his mother, by the way. Some bad news. Although maybe he doesn’t think it’s so bad.
2nd Gent: What is it?
1st Gent: His wife is dead.
2nd Gent: No! Really?
(Author’s note: The false report of Helena’s death is never satisfactorily explained. Either the Countess got a false report and sent the news to Bertram, or she originated the false report herself, or Helena instructed the Countess to give a false report to Bertram. There is no evidence in the text that supports any of these possibilities, and that is a serious defect. We are not going to fabricate a solution to this mystery. We’re just going to leave it alone.)
1st Gent: Yes. As I understand it, she left Rousillon two months ago and went on a pilgrimage to the shrine at Saint Jacques. And supposedly she died there–from grief. That’s according to the rector who runs the place.
2nd Gent: Wow, that’s something.
1st Gent: This isn’t going to help his reputation back home. Which is too bad because he really did a great job commanding the cavalry.
2nd Gent: It seems pretty tasteless that he’d want to fuck a local girl right after finding out his wife is dead.
1st Gent: Well, as you said–best leave it alone.
2nd Gent: Yeah.
(Bertram comes in.)
Bertram: Hi. Sorry if I kept you waiting.
1st Gent: My lord, are you returning to Rousillon?
Bertram: Yes. Tomorrow. I just said goodbye to the Duke. He gave me a nice letter of commendation for the King.
1st Gent: That’s good. I hope you and the King can patch up.
Bertram: Yes, I think we can.–God, I’ve been so busy today. I’ve had so much to deal with. And I still have another appointment later tonight.
1st Gent: Rather late, isn’t it?
Bertram: Yeah, I suppose. It’s personal. Anyway, what about Parolles? You wanted me to be a witness to something.
1st Gent: We’ll take you now. I think you’ll find this very interesting.
Bertram: All right.
(They all go out. [Author’s note: This is an extra scene break because the interrogation of Parolles has to take place in the tent. The staging in the original text is too awkward.])
Act 4, Scene 4. In the tent. Parolles is blindfolded and tied to a chair or stool. He is attended by the Soldiers we met previously. Bertram and the two Gentlemen come in quietly and remain well apart so they can converse privately while Parolles is being interrogated. The First Gentleman is continuing to act as the general, and the First Soldier as the interrogator. The First Soldier and First Gentleman confer in whispers regarding the interrogation to follow. Then the interrogation begins.
1st Gent: Porto romonosso! Agato mango!
1st Soldier (To Parolles): The General says you will be tortured if you refuse to talk.
Parolles: I’ll talk! I’ll talk! I’m cooperating!
1st Soldier (To the 1st Gent): Bosko chimurcho.
1st Gent: Boblibindo churchomurcho.
1st Soldier (To Parolles): You must answer all our questions.
Parolles: Yes, yes, I will!
1st Soldier: How many cavalry troops does the Duke have?
Parolles: Five or six thousand. But they’re not very good. And their commanders are idiots.
(Bertram reacts to this insult.)
1st Soldier: And how many foot soldiers does the Duke have?
Parolles: Mm–let me think. (He mumbles numbers, adding them up.) All together–just under fifteen thousand. But half of them are useless, believe me. They’re rotten cowards.
(The First Gentleman gives a signal, pointing to himself.)
1st Soldier: Em, yes.–Now, then, tell me about Captain Dumaine, the Frenchman.
Parolles: Which one? There are two of them. They’re brothers.
1st Soldier: The older one.
Parolles: He’s a bum. He was a tailor’s apprentice in Paris, but he got fired for knocking up some retarded girl.
(The First Gentleman reacts by raising his hand to strike Parolles, but his brother and Bertram restrain him.)
1st Soldier: And what sort of reputation does he have with the Duke?
Parolles: The Duke thinks he’s a piece of shit. In fact, he wrote me a letter advising me to get rid of him. I sure I still have it.
1st Soldier: Let’s see.
(The First Soldier begins to search in Parolles’s pockets.)
Parolles: It’s probably not on me! I probably left it in my tent!
(The First Soldier finds a letter.)
1st Soldier: Ah! Maybe this is it. Shall I read it?
1st Gentleman: Thrabaska!
1st Soldier: The General says to read it.
Parolles: Oh.–Well, in that case–
1st Soldier (Reading): “Dear Diana, The Count is a rogue–”
Parolles: No! Wrong letter!
1st Soldier: What’s this about, then?
Parolles: I was writing to this girl Diana in Florence. I was warning her to watch out for Count Rousillon because he’s such a shameless womanizer and he only wants to fuck her.
(Bertram raises a hand to strike Parolles, but the two Gentlemen restrain him.)
1st Soldier (Reading): “Don’t let him have his way without paying you a lot of money up front, otherwise he won’t give you anything. I’m advising you because I care for your well-being. If you score big, I hope you will remember me with a little reward.–Parolles.”
2nd Gent (Aside to Bertram): What do you think of your best friend now?
Bertram (Replying aside): The son of a bitch.
1st Soldier: Now, then, getting back to Captain Dumaine, would you say he is honest?
Parolles: Hell, no. He’d steal money out of a church collection plate. He’s also a drunk, and his personal habits are strictly low-class.
1st Soldier: And what would you say about him as a soldier?
Parolles: His only skill is marching in a parade.
1st Soldier: Do you think he could be bribed?
Parolles: For sure. He’d sell his soul to the devil for a gold crown.
1st Soldier: And what about his brother, the other Captain Dumaine?
Parolles: He’s a bird of the same feather, only more evil and cowardly.
(The Second Gentleman raises his hand to strike Parolles but is restrained by the other two men.)
1st Soldier: And if we spare your life, will you defect to our side?
Parolles: Absolutely! I’ve always loved Sienna.
1st Soldier: And will you tell us everything about Count Rousillon?
Parolles: Yes. Anything you want to know.
1st Soldier: I will confer with the General.
(The First Soldier confers in whispers with the three men while Parolles looks afraid.)
1st Soldier: I’m sorry, sir, but the General says you must die.
Parolles: No! No!
1st Soldier: There’s no reason for a traitor like you to live.–Executioner!
Parolles: No! No! Don’t kill me! Take off my blindfold! Please!
1st Soldier: Yes, I can do that.
(The First Soldier removes the blindfold and signals the other Soldiers to untie Parolles.)
1st Soldier: Recognize anyone?
(Parolles stands up slowly. He is stunned speechless.)
Bertram: Captain Parolles.
1st Gent: Our noblest captain.
2nd Gent: Do you have any message for Lord Lafeu? We’re going back to France. The war is over.
Bertram: Come on, guys. Let’s go.–Well done, soldiers.
(They all go out, leaving Parolles alone. He collects himself and speaks calmly.)
Parolles: Very well. So be it. A man must live according to his nature. I wasn’t meant to be a hero–or even a soldier. I was meant to be–a schemer. I was meant to live by dishonesty. And for a dishonest man who knows what he is, there’s always a place in this world. (He faces in the direction of the party that just left.) Gentlemen, I thank you.
(He goes out in the same direction.)
(Author’s note: Bertram’s midnight tryst in Diana’s bedroom occurs at this point, but Shakespeare skips over it.)
Act 4, Scene 5. (Scene 4 in the original.) The Widow’s house in Florence. Helena, the Widow, and Diana come in.
Helena: I promised you a dowry for Diana for helping me, and I intend to keep my promise. The King will guarantee it. We must go to Marseilles to meet with him. Bertram believes I’m dead, and he’s returning to Rousillon. We’ll try to get there before he does. You’ll see how this all works out for all of us.
Widow: We’ve trusted you so far, madam. We’ll see it through to the end.
Helena (To Diana): This may get a bit unpleasant before it’s over.
Diana: It’s all right. I can take it.
Helena: Our transportation is arranged. We’re leaving now.
Widow: All right. (To Diana) Come, my dear.
(They all leave.)
Act 4, Scene 6. (Scene 5 in the original.) The Countess’s palace in Rousillon. The Countess comes in with Lafeu. (Author’s note: Most of the Clown’s lines have been cut and his entrance is deferred until just before the end of the scene.)
Lafeu: I blame it on that guy Parolles. He’s a bad influence on your son. He was the one who persuaded your son to run off to fight in the war. If Bertram hadn’t done that, I suppose Helena would still be alive today.
Countess: That girl was very dear to me. I wish Parolles had never been born.
Lafeu: It’s very sad about Helena. She was a wonderful girl. (Pause.) Em, I’ve had a talk with the King about your son and my daughter.
Lafeu: After all that’s happened, I think Bertram is wiser and more mature than he was before. And he is a good fellow. And now that he’s–you know, single again–I’d like him to marry my daughter. The King’s in favour of it. And it would certainly help patch things up between the two of them. How would you feel about it?
Countess: Why, Lord Lafeu, I would be honoured.
Lafeu: The King is coming here from Marseilles. He’s moving his court again. I expect him to arrive tomorrow.
Countess: That’s fine. I’ll be very happy to see him. My son writes that he’ll be here tonight. [Author’s note: You see this all the time in Shakespeare. Messages seem to travel at the speed of light.] Will you stay until the King arrives?
Lafeu: I was hoping you’d ask.
Countess: My lord, you are always welcome.
(The Clown comes in.)
Clown: Madam, your son has arrived. He’s got a bandage on his head.
Lafeu (To the Countess): Just a little war wound, no doubt. Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. He did quite a good job over there, as I’ve been told.
Clown: And there’s a party of gentlemen with the Count. Very nicely dressed. Very polite. But Monsieur Parolles is not with them.
Countess: Thank God for that.–Come, my lord.
(They all go out.)
Act 5, Scene 1. Marseilles. Outside the King’s palace. Helena, the Widow, and Diana come in. (Author’s note: In this play we are given an example of a “movable court.” In common usage, the term refers to a judicial court that meets in various locations. Here the King is holding his court in Marseilles and presently in Rousillon, although usually he’s in Paris.)
Helena: You two must be exhausted. I’m sorry to drag you on such a long trip.
Widow: We’ll survive.
(A Gentleman comes in.)
Helena: Oh! Sir! I know you from the King’s court, don’t I?
Gentleman: I’m there sometimes. Yes.
Helena: I have a letter for the King. Can you deliver it to him?
Gentleman: Oh, he’s not here, madam. He left last night–in some hurry, too.
Helena: Oh, dear! We came all the way from Florence. Where has he gone?
Gentleman: To Rousillon. He moves his court around now and then. I’m just on my way there now.
Helena: Then you’ll get there before us. Please take this letter to the King. I want him to read it before I get there so he has an answer for me as soon as I arrive.
(She gives the Gentleman the letter.)
Gentleman: Yes, madam. I can do that for you.
Helena: Thank you. (To the Widow and Diana) I’m sorry. We have to go to Rousillon.
Widow (Wearily): Yes, yes. (To Diana) Come on, girl.
(They all go out.)
Act 5, Scene 2. The Countess’s palace in Rousillon. The Clown comes in, followed by Parolles. The Clown has a disdainful expression. Parolles is ragged and dirty. He is holding a letter.
Parolles: Please, Monsieur Lavache–
Clown (Turning to the audience): Ha! You hear that? It’s Monsieur Lavache now!
Parolles: Good sir, kind sir–I beg you to give this letter to Lord Lafeu.
Clown: Give it to him yourself. I don’t do favours for beggars.
Parolles: Oh, sir, fortune has been cruel to me.
Clown: I never argue with fortune.
Parolles: I was once a gentleman. Look at me now. I’ve lost all my friends. All doors have been shut to me.
Clown: You smell. You’re going to stink up the whole house.
(Lafeu comes in.)
Clown: My lord, this foul creature crawled out of a sewer, and he seems to want something. I leave him to your pleasure.
(The Clown goes out.)
Parolles: My lord, have pity on me. I have been treated so cruelly by fate.
Lafeu (With a contemptuous smile): Monsieur Parolles! How have you been? Did you have a fine adventure in Italy?
Parolles: My lord, things have gone so badly for me. I have nothing.
Lafeu: Did you ever find that drum?
Parolles: Please, sir. Don’t torment me. You’re my last hope. I’m begging you.
Lafeu: My, my, how you’ve changed. I think this is your true self.
Parolles: Help me, sir.
Lafeu: I believe the local authorities have funds available for the poor. Why don’t you go to them?
Parolles (Beginning to cry): Oh, sir!
(Distant trumpets are heard.)
Lafeu: Oh! The King’s trumpets!
Parolles: Oh, sir!
Lafeu: Answer me this, Parolles. It’s a riddle. What is it that always gets to where you’re going before you do?
Parolles: I don’t know, sir.
Lafeu: Your reputation.
(Parolles sobs pathetically.)
Lafeu: You’d better come with me. I’ll give you something to eat, just to keep you out of sight.
Parolles: Thank you, sir!
(Lafeu leads Parolles out.)
Act 5, Scene 3. The same. Coming in are the King, the Countess, the two Dumaines, and several Attendants. (The Dumaines have no lines in this long closing scene, which is an odd oversight, even for Shakespeare. Nevertheless, the Director will use them to react to the action.)
King: We lost a fine girl in Helena. I liked her very much. Your son was very foolish to leave her.
Countess: It’s all in the past, my lord. We must try to understand it as a mistake of youth.
King: Yes, I suppose. For your sake I’m willing to forgive him. But another king might not be so lenient.
Lafeu: My lord, if I may say so, I think the greatest wrong he’s done is to himself.
King: As always, you’re the wise one, Lafeu. I must agree with you.–Well, I’m willing to patch up with him. (To an Attendant) Have the Count come in, please.
(The Attendant goes out.)
King (To Lafeu): So you still want him as a son-in-law–after all this?
Lafeu: Yes, my lord.
King: And what does he say about it?
Lafeu: He says it depends on you.
King: Well! Now there’s a change of attitude. All right. I’ll have him marry your daughter. I did get quite a good report on him from the Duke of Florence. I have to give him credit for that.
(Bertram comes in with the Attendant.)
King: Bertram, I won’t deny I was angry with you. But I’m not angry any more. So we’re friends again.
Bertram: I’m very grateful, my lord. I hope you can forgive–whatever–
King: Yes, yes. It’s water under the bridge. Now let’s get down to business. You know Lord Lafeu’s daughter Maudlin?
Bertram: I do, sir. I’ve always admired her, but I never had the nerve to speak up. And then, of course, when I had to marry Helena–after that, well–
King: Yes, yes. Now then, if you’re still fond of Maudlin, your mother and I and Lord Lafeu are in agreement that you should marry her.
Bertram: I agree, too, my lord.
Lafeu: I welcome you as a son, Bertram. Will you give her something as a token of your love? I want to bring her something tangible from you so she knows the marriage has been agreed to.
Bertram: She can have this.
(Bertram gives Lafeu a ring. Lafeu looks at it closely.)
Lafeu: That’s odd. I could swear this ring once belonged to Helena.
Bertram: No, no.
King: Wait a minute. Let me see that. (The King takes the ring and examines it.) This is the ring I gave Helena after she cured me. How did you get it?
Bertram: You must be mistaken, my lord. She couldn’t have had that ring. I got it–(He stops himself.)
Countess: How did you get it, Bertram?
(Bertram hesitates. He is embarrassed.)
Bertram: Em–let me think.–Oh, yes, now I remember. I got it in Florence. A lady threw it to me from a window with a note wrapped around it. She wanted to marry me. When I told her I was already married, she let me keep it.
King: What? Don’t lie to me, Bertram. I know this ring. I gave it to Helena. It’s one of a kind. And she said she’d never take it off her finger except for her husband–in bed. But you never slept with her. Did you?
King: Then how did you get it? (Bertram is speechless.) The only explanation is that you took it from her by force. Or after she was dead.
Bertram: No! No! Definitely not!
King: Everyone knows you hated her. And now she’s dead. At least that’s what we were told. This ring simply proves it.
Bertram: My lord, I–I can’t explain this, but I didn’t kill her! I couldn’t have! She was never in Florence, so how could I have met her there?
King: Well, I don’t know. I just find this too damned suspicious. I’m going to have to put you under house arrest for the time being. (To the Attendants) You two–take him to his room and lock him in.
(Two of the Attendants take Bertram out.)
Countess: I can’t believe he’d murder Helena, my lord.
King: I don’t know what to think. But he has to stay put until we can figure this out.
(The Gentleman from Marseilles comes in with the letter from Helena.)
Gentleman: My lord, I was given this letter for you from a lady from Florence. She was looking for you in Marseilles, but she just missed you. She’s just arriving any minute, but she said this letter was important and she wanted you to read it at once.
King: All right.
(The King takes the letter and reads it. He refers to it indirectly in the following speech.)
King (Frowning): It’s about your son, madam.–He told this girl he wanted to marry her.–Then he seduced her–in Florence.–And then he ran away.–She’s a poor maid–wants her honour back–wants justice–and so on.–She’s following him back to France.–Wants me to make things right.–Well!
Countess: Who is she?
King: Diana Capilet.
Lafeu: I’m disgusted. The marriage is off. I don’t want him any more.
King: Good thing this letter arrived when it did, Lafeu. (To the Gentleman) Is the girl here now?
Gentleman: The carriage was right behind me, my lord. She should be here any minute. She’s with two other ladies.
King: I’d better deal with this. A girl from Florence, after all. And the Duke is my friend. I don’t want any bad feelings.–Better show them in. (To an Attendant) And bring the Count back in. He’s going to have to answer for this.
(The Gentleman and the Attendant go out.)
King: This is looking very bad for your son, madam.
Countess: I trust you to be fair, my lord.
King: Oh, yes, I’ll be fair.
(Bertram comes in with the Attendant.)
King: I’m having some serious concerns about you, Bertram. You hated the wife you married, you seduced a girl in Florence after promising to marry her, and now you claim you’re ready to marry Lafeu’s daughter. Of course, that’s off now.
(Bertram is unable to reply. Then the Gentleman returns with Diana and the Widow. Bertram reacts with embarrassment.)
King: Are you Diana Capilet?
Diana: Yes, my lord. And this is my mother.
King: Bertram, do you know these ladies?
Bertram: Em–yes, my lord. I’m acquainted with them. But I have no idea why they’re here.
Diana: You told me you wanted to marry me. Then you–you had your way with me. Now I demand that you marry me.
Bertram (To the King): Don’t believe her, my lord. She’s only after my money. I just had a few laughs with her in Florence, that’s all. You know, a drink or two. Whatever. Nothing serious. Surely, you don’t think I’d promise to marry this–this commoner. I’m a gentleman.
Diana: He had sex with me, my lord.
King (To Bertram): Did you?
Bertram: Well–I mean–she slept with all the soldiers. She’s just a cheap whore.
Diana (To the King): If I were a cheap whore, he wouldn’t have given me–this!
(She holds out Bertram’s ring. He reacts with shock.)
Countess: Bertram, that’s your ring. (To the King) My lord, that ring is a family heirloom. If Bertram gave it to this young lady, he must have promised to marry her.
Bertram: No, no! It’s a misunderstanding! I never did anything with her! I never promised her anything!
King (To Diana): Can anyone else corroborate what you’re saying?
Diana: Yes, my lord. The Count’s friend, Monsieur Parolles.
Widow: He was the go-between, my lord. He brought the Count’s letters and gifts to my daughter. He knew all about what was going on.
Bertram: Ha! He’d deny that if he were here. I’m quite sure.
Lafeu: Let’s ask him. He’s here.
Lafeu (Calling): Monsieur Parolles! Please come out here for a minute!
(Parolles comes in, looking nervous.)
Bertram: Parolles! Don’t tell them–I mean, tell the King I never had any relations with this girl.
King (To Parolles): Do you know these ladies?
Parolles: Yes, my lord–the widow lady who runs the Saint Francis lodging house in Florence, and her daughter, Diana.
Widow (To Parolles): You carried the Count’s messages. He was after my daughter. Tell the truth now.
Lafeu (To Parolles): Yes, if you have a speck of honour left in you.
Parolles: Your Majesty–my lord Lafeu–it’s true. I was the Count’s messenger. He was eager to seduce the girl.
Bertram: Liar!–My lords, don’t believe this lying scum! Look at him! He’s a low-down piece of dirt! We exposed him in Florence as a traitor and a liar! These two gentlemen were there.
(He indicates the two Lords Dumaine, who nod in agreement.)
Parolles (To the King): My lord, I threw away my honour in Florence. I admit it. And I’m paying for it. Now permit me to salvage what little speck of honour I still have, as Lord Lafeu says. I am telling you the truth.
King (To Bertram): The girl has your ring. What do you say to that?
(Bertram squirms in embarrassment.)
Bertram: My lord–I–Yes, all right. I did have sex with her. But she seduced me. She used all her female tricks to make me give up my ring, and she lured me into her bed. It was a moment of weakness on my part. I’m sorry. I’m very embarrassed. But I shouldn’t be forced to marry her, and I don’t want to.
King: If she demands it, I’m ready to support her claim. It would be legal.
Diana: My lord, it’s obvious the Count couldn’t go through with it. It would be a disaster for both of us. Therefore–I release him from his obligation, and return his ring to him–(Bertram breathes a sigh of relief.)–provided that he returns my ring to me.
Bertram: Your ring?
King: What ring do you mean?
Diana: My lord, it’s identical to the one you’re holding.
King: This? No, no. This belonged to his late wife, Helena. I gave it to her. It’s one of a kind.
Diana: That’s the ring he received in my bed.
King (To Bertram): You said a lady threw it to you from a window.
Bertram: Em–I don’t recall now, actually.
King: Wait a minute. This is getting too confusing.–Parolles, the Count had sex with this girl, right?
Parolles: Yes, my lord.
King: Was he in love with her?
Parolles: No, it was purely sexual.
King: And he gave her his family heirloom ring.
King: Okay. That much I understand. But what I don’t understand–(Turning to Diana)–is how you could have given this ring–(Indicating Helena’s ring)–to the Count. This one belonged to his wife, Helena. Did she give it to you?
Diana: No, my lord.
King: Did you find it? Did you buy it?
Diana: Neither, my lord.
King: Then how could you have given it to him?
Diana: I didn’t.
King: Well, how did you get it?
Diana: I never got it, my lord.
King (Angrily): I’ve had enough of this! You’re wasting my time! And I don’t trust you! I think you’re making a false accusation, and we have laws against that! I’m going to put you in jail!
Diana: Mother, I will need bail.
Widow (To the King): Excuse me, my lord.
(The Widow goes out.)
Diana (To the King): My lord, the owner of the ring shall speak for me. The Count knows he abused me, although he never did me any harm. So I release him. But he did defile my bed and get his wife with child. She knows because she can feel it inside her.
King: I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is all nonsense.
(The Widow returns with Helena. Everyone is shocked, and there is a pause for effect.)
King (Barely able to speak): Helena?
Helena (To Bertram): Remember the letter you wrote to your mother? You said you would not be my husband until you gave up your ring and I had your child. Well, you did give up your ring–to Diana. I took her place in bed. And I gave you my ring. And now I have your child.
(Everyone looks at Bertram, who is momentarily speechless. Then he bursts into tears and embraces Helena.)
Bertram: Forgive me!
Helena: Are you my husband?
(The Countess clasps her hands and looks up to heaven.)
Countess: Thank you, God! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Lafeu (To Parolles): Lend me your handkerchief. I think I’m going to cry.
(Parolles gives him his handkerchief.)
Lafeu: Stick around and we’ll talk about a job for you.
Parolles: Thank you, my lord!
King (To Diana): Young lady, if you are still a virgin–
Widow: She is, my lord!
King: All right, then.–Young lady, you’ve done us a service. And in return, I will let you choose a husband.
Helena: And your Majesty will provide the dowry.
King: And I’ll provide the–what?–Oh, all right. I’ll provide your dowry.
Diana and the Widow: Thank you, my lord.
King: Countess, is the kitchen open?
Countess: Wherever you move your court, my lord, the kitchen is open all night.
King: Good.–Lafeu, take everyone into the kitchen and help the Countess break out the wine. Let’s all be happy!
Lafeu: Gladly, my lord!
(Lafeu and the Countess lead everyone out, leaving the King alone. The King now delivers the epilogue to the audience.)
For us humble players, your love is everything,
You can make us beggars or make us kings,
We’ve spun you the strangest, twistiest story we could tell,
And we hope that for you–and for us–it has all ended well.
Copyright@ 2013 by Crad Kilodney. E-mail: email@example.com