By Charles Matthews

Monday, January 3, 2011

3. All's Well That Ends Well, by William Shakespeare, pp. 34-72

All's Well That Ends Well: Second Series (Arden Shakespeare)Act II

[Scene I. -- Paris. The King's palace.]

The king is saying farewell to two groups of young noblemen leaving for the war: one group to fight for Florence, the other for Siena. One of them tells the king that they hope to find him in good health when they return, but the king assures him that there's no chance that he'll be cured. He also warns them to watch out for Italian girls.

As the king withdraws to talk to the other group, one of the departing lords tells Bertram of his regrets that Bertram won't be joining them. Bertram says he has been commanded to stay in Paris because he is too young; he is bitter about it, and bursts out, "By heaven, I'll steal away!" Parolles urges him to do so, and tells the lords to look out for "one Captain Spurio," who bears a scar on his left cheek from a wound Parolles claims to have given him.

When the lords depart, Parolles asks Bertram what he will do, and Bertram admits that he doesn't plan to "steal away" -- he's going to stay in Paris. They leave, and Lafew enters to talk to the king. He has met with Helena and tells him that she brings a promising medicine for his ailment. The king is, of course, dubious, but Lafew persuades him to see her and ushers her in. Helena explains that the medicine was devised by her father, Gerard de Narbon. The king is acquainted with her father, but he is still reluctant to try anything new after the learned physicians have given up on him. She insists that it "can do no hurt to try," and when he still holds out, she says she will let herself be tortured to death if the cure fails. And she asks that if she succeeds, the king will arrange for her to marry the man of her choosing, assuring him that she won't be so arrogant enough "To choose from forth the royal blood of France." He agrees to the bargain.

[Scene II. -- Rossillion. The Count's palace.] 

The countess and Lavatch have a little dialogue in which the clown shows his acquaintance with the affectations of the court, including the all-purpose interjection "O Lord, sir!" Then the countess sends Lavatch off to Paris with a message for Helena.

[Scene III. -- Paris. The King's palace.]

Lafew tells Bertram of the remarkable cure that Helena has just effected, though his account is continually interrupted by the blatherings of Parolles. The king then enters with Helena, exhibiting his restored vitality. He then summons several "noble bachelors" so she may choose her husband. Helena scrutinizes four of them and rejects them. (Lafew, apparently unable to hear what they're saying, mistakenly believes that the men are refusing her.) Finally she approaches Bertram and proclaims him her choice. But Bertram indignantly refuses: "A poor physician's daughter my wife!" The king insists that if the stumbling block is her lower birth, he has the power to grant her any title he chooses. But Bertram stubbornly continues to refuse, only making the king angrier. Helena interrupts to say that restoring his health is enough reward for her; the king doesn't need to try to force Bertram into marrying her. But the king is insulted by Bertram's defiance and threatens to banish him from the court. Bertram then acquiesces to his wishes.

"Take her by the hand / And tell her she is thine," the king orders. "I take her by the hand," Bertram replies, though he doesn't follow through on the rest of the king's command. This seems enough, however, to satisfy the king. He tells them the wedding will take place that night. The wedding feast will have to wait for the arrival of "absent friends."

Everyone exits except Parolles and Lafew, who quarrel when Parolles takes offense to Lafew's reference to Bertram as Parolles' "master." Annoyed at Parolles' foolishness, Lafew takes his leave. Parolles blusters a bit about the "scurvy, old, filthy, scurvy lord" and vows to beat the old man if they meet again. But just as he makes this vow, Lafew returns with the news that the wedding has taken place and that Parolles now has "a new mistress," which irritates Parolles but doesn't provoke him to violence. Lafew continues to mock Parolles: "You were beaten in Italy for picking a kernel out of a pomegranate. You are a vagabond and no true traveller." And once again he takes his leave of the fuming Parolles.

Bertram enters and tells Parolles that he has no intention of sleeping with his new wife: "I'll to the Tuscan wars and never bed her." He'll send Helena back to Rossillion to stay with his mother. "Tomorrow / I'll to the wars, she to her single sorrow." He and Parolles exit.

Helena enters with Lavatch, who has brought letters from the countess to her and to Bertram. Parolles enters and takes more abuse from the clown before telling Helena that Bertram has been called away on business tonight, but he assures her that the delay will only make the consummation of their marriage sweeter -- a sentiment probably of his own devising, since it's unlikely Bertram would have come up with something like that. They exit, and Bertram enters with Lafew, who is trying to tell Bertram what sort of fool Parolles is. Bertram insists, "he is very great in knowledge, and accordingly valiant." Lafew gives up, realizing that Bertram is beyond persuading of the contrary.

Parolles returns to take Bertram aside and tell him that Helena has been informed that he has been called away. Bertram says that everything is ready for their departure. He then asks Parolles if there are some hard feelings between him and Lafew. Parolles replies, "I know not how I have deserved to run into my lord's displeasure," to which Lafew says that Parolles ran "into't, boots and spurs and all, like him that leap'd into the custard" -- a reference to a jester's performance at the Lord Mayor's Feasts in London, the footnote explains. He leaves, advising Bertram once again not to take Parolles seriously: "there can be no kernel in this light nut; the soul of this man is in his clothes." Parolles calls Lafew "An idle lord," but Bertram dissents. "I do know him well; and common speech / Gives him a worthy pass." This is one of the few glimmers of intelligence that we have seen from Bertram so far.

Helena enters to say that the king wishes to speak with Bertram privately. Bertram tells her that she should return to Rossillion, and gives her a letter to give his mother. She asks his pardon, and he impatiently brushes her off. "Strangers and foes do sunder and not kiss," she points out, but he doesn't respond to the hint, so she bids him farewell. After she has left, he says contemptuously, "Go thou toward home, where I will never come / Whilst I can shake my sword or hear the drum," and departs with a flourish of bravado from Parolles.
There are, not unexpectedly, very few videos of productions of the play available online. YouTube has some excerpts from amateur productions, as well as backstage interviews with performers and crew of the 2008 Stratford Festival production. The only professionally performed scenes I've been able to find are from the 1981 BBC-TV production, posted on YouTube by an admirer of the late actor Ian Charleson, who played Bertram. The cast also includes Angela Down as Helena, Michael Hordern as Lafew, Peter Jeffrey as Parolles, Donald Sinden as the King of France, and Paul Brooke as Lavatch. The following are Scenes III, IV, and V from Act II:


No comments:

Post a Comment