Sunday, April 5, 2020

All's Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare

All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare 


All’s Well that Ends Well is a comedy, by William Shakespeare, written around the turn of the seventeenth century.

It is primarily about Helena, daughter of a late illustrious physician. Helena is under the care of the Countess of Rousillon, and is in love with the Countess’ son, Bertram – the Count of Rousillon. But Helena has no hope of winning Bertram due to disparity in their lineage.

Until she, through craft and medicine that she inherited from father, is able to heal the King of France, who promises her any eligible bachelor of his court – which includes Bertram.

Bertram will not have her though, until the hot displeasure of the King persuades him. They have a marriage ceremony, but Bertram will not consummate the marriage, and indeed vows to never until Helena can gain the heirloom ring that he wears, and bears him a child – which of course will be problematic – the marriage being unconsummated.

Except for one of those Shakespeare hallmarks, the “bed trick”, where one person goes to bed with another, believing it to be someone other than whom it is in reality.

There’s a great deal more intrigue, and it’s very clever, but not very satisfying – name of the play notwithstanding. 

Helena – she was beautiful, virtuous, and much the victim, but I couldn’t be too happy for her, as I don’t think the Count was much of a prize. And she loses a few points for even wanting the scoundrel.

The Count – He was a cad and a libertine, didn’t like him at all. He was of noble birth, quit himself admirably in battle, probably good looking, so I guess he’s considered a prize. Meh.

There were two admirable people in the play: Lafeu an elderly Lord, and the Countess, who denounced her son, and embraced Helena.

But they didn’t make up for the ending: All’s well – really? Helena has a jerk husband, Bertram has a saint wife. Meh.

Again, very clever twists and turns, brilliantly written, very funny at times, but I just couldn’t feel good about the outcome.

Excerpts:

Helena pleading her healing ability to the skeptical King
I am not an impostor, that proclaim
Myself against the level of mine aim;
But know I think, and think I know most sure,
My art is not past power, nor you past cure.

The King admonishing Bertram for rejecting Helena
All that is virtuous, - save what thou dislik’st,
A poor physician’s daughter, - thou dislik’st
Of virtue for the name: but do not so:
From lowest place when virtuous things proceed,
The place is dignified by the doer’s deed

Countess expressing her love for Helena, in spite of Bertram’s rejection.
I pr’vthee, lady, have a better cheer;
If thou engrossest all the griefs are thine,
Thou robb’st me of a moiety. He was my son;
But I do wash his name out of my blood,
And thou art my child

Helena, explaining the trickery that will get Bertram to her bed – he thinking it is with another
Why, then, tonight
Is wicked meaning in a lawful act
Where both not sin, and yet a sinful fact;
But let’s about it

Lafeu, thinking Helena is dead, now pleads to the King to forgive Bertram
But first, I beg your pardon, – the young lord
Did to his majesty, his mother, and his lady,
Offense of mighty note; but to himself
The greatest wrong of all: he lost a wife

A maiden who Bertram thought he seduced, but was a conspirator with Helena, explaining things to the king
…but for this lord [Bertram]
Who hath abus’d me, as he knows himself,
Though yet he never harm’d me, here I quit him:
He knows himself my bed he hath defil’d;
And at that time he got his wife with child.
Dead though she be, she feels her young one kick;
So, there’s my riddle – One that’s dead is quick
And now behold the meaning.
    [Enter Helena]

Final verses
The king’s a beggar, now the play is done:
All is well-ended if this suit be won,
That you express content; which we will pay
With strife to please you, day exceeding day:
Ours be your patience then, and yours our parts;
Your gentle hands lead us, and take our hearts.

This play satisfies square I-3, Classic Drama or Play, in the 2020 Classic BINGO Challenge.

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