David Bruce: “William Shakespeare’s ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’: A Retelling in Prose” — Act 2, Scene 4

— 2.4 —

Helena and the Fool, who had arrived from the Count of Rousillon’s palace with a letter for her, spoke together in a room of the French King’s palace.

Helena, who had read the letter, said, “My mother greets me kindly; is she well?”

“She is not well; but yet she has her health,” the Fool said. “She’s very merry, but yet she is not well, but thanks be given, she’s very well and wants nothing in the world, but yet she is not well.”

The Fool was punning on these two meanings of “well”: 1) in good health, and 2) in Heaven. A proverb stated, “He is well since he is in Heaven.”

“If she is very well, what is ailing her, so that she’s not very well?” Helena asked.

“Truly, she’s very well indeed, but for two things,” the Fool said.

“What two things?”

“One, that she’s not in Heaven, whither may God send her quickly! The other is that she’s on Earth, from whence may God send her quickly!”

Parolles entered the room.

“Bless you, my fortunate lady!” he said to Helena.

“I hope, sir, I have your good will to have my own good fortunes,” Helena replied.

“You had my prayers to lead them on, and to keep them on, you have my prayers still,” Parolles said.

He then asked the Fool, “Oh, my knave, how does my old lady?”

Parolles had pronounced “does” much like the way many people pronounce “dies.” This was common in this society.

“Provided that you inherited her wrinkles and I her money, I wish she did as you say,” the Fool replied.

“Why, I say nothing,” Parolles said.

“Indeed, then you are the wiser man, for many a man’s tongue shakes out his master’s undoing. Often, men say things that ruin the men’s masters. To say nothing, to do nothing, to know nothing, and to have nothing is to be a great part of your entitlement, which is within a very little of nothing — and that is what you will inherit from her.”

“Go away!” Parolles said. “You are a knave.”

“You should have said, sir, before a knave you are a knave,” the Fool said. “That is, you should have said, sir, that before me you are a knave. This would have been the truth, sir.”

“Before me” was an oath, and it also meant “physically here before me.” The Fool was calling Parolles a knave.

“Go on, you are a witty fool,” Parolles said. “I have found you out.”

“Did you find me in yourself, sir? Or were you taught to find me?” the Fool asked.

“Did you find me in yourself, sir?” had a double meaning: 1) “Did you find me by yourself?” and 2) “Did you find foolery in yourself?”

The Fool already knew the answer to the question: Parolles was very much a fool.

The Fool said, “The search, sir, was profitable, and much fool may you find in you, even to the world’s pleasure and the increase of laughter.”

“You are a good knave, indeed, and you are well fed,” Parolles said, alluding to the saying “Better fed than taught.”

Parolles then said to Helena, “Madam, my lord will go away tonight; a very serious business calls on him to take action. The great prerogative and rite of love, aka the marriage consummation, which as your due the present time claims, he does acknowledge, but he puts it off due to a compelled restraint. He will not consummate the marriage yet. The lack of the consummation, and its delay, is strewn with sweet-scented flowers, which distil now into a sweet-smelling liquid in the curbed time, to make the coming hour overflow with joy and pleasure drown the brim. The delay will increase anticipation, which will increase the enjoyment of the consummation of your marriage.”

“What else is my husband’s will?” Helena asked.

“That you will take your immediate leave of the King and say that your leaving so quickly is your own idea and that you have a good reason for this haste,” Parolles said. “Make up whatever excuse you think may make your immediate departure plausible and necessary.”

“What more does he command?”

“That, having obtained permission from the King for your immediate departure, you immediately go to him and find out his further pleasure.”

“In everything I wait upon his will,” Helena said. “I am an obedient wife.”

“I shall report it so to him,” Parolles said.

“Please do,” Helena said.

Parolles exited.

Helena said to the Fool, “Come, sirrah.”

They exited.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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