David Bruce: “William Shakespeare’s ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’: A Retelling in Prose” — Act 3, Scene 4

— 3.4 —

The Countess of Rousillon and the Steward talked together in a room of the Count of Rousillon’s palace. The Steward, who was named Rinaldo, had delivered to the Countess a letter that Helena had given to him the previous night.

“Alas!” the Countess said. “And would you take the letter from her? Didn’t you know she would do as she has done, by sending me a letter? Read it again.”

The Steward read the letter, which was written in the form of a sonnet, out loud:

I am Saint Jaques’ pilgrim, thither gone:

Ambitious love hath so in me offended,

That barefoot plod I the cold ground upon,

With sainted [saintly] vow my faults [sins] to have amended.

Write, write, so that from the bloody course of war

My dearest master, your dear son, may hie [hurry]:

Bless him at home in peace, whilst I from far

His name with zealous fervor sanctify:

His taken [undertaken] labors bid him me forgive;

I, his despiteful [spiteful] Juno, sent him forth

From courtly friends [friends connected with the court], with camping [living in tents set up in military camps] foes to live,

Where death and danger dogs the heels of worth:

He is too good and fair for Death and me:

Whom [Death] I myself embrace, to set him [my husband] free.

In the letter Helena said that she would be a religious pilgrim and visit the shrine of Saint Jaques le Grand; religious pilgrims heading to that shrine often lodged in Florence, Italy.

In the letter she compared herself to the goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter, King of the gods. Juno had given to Hercules twelve labors that seemed impossible to accomplish. Helena’s intention, she wrote, was to embrace Death and die, thus setting her husband free from his marriage.

The Countess said, “Ah, what sharp stings are in her mildest words! Rinaldo, you never lacked good sense as much as now when you let her leave in this way. Had I spoken with her, I could have well diverted her intentions, which by writing me this letter she has prevented.”

“Pardon me, madam,” the Steward said. “If I had given you this last night, she might have been overtaken, and yet she writes that pursuit would be only in vain.”

“What angel shall bless this husband who is unworthy of his wife?” the Countess said. “He cannot thrive unless her prayers, which Heaven delights to hear and loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath of greatest justice.

“Write, write, Rinaldo, to this husband who is unworthy of his wife. Let every word weigh heavy on — emphasize — her worth that he does weigh too lightly; that he weighs her too lightly is my greatest grief. Though he little feels it, set it down sharply.

“Dispatch the most convenient messenger: When it happens that he hears that she is gone, he will return; and I hope that she, hearing that he has returned, will speed her foot again, led here by pure love.

“Which of them — Bertram or Helena — is dearest to me, I am unable to discern.

“Provide a messenger.

“My heart is heavy, and my old age makes me weak. Grief would have tears, and sorrow bids me speak.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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