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

— 4.2 —

Bertram and Diana talked together in the widow’s house.

Bertram said, “They told me that your name was Fontibell.”

“No, my good lord, my name is Diana.”

Bertram wasn’t much of a lover: He couldn’t even remember her name. Of course, he had heard that her name was Diana, but in trying to remember it, the image of a fountain with a statue of Diana came to mind, and he mistakenly thought that her name was “Fontibell,” a name that means “Beautiful Fountain.”

“You are named after a goddess,” Bertram said, “and you are worthy of your name, with additional titles! But, fair soul, in your fine frame does love have no position? If the quick fire of youth does not light up your mind, you are no maiden, but a monument — a tomb. When you are dead, you will be such a one as you are now, for you are cold and stern, and now you should be as your mother was when your sweet self was begotten.”

“When I was begotten, my mother was chaste and did not engage in illicit sex,” Diana said. “She was married.”

“So should you be,” Bertram said.

False promises of marriage are part of the arsenal of the seducer.

“No,” Diana said. “My mother did but such duty as, my lord, you owe to your wife.”

“Speak no more of that,” Bertram said. “I ask you, do not strive against my vows. Do not resist me because of my marriage vows. I was compelled to marry her, but I love you by love’s own sweet constraint, and I will forever do you all rights of service.”

“Yes, you men serve us women until we sexually serve you,” Diana said, “but when you have our roses — our maidenheads — you barely leave our thorns to prick ourselves with regret and you mock our bareness.”

“How I have sworn that I will serve you!” Bertram said.

“It is not the many oaths that make the truth,” Diana said, “but the plain single vow that is vowed truly. The number of oaths is not important; what is important is whether the oath is sworn morally and with sincerity. What is not holy, that we swear not by, but instead we take the Highest to witness our oath. So then, please, tell me, if I should swear by God’s great attributes that I loved you dearly, would you believe my oaths when I did love you ill — when my love for you is ill?”

Bertram’s “love” for Diana was ill; he wanted to seduce her and then abandon her.

Diana continued, “To swear by him whom I profess to love, and yet to work against him and make him sin by committing adultery has no logic. Therefore, your oaths are mere words and a poor contract that lacks the seal that would make it legally binding, at least in my opinion.”

“Change it! Change your opinion!” Bertram urged. “Be not so holy-cruel — so cruel by being holy! Love is holy, and my integrity never knew the crafty plots that you charge men with engaging in. Stand off no more, but give yourself to my lovesick desires, which then will recover. Say that you are mine, and my love as it begins shall ever so persevere.”

Diana said, “I see that men make ropes in such a scarre so that we’ll forsake ourselves.”

This may sound like nonsense, but that is because she was using obsolete words. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a rope is “[o]utcry, clamour; cries of distress or lamentation.” Also according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “scarre” can be a spelling of “scare,” which can mean “[f]ear, dread.” By the way, the Norwegian verb “rope” means “shout, scream, call.”

Therefore, this is what Diana was saying: “I see that men make cries of distress when they are afraid they won’t get what they want so that we women will forsake ourselves.” In other words, men will say anything to get immoral sex.

She then pointed to a ring on Bertram’s hand and said, “Give me that ring.”

“I’ll lend it to you, my dear,” Bertram said, “but I have no power to give it to you.”

“Won’t you give it to me, my lord?” Diana asked.

“It is an honor — an heirloom — belonging to our house, bequeathed down from many ancestors,” Bertram said. “It would be the greatest disgrace in the world for me to lose its possession.”

“My honor’s such a ring as that,” Diana said. “My chastity’s the jewel of our house, bequeathed down from many ancestors; it would be the greatest disgrace in the world for me to lose my chastity. Thus your own proper wisdom brings in the champion Honor on my side, against your vain assault on my chastity.”

“Here, take my ring,” Bertram said, giving her the ring. “May my house, my honor, and indeed, my life be yours, and I’ll be commanded by you.”

“When midnight comes, knock at my bedchamber-window,” Diana said. “I’ll arrange things so that my mother shall not hear. Now I will charge you in the bond of truth, when you have conquered my yet maiden bed, to remain there only an hour and do not speak to me. My reasons are very strong; and you shall know them when this ring shall be delivered back to you again. And on your finger in the night I’ll put another ring, so that what in time proceeds may betoken to the future our past deeds.”

In the marriage ceremony, the man and the woman exchange rings. Helena, of course, would be the woman in bed with Bertram, who could remain only an hour with her and not talk to her because Helena did not want to be recognized by the sound of her voice or to be seen in the morning light. She did, however, want to spend some time with Bertram after sex.

Diana said, “Adieu, until then; then, don’t fail to appear. You have won a wife of me, although there my hope is done. Once I give up my virginity in this manner, I also give up my hope of ever becoming a wife.”

In fact, Bertram would win a wife — Helena — from Diana.

Bertram said, “A heaven on earth I have won by wooing you.”

He exited.

Diana said, “For which live long to thank both Heaven and me!”

Their ideas of heaven/Heaven were different.

Diana continued, “You may do so in the end. My mother told me just how he would woo, as if she sat in his heart; she says all men have the same oaths. He has sworn to marry me when his wife’s dead; therefore, I’ll lie with him when I am buried. Since Frenchmen weave plots as if they were weaving a braid, let those marry who will — I intend to live and die a maiden. But I think it no sin to deceive and cozen and cheat him who would unjustly win.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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