David Bruce: “William Shakespeare’s ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’: A Retelling in Prose” — Act 5, Scenes 1-2

— 5.1 —

Helena, the widow, and Diana, accompanied by two attendants, stood on a street in Marseilles.

Helena said, “But this exceedingly great haste as we journey day and night must be wearing your spirits low. We cannot help it, but since you have made the days and nights as one and are wearing out your gentle limbs in my affairs, be certain that you so grow in my recompense that nothing can unroot you. You will be rewarded — you can be confident of that.”

A gentleman walked down the street.

Seeing him, Helena said, “This is a good time to see a gentleman. This man may help me be heard by his majesty’s ear, if he would expend some effort on my behalf.”

She said to the gentleman, “May God save you, sir.”

“And you,” the gentleman replied.

“Sir, I have seen you in the court of the King of France,” Helena said.

“I have been there sometimes,” the gentleman replied.

“I do presume, sir, that you still have a reputation as a good man, and therefore, since I am goaded by many pressing reasons, which force me to put aside formal etiquette, I ask you for the use of your own virtues, for which I shall now and continue to be thankful to you.”

“What do you want me to do?” the gentleman asked.

“I hope that you will please give this poor petition to the King of France and aid me with that store of power you have to come into the King’s presence.”

“The King’s not here,” the gentleman said.

“Not here, sir!” Helena exclaimed.

“Not here, indeed,” the gentleman said. “He departed from here last night and with more haste than is his custom.”

“Lord, how we lose our pains!” the widow said.

Unruffled, Helena said, “All’s well that ends well yet, although time seems to us so adverse and our resources unfit.”

She asked the gentleman, “Please tell us where he has gone.”

“Indeed, as I understand it, he has gone to Rousillon, where I am going.”

“Please, sir,” Helena said, “since you are likely to see the King before I do, hand this paper to his gracious hand.”

She gave him a paper.

Helena continued, “Your doing this I presume shall render to you no blame but rather make you thank your pains for doing it. I will follow you with what good speed our resources will contrive for us.”

“I’ll do this for you,” the gentleman said.

“And you shall find yourself well thanked,” Helena said, “no matter what happens. We must start traveling again. Go, go, help us.”

— 5.2 —

The Fool and Parolles stood in front of the Count of Rousillon’s palace.

Parolles, whose fortunes had drastically declined, and whose clothing was much less clean than formerly, asked the Fool very politely, “Good Monsieur Lavache, give my Lord Lafeu this letter. I have before now, sir, been better known to you, when I have held familiarity with fresher clothes, but I am now, sir, muddied because of Lady Fortune’s moody dislike of me, and I smell somewhat strongly of her strong displeasure.”

Parolles smelled as if he had fallen into a fishpond. In this society, garbage was thrown into ponds, where fish, including carp, were raised for food.

The Fool replied, “Truly, Lady Fortune’s displeasure is only sluttish, if it smells as strongly as you speak of it. I will henceforth eat no fish of Lady Fortune’s buttering. Please, stand downwind so that I don’t smell you.”

Fish were frequently buttered when served.

“You don’t need to hold your nose, sir,” Parolles said. “I was speaking metaphorically.”

“Indeed, sir, if your metaphor stinks, I will hold my nose,” the Fool said. “I would do that against any man’s stinking metaphor. Please, stand further away.”

Parolles requested, “Please, sir, deliver this paper to Lord Lafeu for me.”

“Bah! Please stand further away,” the Fool said. “You want me to give a paper from Lady Fortune’s toilet to a nobleman! Look, here he comes himself.”

Lafeu walked over to them.

The Fool said to him, “Here is a purr of Lady Fortune’s, sir, or of Lady Fortune’s cat — but not a musk-cat — who has fallen into the unclean fishpond of her displeasure, and, as he says, is muddied because of this. Please, sir, treat the carp as you may; for he looks like a poor, decayed, ingenious, foolish, rascally knave. I do pity his distress in my smiles of comfort and leave him to your lordship.”

In this society, the word “purr” means many things: 1) the purr of a cat, 2) the knave in a deck of cards used to play the game Post and Pair, and 3) animal manure.

Civit cats and musk deer were known for their glands that were used to make perfume. Parolles’ scent was nothing like the sweet-smelling scents of perfume.

Carp refers both to the fish and to a human chatterbox.

The Fool used “smiles of comfort” ironically. His smiles — jokes directed at Parolles’ misfortune — hardly comforted Parolles. However, the Fool did call Parolles ingenious, which is a compliment. Although Parolles was a scoundrel, his scurrility was so thorough going that other people marveled at it and had a kind of respect for him.

The Fool exited.

Parolles said to Lafeu, “My lord, I am a man whom Lady Fortune has cruelly scratched.”

“And what would you have me do about it?” Lafeu asked. “It is too late to pare her fingernails now. What have you done to play the knave with Lady Fortune, with the result being that she should scratch you? She in herself is a good lady and would not have knaves thrive long under her. There’s a quart d’ecu — a small coin — for you. Let the justices make you and Lady Fortune friends. I am busy.”

Some justices’ jobs were to take care of the poor.

Parolles said, “I beg your honor to hear me say one single word more.”

Lafeu said, “You are begging for a single penny more. Here, you shall have it. Don’t bother speaking your word.”

“My name, my good lord, is Parolles,” he said.

Lafeu said, “You beg more than one ‘word,’ then,” referring to Parolles’ name. In French, the word “paroles” meant “words.”

Looking closer at the bedraggled Parolles, and recognizing him, Lafeu said, “God’s passion! Give me your hand. How is your drum?”

He had heard all about Parolles’ adventure with the drum.

Parolles cried, “Oh, my good lord, you were the first who found me out and discovered what kind of a man I really am!”

“Was I, truly?” Lafeu said. “Then that means I was the first who lost you.”

“It lies in you, my lord, to bring me in some grace, for you did bring me out,” Parolles said.

“Get out, knave!” Lafeu said. “Do you put upon me at once both the duty of God and the duty of the Devil? One brings you in grace and the other brings you out of grace.”

Trumpets sounded.

Lafeu said, “The King’s coming; I can tell by his trumpets. Sirrah, ask for me later. I had a conversation about you last night. Although you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat; come on, follow me.”

Parolles had fallen greatly in status, as shown by Lafeu calling him “sirrah.” But Lafeu would provide for him: Lafeu would keep Parolles fed in return for Parolles’ amusing him.

Parolles said, “I praise and thank God for you.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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