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Johnson has expressed his dislike of the character of Bertram, and most fair readers have manifested their abhorrence of him, and have thought, with Johnson, that he ought not to have gone unpunished, for the sake not only of poetical but of moral justice. Schlegel has remarked that "Shakspeare never attempts to mitigate the impression of his unfeeling pride and giddy dissipation. He intended merely to give us a military portrait; and paints the true way of the world, according to which the injustice of men towards women is not considered in a very serious light, if they only maintain what is called the honor of the family." The fact is, that the construction of his plot prevented him. Helen was to be rewarded for her heroic and persevering affection, and any more serious punishment than the temporary shame and remorse that await Bertram would have been inconsistent with comedy. It should also be remembered, that he was constrained to marry Helen against his will. Shakspeare was a good-natured moralist; and, like his own creation, old Lafeu, though he was delighted to strip off the mask of pretension, he thought that punishment might be carried too far. Who, that has been diverted with the truly comic scenes in which Parolles is made to appear in his true character, could have wished him to have been otherwise dismissed?
"Though you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat."
It has been remarked, that "the style of the whole play is more conspicuous for sententiousness than imagery ;" and that "the glowing colors of fancy could not have been introduced into such a subject." May not the period of life at which it was produced have something to do with this? Malone places the date of its composition in 1606, and observes that a beautiful speech of the sick king has much the air of that moral and judicious reflection that accompanies an advanced period of life :
All but new things disdain; whose judgments are
Mere fathers of their garments; whose constancies
It appears probable that the original title of this play was "Love's Labors Wonne:" at least a piece under that title is mentioned by Meres ir his "Wit's Treasurie," in 1598; but if this was the play referred to, what becomes of Malone's hypothesis relating to the date of its composition?
King of France.
Duke of Florence.
BERTRAM, Count of Rousillon.
LAFEU, an old Lord.
PAROLLES, a follower of Bertram.
Several young French Lords, that serve with Bertram in the Florentine war.
Steward, } Servants to the Countess of Rousillon.
Countess of Rousillon, Mother to Bertram.
HELENA, a Gentlewoman protected by the Countess.
DIANA, Daughter to the Widow.
Neighbors and Friends to the Widow.
Lords, attending on the King; Officers, Soldiers, &c., French and Florentine.
SCENE, partly in France, and partly in Tuscany.
1 Steevens says that we should write Lefeu and Paroles.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
SCENE 1. Rousillon. A Room in the Countess's
Enter BERTRAM, the Countess of Rousillon, HELena, and LAFEU, in mourning.
Countess. In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband.
Ber. And I, in going, madam, weep o'er my father's death anew but I must attend his majesty's command, to whom I am now in ward,' evermore in subjection.
Laf. You shall find of the king a husband, madam; -you, sir, a father. He that so generally is at all times good, must of necessity hold his virtue to you; whose worthiness would stir it up where it wanted, rather than lack it where there is such abundance.
Count. What hope is there of his majesty's amendment?
Laf. He hath abandoned his physicians, madam ; under whose practices he hath persecuted time with hope; and finds no other advantage in the process but only the losing of hope by time.
Count. This young gentlewoman had a father (0 that had! how sad a passage 'tis!) whose skill was almost as great as his honesty; had it stretched so far, would have made nature immortal, and death should
1 The heirs of great fortunes were formerly the king's wards. This prerogative was a branch of the feudal law.
have play for lack of work. 'Would, for the king's sake, he were living! I think, it would be the death of the king's disease.
Laf. How called you the man you speak of, madam? Count. He was famous, sir, in his profession, and it was his great right to be so; Gerard de Narbon.
Laf. He was excellent, indeed, madam; the king very lately spoke of him, admiringly, and mourningly. He was skilful enough to have lived still, if knowledge could be set up against mortality.
Ber. What is it, my good lord, the king languishes of?
Laf. A fistula, my lord.
Ber. I heard not of it before.
Laf. I would it were not notorious.-Was this gentlewoman the daughter of Gerard de Narbon?
Count. His sole child, my lord; and bequeathed to my overlooking. I have those hopes of her good, that her education promises. Her dispositions she inherits, which make fair gifts fairer; for where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities,' there commendations go with pity, they are virtues and traitors too; in her they are the better for their simpleness; she derives her honesty, and achieves her goodness.
Laf. Your commendations, madam, get from her
Count. 'Tis the best brine a maiden can season her praise in. The remembrance of her father never approaches her heart, but the tyranny of her sorrows takes all livelihood 2 from her cheek. No more of this, Helena, go to, no more; lest it be rather thought you affect a sorrow, than to have.
Hel. I do affect a sorrow, indeed, but I have it too. Laf. Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living.
1 We feel regret even in commending such qualities, joined with an evil disposition; they are traitors, because they give the possessors power over others; who, admiring such estimable qualities, are often betrayed by the malevolence of the possessors. Helena's virtues are the better Decause they are artless and open.
2 All appearance of life.