Rossillon. The Count’s palace.
(Countess; Clown; Helen; two French Lords)
The Countess reads Bertram’s letter which says that he has left Helena forever. She condemns her son as a “rash and unbridled boy” who has won the enmity of the King. Helena, too, receives a harsh letter from Bertram, letting her know his disdain. He insists that he will never call her his wife until she manages to get the ring off his finger and fall pregnant by him. Helena repents of her impulsive act, which has driven Bertram to war. She resolves to steal away, so that Bertram may return to France. For Bertram has sworn: “Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France.” (109 lines)
Enter Countess and Clown.
It hath happen’d all as I would have had it, save that he comes not along with her.
By my troth, I take my young lord to be a very melancholy man.
By what observance, I pray you?
Why, he will look upon his boot and sing, mend the ruff and sing, ask questions and sing, pick his teeth and sing. I know a man that had this trick of melancholy sold a goodly manor for a song.
Let me see what he writes, and when he means to come.
Opening a letter.
I have no mind to Isbel since I was at court. Our old ling and our Isbels a’ th’ country are nothing like your old ling and your Isbels a’ th’ court. The brains of my Cupid’s knock’d out, and I begin to love, as an old man loves money, with no stomach.
What have we here?
E’en that you have there.
Reads a letter.
“I have sent you a daughter-in-law; she hath recover’d the King, and undone me. I have wedded her, not bedded her, and sworn to make the “not” eternal. You shall hear I am run away; know it before the report come. If there be breadth enough in the world, I will hold a long distance. My duty to you.
Your unfortunate son, Bertram.”
This is not well, rash and unbridled boy,
To fly the favors of so good a king,
To pluck his indignation on thy head
By the misprising of a maid too virtuous
For the contempt of empire.
O madam, yonder is heavy news within between two soldiers and my young lady!
What is the matter?
Nay, there is some comfort in the news, some comfort. Your son will not be kill’d so soon as I thought he would.
Why should he be kill’d?
So say I, madam, if he run away, as I hear he does. The danger is in standing to’t; that’s the loss of men, though it be the getting of children. Here they come will tell you more; for my part, I only hear your son was run away.
Enter Helen and two French Lords.
’Save you, good madam.
Madam, my lord is gone, forever gone.
Do not say so.
Think upon patience. Pray you, gentlemen,
I have felt so many quirks of joy and grief
That the first face of neither on the start
Can woman me unto’t. Where is my son, I pray you?
Madam, he’s gone to serve the Duke of Florence.
We met him thitherward, for thence we came;
And after some dispatch in hand at court,
Thither we bend again.
Look on his letter, madam, here’s my passport.
“When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a ‘then’ I write a ‘never.’” This is a dreadful sentence.
Brought you this letter, gentlemen?
And for the contents’ sake are sorry for our pains.
I prithee, lady, have a better cheer;
If thou engrossest all the griefs are thine,
Thou robb’st me of a moi’ty. He was my son,
But I do wash his name out of my blood,
And thou art all my child. Towards Florence is he?
And to be a soldier?
Such is his noble purpose, and believe’t,
The Duke will lay upon him all the honor
That good convenience claims.
Return you thither?
Ay, madam, with the swiftest wing of speed.
“Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France.”
Find you that there?
’Tis but the boldness of his hand haply,
Which his heart was not consenting to.
Nothing in France, until he have no wife!
There’s nothing here that is too good for him
But only she, and she deserves a lord
That twenty such rude boys might tend upon,
And call her hourly mistress. Who was with him?
A servant only, and a gentleman
Which I have sometime known.
Parolles, was it not?
Ay, my good lady, he.
A very tainted fellow, and full of wickedness.
My son corrupts a well-derived nature
With his inducement.
Indeed, good lady,
The fellow has a deal of that too much,
Which holds him much to have.
Y’ are welcome, gentlemen.
I will entreat you, when you see my son,
To tell him that his sword can never win
The honor that he loses. More I’ll entreat you
Written to bear along.
We serve you, madam,
In that and all your worthiest affairs.
Not so, but as we change our courtesies.
Will you draw near?
Exit with Lords.
“Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France.”
Nothing in France, until he has no wife!
Thou shalt have none, Roussillon, none in France;
Then hast thou all again. Poor lord, is’t I
That chase thee from thy country, and expose
Those tender limbs of thine to the event
Of the none-sparing war? And is it I
That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou
Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark
Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers,
That ride upon the violent speed of fire,
Fly with false aim, move the still-peering air
That sings with piercing, do not touch my lord.
Whoever shoots at him, I set him there;
Whoever charges on his forward breast,
I am the caitiff that do hold him to’t;
And though I kill him not, I am the cause
His death was so effected. Better ’twere
I met the ravin lion when he roar’d
With sharp constraint of hunger; better ’twere
That all the miseries which nature owes
Were mine at once. No, come thou home, Roussillon,
Whence honor but of danger wins a scar,
As oft it loses all. I will be gone.
My being here it is that holds thee hence.
Shall I stay here to do’t? No, no, although
The air of paradise did fan the house,
And angels offic’d all. I will be gone,
That pitiful rumor may report my flight
To consolate thine ear. Come night, end day!
For with the dark, poor thief, I’ll steal away.