Academic journal article Style

The Trappings of All's Well That Ends Well

Academic journal article Style

The Trappings of All's Well That Ends Well

Article excerpt

Just before Bertram enters to exult over what he believes to be a liaison with Diana and to witness his comrades' unmasking of his tutor Paroles as a miles gloriosus, both lords Dumaine are considering news of the death of his wife and yet no wife Helen:

SECOND LORD DUMAINE: I am heartily sorry that he'll be glad of this.

FIRST LORD DUMAINE: How mightily sometimes we make us comforts of our losses.

SECOND LORD DUMAINE: And how mightily some other times we drown our gain in tears. The great dignity that his valour hath here acquired for him shall at home be encountered with a shame as ample.

FIRST LORD DUMAINE: The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together. Our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not, and our crimes would despair if they were not cherished by our virtues. (4.3.61-72) (1)

What draws my immediate interest to these lines is not so much the reversals in thought as the reversals in style, what might be called the trappings of the passage.

After an initial expression of disapproval and disappointment in Bertram's response to the death of his wife there appear a pair of witty, epigrammatic statements marked by phrasal anaphora that is followed by an application in a chiasmus and then an aphorism based on a commonplace image that is then explicated by another chiasmus. The first and second lords' anaphoras point to the abstract inversion that Bertram will take as a personal advantage what is in fact a loss and to its reversed expression of crying over achievements. This is followed by the second lord's specific application to Bertram: the glory that he has won in Florence will be received in France with at least an equivalent shame. Then the first lord completes the set when he observes through an image that personal life consists of threads of good and evil entangled like yarn before he concludes with a climactic chiasmus about the inseparability of human virtues from the self-cancelling, humiliating failings and immoralities twisted with them. What is fascinating here is the expression of perpetually balanced antitheses of private human emotions in comfort and loss with their public moral entailments of approval and disapproval over virtues and sins. Moreover, in people these oppositions are always implicated and ever remain inextricable. Slight comfort may be gleaned from "virtues" opening and closing the figure, perhaps thereby promising a hopeful outcome.

Thus isolated the two lords' observations appear more abstract than specific. But Bertram's fellow officers have in mind a direct application to Bertram. And we have in mind a context of language and action already displayed in the scene and throughout All's Well That Ends Well. The lords Dumaine have just finished discussing the shame Bertram has already incurred through his scolding by his mother and his fall from the favor of his guardian and king. Both result from his failure as a husband who deserted his wondrous wife before consummation of his marriage. Moreover, they have just revealed the even greater shame in husbandry that he is accruing by arranging an adulterous liaison--the emblem of which is his surrender to his prospective prize of his ancient family ring handed down from father to son. In language tinted by the martial terms whereby Bertram has won renown, they have been describing Bertram's equal campaign for shame. He will be chastened for making "chastity.... unchaste," for having committed treason against himself, since aphoristically "he that in this action contrives against his own nobility, in his proper stream o'erflows himself" (4.3.23-25). The lords can only hope that Bertram's witness of the revelations of his ambushed talkative martial tutor Paroles will induce him to scrutinize his own actions, "see his company anatomized, that he might take a measure of his own judgements, wherein so curiously he had set this counterfeit" (4.3.32-34). …

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