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All's Well That Ends Well Act 2, Scene 1 Summary

  • The second act opens at the king of France's swanky palace, where a bunch of young noblemen are getting ready to run off to Italy to fight in that foreign war we mentioned earlier.
  • The king of France is so old and sickly that he has to be carried into the room on a chair.
  • He wishes everyone good luck getting their battle on and cheers for them to make France proud.
  • Bertram is moping because the King thinks he's too young to go to war. Instead, he has to stay in France and go to a bunch of lame dances at court while all the other young guys get to slit the throats of enemy soldiers.
  • Paroles and some of the Lords thinks he should run away to Italy and fight anyway.
  • Then Paroles starts to brag about himself. He tells a big, made-up story about how he once whipped out his sword and sliced up some guy's cheek. He tells the French soldiers to be on the lookout for a guy with a giant scar on his face. (Hmm. If Paroles is so awesome, why isn't he going to war?)
  • When the lords leave, Paroles tries to give Bertram some advice about how to fit in with the other guys at court.
  • They run off so that Bertram can practice being cool and fitting in.
  • Lafeu enters and kneels down in front of the king (who is still, apparently, sitting in his chair).
  • The king asks him to get off his knees and stand up, which leads to a snappy discussion about how Lafeu wishes the king was well enough to stand up himself. (Yes, there's an erection joke at work here. Does this mean the king's illness has made him sexually impotent?)
  • Lafeu says he knows a really great female doctor. She's so skillful that she could "araise King Pepin" (2.1.74) (bring king Pepin back from the dead/give him an erection). The king should give her a chance to cure his dreaded illness.
  • Then Lafeu trots out Helen, who's wearing a disguise. (We're not sure why Helen is wearing this crazy get-up but we do know this: Shakespeare loves to make the characters in his comedies wear disguises, especially the female characters.)
  • Lafeu says he's going to leave Helen alone with the king and adds that he feels a little like "Cressid's uncle" (2.1.96) (a.k.a. a pimp).
  • (That's weird, right? Does all this "Cressid's uncle" talk have something to do with those jokes about the king's impotence?)
  • Helen declares that she's the daughter of the famous doctor, Gérard de Narbonne, who, on his deathbed, left her a bunch of precious medicines and instructions on how to use them.
  • She then promises that she can cure the king in 48 hours, and says she's willing to stake her own life on it.
  • The king doesn't buy it. He says he's not about to let some maiden (young, unmarried girl) play doctor. The best physicians in the world haven't been able to cure him, so why should he think Helen can?
  • After some back and forth bickering, Helen finally manages to change the king's mind. She argues that the king has nothing to lose; if she can't cure him, then hey, he's going to die anyway, right?
  • Helen points out one more thing: it's her reputation on the line here. If she tries to cure the king's fistula and doesn't succeed, she'll be accused of being a strumpet (prostitute).
  • (Basically, she's worried about what people will say when they find out she was alone with the king and had such intimate contact with his body. Can you blame her? Even Lafeu is already cracking dirty jokes.)
  • Then Helen gets the king to promise that she can marry anyone in his kingdom if she cures him.
  • She makes a big deal about being the lowly daughter of a dead doctor and promises not to choose a member of the royal family.

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