All's Well That Ends Well "They Say Miracles Are Past"

William Shakespeare

"They Say Miracles Are Past"

Context: Helena, the young and beautiful ward of the Countess of Rousillon, is hopelessly in love with the Countess' son Bertram. Consequently, when he is commanded to attend the king at court, she seizes the opportunity to travel there to attempt to cure the king of a fistula. The leading physicians of the country have attempted to treat the ruler but, unable to do so successfully, have pronounced him incurable. Nevertheless, Helena believes that cure is possible; her late father, the famous physician Gerard de Narbon, has left her certain "prescriptions/ Of rare and proved effects," among which ". . . is a remedy, approved, set down,/ To cure the desperate languishings whereof/ The King is rendered lost." She offers the forfeit of her life as a pledge for the efficacy of the treatment and, in turn, requests that the king–if she succeed–allow her to choose a husband from among the bachelors of the court. Thus the stage is set for her selection of Bertram and her declaration of love which she for so long has kept secret. When the king responds to Helena's medicine, Lafeu, an old lord of the court, announces the fantastic news with breathless excitement:

They say miracles are past, and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless. Hence is it, that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear. . . . To be relinquish'd of the artists–. . . of all the learned and authentic fellows–. . . that gave him out incurable–. . . not to be helped–. . . Uncertain life, and sure death. . . . I may truly say it is a novelty to the world. . . . A showing of a heavenly effect in an earthly actor.