I have seen a medicine
That's able to breathe life into a stone,
Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary
With spritely fire and motion, whose simple touch
Is powerful to araise King Pippen, nay,
To give great Charlemain a pen in 's hand
And write to her a love-line.

All's Well That Ends Well Act 2, scene 1, 72–78

The King of France, deathly ill, has been disappointed by so many supposed remedies that he's given up on medicine and despaired of recovery. The old lord Lafew, however, insists that there's one doctor who can save the king, the heroine of the play, Helena. Helena has inherited not only her father's potent medicines, but an almost magical—even divine—healing power. Applying poetic images to convince the skeptical king, Lafew claims that Helena's medicine can "breathe life into a stone" and, synonymously, "Quicken a rock" (the images may derive from Genesis 2:7). Not content to stop there, Lafew proclaims the medicine's power to make even an aged, sickly king "dance canary" (canary is a particularly taxing dance). The medicine—and the person of Helena—could, in a pinch, raise Charlemagne's father Pepin from the grave, and then Charlemagne himself. Helena never does quicken a rock, nor does Charlemagne dash off any amorous notices, but she does eventually cure the king.

Themes: passion, expressions and idioms, medicine

Speakers: Lafew

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