“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill go 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.”
In Current Language:
Life can be compared to a yarn, woven into an intricate metaphorical web, containing a mixture of good and bad. Shakespeare likes to convert abstract into concrete ideas or even ideas that have a material life and personality of their own. In this instance, it is as if both virtues and faults had an independent body and soul. Therefore, our virtues could be proud or make us proud, were it not that our faults whip our virtues. Equally, there would be no hope for our shortcomings – let alone crimes – were it not that our virtues act as a kind of remedies or rectifiers, providing a counterbalance to our failings.
Suggestions For Use:
The quote embodies a virtual yet persuasive psychological message of hope, when (depending of course on individual personalities), we are inclined to feel pessimistic and critical of ourselves on reviewing our life as lived so far. It can also be a message of encouragement for a friend who feels down in the proverbial dumps, due to whatever circumstances.
And although we may not register it, the image of those virtues whipped by our faults and of our faults feeling very depressed, contains a charge of mild humor. The humor may not be consciously perceived by the recipient of the quote (or even by us if we apply the quote to ourselves). But the indirectly amusing effect could help or invite us to see things in their proper perspective.
What Happens in the Actual Play:
Two French Lords comment on the virtues and faults of Bertram, a French count who deserted his wife to find fun and glory in a military adventure, aimed at bringing freedom and democracy to the city of Florence in Italy.
Historically, the plot is completely imaginary. It reflects, at large, a kind of hereditary perception of the French by the English as boastful, possibly as a product or leftover of the 100-year war. The distance in time between the 100-year war and Shakespeare is about the same as between the end of World War I and the present.
This English general perception of the French (during Shakespeare’s times) was reinforced less than 200 years later, fostered by the adventures of Napoleon Bonaparte at the end of the 18th and the first part of the 19th century. Though, for good or for bad, Bonaparte did have admirers in England as well.
The mingled yarn referred-to in the quote is the combination of valor and shamelessness displayed by Bertram (the French protagonist of the play).
In order to stay away from his wife Helen, whom he had married against his will, by order of the king, Bertram volunteered in a military expedition against Florence in Italy and showed valor in the siege of that city.
The valor represents the good in the quote. The ill represents the shameful behavior that Bertram displayed towards his wife.
In the play Bertram ends up recognizing his shameful behavior towards his wife. He repents and they live happily ever after. Which is why the play is called “All is Well that Ends Well.”
As mentioned in the suggestions for use, the quote belongs to what could perhaps be a sub-dictionary of Shakespearean psychology. It also reflects indirectly my personal and admittedly debatable opinion about the value of medical psychology at large.
Or rather, to know the history of how man has described his own spiritual self and the evolution of his ideas on the subject, through time and custom, is an inherently very interesting, useful and instructive subject.
Incidentally, the word – psychology or science of the soul – was probably coined by Melanchton, who lived from 1497 to 1560 and was a close collaborator of Luther.
However, as we know, during the last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th, the term has been mostly associated with Freud, whom I rate as a master of perversion and greed. He came up with the idea that all humans are perverts and, so as to accept their perversion and live happily ever after, they should part with their money and give it to Freudian psychologists.
The idea is sick, if ideas can be sick, and characteristic of a frame of mind and mode of thought whose consequences have been notorious ever since. Ideas heralded and promoted by those who themselves have a sick and perverted interest in distorting the principles of our spiritual beliefs, of our nature and of our civilization as we know it.