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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT I, SCENE 2
This scene shifts to Paris. There is a flourish as the King of France enters clutching letters in his hand. He is accompanied by lords and other nobles. The King says that both the Florentines and Senoys have fought equally well and are continuing to fight a brave battle. He indicates that he considers this war a mere training exercise for the many young soldiers who are eager to gain experience and valor in battle. At this moment Bertram, Lafeu, and Parolles enter.
The aging and sickly King affectionately welcomes Bertram to Paris. The King comments on Bertram's striking physical resemblance to his father and hopes that he has inherited his father's morality as well. The King wishes that he were as physically fit as in the days when he, along with Bertram's father, first tried his hand at being a soldier. He reminisces of the bygone days and praises Bertram's father for his courage and valor. He says that talking about Bertram's father soothes his falling spirits. He observes that such a man would serve as an excellent role model for the young generation of soldiers in his command.
The opening conversation between the King and the nobles provides the relevant background for the Florentine war. France has decided to deny Florence aid but will not restrain individual nobles and lords from serving the Duke. In fact, the war will be welcomed by the young lords who are starved for action and eager to head towards Italy in search of military glory. Their excitement and youthful vitality provides a striking contrast to the ailing King's physical frailty. While the lords are brimming with confidence, the King seeks refuge in days of bygone glory with his thoughtful reminiscence. The scene does much to establish the theme of youth vs. age.
The King welcomes Bertram heartily and comments on the striking physical resemblance he bears to his father. The King expresses hope that Bertram has also inherited his "father's moral parts". Like the Countess in the preceding scene, the King expresses hope, rather than conviction, that Bertram will inherit his father's moral steadfastness and virtuous qualities. The entire action assesses Bertram's capacity to fulfill this hope. An important and recurring theme of the play focuses on the moral frailty of the youth as contrasted with the steadfastness of the older generation.
The King feels a genuine sense of loss by Bertram's father's death. He eulogizes the late Count's character as one nearly perfect and praises his valor in warfare. Ironically, it is the late Count's ability to interact comfortably with men of varying social classes which receives the King's highest praise. The late Count made everyone feel as if they were his equals. He had the knack of treating his social inferiors with deference. The King sighs that he might have served as "a copy to these younger times" had he lived longer. The King's eulogy speaks pointedly to the difference between Bertram's father, who was blind to class issues, and Bertram, who will slowly prove himself to be quite arrogant and class conscious.