At the royal court, the king decides not to interfere in a dispute between the Italian cities of Siena and Florence. However, he says that any French gentlemen who wants to go and join the fight are free to do so, on either side they wish. Bertram, Lafew, and Parolles then arrive from Rossillion, and the king remarks on how much Bertram resembles his late father, an old friend of his. He wishes he had the “corporeal soundness” he and Bertram’s father both had in their youth, but laments that “haggish age” wore both of them down.
The king’s first appearance in the play is filled with sadness and pessimism. He has lost all hope of recovering from his illness, takes no interest in foreign affairs, and laments his feeble old age. Later in the play, the king will undergo a striking shift and become optimistic, urging his fellow characters to move toward a happy, comic ending.
The king describes the wit, honor, and virtue of Bertram’s father, and says that the current generation cannot live up to his example. The king then suddenly wishes he were dead like Bertram’s father. He remembers how the late count used to say that he didn’t want to live “after my flame lacks oil,” and wishes that he would die, since he is now ill and weak. He asks Bertram about the famous physician of Rossillion (Helen’s father), who died six months ago. He says that if this doctor were still alive, he would perhaps be able to cure him. He welcomes Bertram to the royal court.
The king expresses a definite estimation of the innate character of Bertram’s father. Again, the king is severely pessimistic and has no hope of getting better. The absence of Helen’s doctor, with his miraculous ability to heal, suggests that all hope of remedy and resolution is gone, and out of the realm of possibility now. But all this will soon change.