Summary and Analysis
Act I: Scene 2
Bertram presents himself at court in Paris just as the king is bidding his soldiers to fight in the Italian wars. The sight of Bertram, Lafeu, and Parolles spurs memories of former days:
I would I had that corporal soundness now,
As when thy father and myself in friendship
First tried our soldiership! (24-26)
At the end of this short scene, the king asks how long it has been since the court physician at Rousillon died; if he were still alive perhaps he could cure the king's illness.
Shakespeare broadly contrasts youth and age here, with Bertram greeting the feeble king while preparations are made for a war in which the young gentlemen of France can prove themselves. Note that the war is described as being more a training ground than anything else: "freely have they leave / To stand on either part" means they can fight for either Siena or Florence as far as the king is concerned. In this play, "honor" has a number of different connotations, one of which is the prestige a young man like Bertram can achieve in battle.
One remark which the king makes in describing Bertram's father has a bearing on the previous scene. The king says:
Who were below him he used as creatures of another place,
And bowed his eminent top to their low ranks,
Making them proud of his humility,
In their poor praise he humbled. (42-45)
The gist of the comment is that Bertram's father was not a social snob. Ironically, a motivating factor in Bertram's behavior toward Helena (whom we know to be sensitive to the issue) is just such snobbery.