William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 4

— 2.4 —

Ned Poins was in a room in the Boar’s-Head Tavern in Eastcheap.

Prince Hal entered a room of the Boar’s-Head Tavern, saw Poins in another room, and called to him, “Ned! Come out of that hot room and laugh with me until Falstaff and the others arrive.”

Poins entered the room that Prince Hal was in and said, “Where have you been, Hal?”

“I have been with three or four blockhead bartenders in the midst of sixty or eighty barrels of wine and ale in the cellar. I have been with some of the lowest members of the working class. Now I am a sworn brother to a trio of bartenders, and I can call them all by their Christian names: Tom, Dick, and Francis. They swear to God that, although I am only the Prince of Wales, yet I am the King of Courtesy. They tell me that I am not a Proud Jack like Falstaff. Instead, I am a Corinthian — a jolly drinking buddy — as well as a lad of mettle and a good man. That’s what they call me. And they say that when I am King of England, all the good lads in Eastcheap will support me. In addition, they have been teaching me their lingo. They call drinking deep ‘dyeing scarlet’ because of the effect that alcoholism has on the color of the alcoholic’s face. When someone pauses to breathe while chugging, they cry, ‘Ahem!’ and bid the drinker to finish off the drink. After spending just fifteen minutes with them, I am so proficient in their lingo that I can drink with any tinker using his own language throughout my life. I tell you, Ned, you have lost out by not being with me during this lesson. But, Ned, to sweeten your life, I give you this pennyworth of sugar, clapped just now into my hand by an apprentice bartender, one who has never spoken any words in his life other than those needed in his job as a bartender: ‘Eight shillings and sixpence’ and ‘You are welcome’ and ‘Coming in a moment, sir’ and ‘Charge a pint of Spanish sweet wine in the Half-Moon Room’ and so on. But, Ned, to pass the time until Falstaff comes, please stand in some neighboring room, while I question the young bartender who gave me the sugar about how I should use that sugar. Of course, I know that it is to be used to sweeten wine. While I talk to the bartender, you keep calling his name: Francis. This will confuse him and all his conversation will consist of ‘Coming!’ This will be funny now and set the tone for the fun we will have at Falstaff’s expense later.”

Poins went into a neighboring room and called, “Francis!”

“That’s perfect,” Prince Hal said to Poins.

Francis entered the room Prince Hal was in. He called, “Coming!” to Poins, and to a bartender in the room he had just left he called, “Look after the Pomegranate Room, Ralph.”

Prince Hal said, “Come here, Francis.”

“Yes, my lord. What do you need?” Francis replied.

“How long have you been an apprentice bartender, Francis?”

“Two years, so I have five more years of apprenticeship to serve, and —”

Poins called from the other room, “Francis!”

“Coming!” Francis called back.

“Two years, and five more years to go!” Prince Hal said. “That’s a long apprenticeship for the clinking of pewter mugs! Francis, could you be so brave a person as to be a coward when it comes to your apprenticeship and run away from it?”

“I swear on all the Bibles in England that I —”

“Francis!” Poins called.

“Coming, sir!” Francis called.

“How old are you, Francis?” Prince Hal asked.

“Let’s see. At the next Michaelmas — September 29th — I will be —”

“Francis!” Poins called.

“Coming, sir!” Francis called. To Prince Hal, he asked, “Can you wait a moment, sir, and let me take care of that customer?”

Prince Hal replied, “No, but listen, Francis, the sugar you gave me was a penny’s worth, wasn’t it?”

“Lord, I wish that it had been worth two pennies!”

“In return for it, I will give you a thousand pounds,” Prince Hal said. “Ask for it whenever you want it, and you shall get it.”

“Francis!” Poins called.

“At once, sir!” Francis called to Poins.

“You want the thousand pounds at once, Francis?” Prince Hal said. “No, Francis. Not at once, Francis. But tomorrow, Francis; or, Francis, on Thursday; or indeed, Francis, whenever you want it. But, Francis —”

“Yes, my lord?”

Prince Hal said, “If you run away from your apprenticeship, you will rob a leather-jacket-with-crystal-buttons-wearing, short-haired, agate-ring-wearing, wool-socks-with-plain-garters-wearing, unctuous-speaking man with a money pouch of Spanish leather.”

Prince Hal was describing the owner of the tavern, who would lose financially if Francis did not serve the remainder of his apprenticeship. Although not in plain words, Prince Hal was hinting to Francis that if he left his master, then Prince Hal would find a place for him at the King’s palace. Such a place would greatly improve Francis’ life — and so be worth at least figuratively a thousand pounds. All Francis had to do was to be clever enough to know what Prince Hal was offering him and to say that yes, he was willing to run away from his master and apprenticeship and to take action to improve his life.

Unfortunately, Francis asked, “Sir, who do you mean?”

“If you don’t know who I mean, then you are doomed to have wine stain your white shirts,” Prince Hal said.

He added, “In Barbary, sir, it cannot come to so much.”

By this, Prince Hal meant that in Barbary — or anywhere but here and now — a penny’s worth of sugar would not be worth a thousand pounds or a life-changing job.

Francis, who — like most of us — was not clever enough to respond the right way to Prince Hal’s semi-doubletalk, merely asked, “What, sir?”

“Francis!” Poins called.

“Go, Francis,” Prince Hal said. “Don’t you hear him calling you?”

At the same time, both Prince Hal and Poins called, “Francis!”

Francis stood, mouth open, not knowing what to do.

Francis’ master, the innkeeper, entered the room that Prince Hal and Francis were in and said, “Francis, why are you standing still and doing nothing when so many customers are calling you? Go and do your job.”

Francis departed.

The innkeeper then said to Prince Hal, “My lord, old Sir John Falstaff, with half-a-dozen more men, are at the door. Shall I let them in?”

Prince Hal replied, “Let them wait for a few more minutes. I will let you know when to open the door to them.”

The innkeeper departed, and Prince Hal called, “Poins.”

Poins entered the room, saying, as Francis so often did, “Coming, sir!”

Prince Hal said, “Falstaff and the rest of the thieves are at the door. Are we ready to laugh at them?”

“We shall be as merry as grasshoppers in the summer,” Poins said. “But what was the point of your jesting with Francis?”

“The jest with Francis served as the prologue to the upcoming jest with Falstaff,” Prince Hal said. “I am now in the mood for humor although I am also ready for any other mood. Jests have been played since the old days of Adam and Eve until this present time: right now at midnight.”

Prince Hal thought, I am in the mood for humor, but I realize that many, many people lack the leisure or the temperament for humor. Some people are over-burdened by work and are unable to participate in fun even when it would be advantageous for them to do so.

Francis re-entered the room carrying a bottle of wine.

Prince Hal asked him, “What time is it?”

Francs ignored Prince Hal and said, “Coming, sir!” He left the room.

Prince Hal said, “I am amazed that this apprentice bartender should speak fewer words than a parrot and yet he is the son of a woman! His life consists only of running downstairs to get wine and running upstairs to serve it. His conversation consists only of telling customers the size of their bar bills.”

Prince Hal thought of a person whose life resembled Francis’ in being single-sided. Francis’ life consisted of work. Hotspur’s life consisted of seeking glory and honor. Neither seemed to have any time for fun or to value it.

Prince Hal said, “My mind is not yet like the mind of Hotspur of the north. Hotspur kills some six or seven dozen Scots during breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, ‘I hate this quiet life! I want work.’ She replies, ‘Oh, my sweet Harry, how many have you killed today?’ Hotspur says, ‘Give my roan horse a medicinal drink,’ and then answers his wife, ‘Approximately fourteen.’ An hour later, he calls the number ‘a trifle, a trifle.’”

Prince Hal thought, Francis and Hotspur are different in one way. Francis works all the time. Hotspur would like more work — he would like more battles in which to kill people.

He also thought, I am getting an education about the lower classes. I know a lot about the lowlifes who are robbers: the criminal lower class. Now I know more about the working lower class. Francis is a blockhead, but no wonder — all his time is filled with work. He will be an apprentice for seven years in a job that should require very little time to master. I am fortunate in that I have time for leisure and fun.

Prince Hal then called to the innkeeper, “Please, let Falstaff in.”

He then said to Poins, “We will have a play extempore. I’ll play Percy, and that damned fat boar Falstaff shall play Hotspur’s wife.”

He looked at the entrance to the room and added, “‘Yahoo!’ says the drunkard. Here comes Sir Ribs! Here comes Sir Tallow.”

Falstaff, Gadshill, Bardolph, and Peto entered the room. Francis followed them, bringing wine.

Poins said, “Welcome, Jack. Where have you been?”

Falstaff replied, “A plague on all cowards, I say — make that a plague and a vengeance, too! Amen to that! Give me a cup of sack, Francis. Before I lead this life any longer, I’ll sew stockings and mend them and make new bottoms for them, too. A plague on all cowards! Give me a cup of sack, Francis. Isn’t anyone courageous any more?”

Prince Hal said to Poins, “Have you ever seen the Sun, sometimes called Titan by Homer in mythology, kiss a dish of butter? The butter melts and flows just like the wine that is flowing down Falstaff’s throat. Look at Falstaff right now, and you will see the Sun kiss a dish of butter. Falstaff is the Sun, and the sack is the butter that is melting into nothingness.”

Falstaff chugged the wine and then said to Francis, “You rogue, there’s lime in this sack! You added the lime to bad wine to make it seem to be better than it is! Men are villains and rogues and cheats, but a coward is worse than a cup of sack with lime in it. A villainous coward! You may as well end your days and die, old Jack, because manhood, good manhood, has been forgotten upon the face of the earth. If it has not, then I am as skinny as a pole. There live not three good men unhanged in England, and one of them is fat and grows old. God help us all in these bad times! We live in a bad world, I say. I wish I were a Puritan weaver so I could sing psalms at my work. And still I say this: a plague on all cowards!”

“Weaver, huh?” Prince Hal said. “What’s wrong, you huge bale of wool? What are you muttering about?”

“A King’s son, huh?” Falstaff said. “I really ought to get myself a theatrical prop that looks like a dagger and drive you out of the kingdom like the Devil is driven away in old religious plays. While I’m at it, I ought to drive all of your subjects before you like a flock of wild geese! In fact, if I don’t do that, I swear never again to wear hair on my face. You call yourself the Prince of Wales!”

Prince Hal replied, “Why, you fat son of a whore, what’s the matter?”

“Are you not a coward?” Falstaff asked. “Answer me that. And is not Poins there also a coward?”

Poins said, “By God, you fat paunch, if you call me a coward, I’ll stab you.”

“Am I calling you a coward?” Falstaff said. “No, I am not calling you a coward, but — damn you! — I would give a thousand pounds if I could run as fast as you can. You have good posture — you must because you don’t care who sees your back. Do you call what you did backing up your friends? A plague on such backing! Give me friends who will stand face forward and not turn their backs. Give me a cup of sack — I am a rogue if I have drunk today.”

Francis handed him a cup of sack.

“Liar!” Prince Hal said. “Your lips are scarcely wiped since the last time you drank!”

“Yes, and so what?” Falstaff replied.

He drank deeply, and then he said, “I still say this: A plague on all cowards!”

“What’s wrong?” Prince Hal asked.

“What’s wrong!” Falstaff said. “Four of us here stole a thousand pounds early this morning.”

“Where is it, Jack?” Prince Hal asked. “Where is it?”

“Where is it! Taken from us it was! A hundred men set upon the poor four of us.”

Prince Hal pretended to be surprised and exclaimed, “What, a hundred men?”

“I am a rogue, if I were not fighting at close quarters with a dozen of them for two hours. I have escaped only by a miracle. Their swords cut through my shirt eight times and through my trousers four times. My shield has been pierced again and again; my sword is hacked like a handsaw — look at it!”

Falstaff raised his sword so that Prince Hal and Poins could look at its edge, which was jagged as if it had been used in fighting, and then he said, “I never fought better since I became a man, but even my best was not enough. A plague on all cowards!”

Falstaff pointed to Peto and Gadshill and said, “Let them speak: If they speak more or less than the truth, and anything but the truth, they are lowlifes and the sons of darkness.”

Prince Hal asked, “Speak, sirs. What happened?”

Gadshill began to speak, “We four men set upon some dozen —”

Falstaff interrupted, “Sixteen at least.”

Gadshill continued, “And bound them.”

Peto said, “No, no, they were not bound.”

Falstaff interrupted, “You rogue, they were bound, every man of them. If they were not, then I am a Jew — a Hebrew Jew.”

Gadshill continued, “As we were divvying the money, some six or seven fresh men set upon us —”

Falstaff interrupted, “And unbound the rest, and then in came some other men.”

Prince Hal asked, “What, fought you with them all?”

Falstaff replied, “All! I know not what you call all; but if I fought with fewer than fifty of them, I am as skinny as spaghetti. If fifty-two or fifty-three people did not fight poor fat old me, then I walk on four legs and not two.”

Prince Hal said, “Pray to God that you did not murder any of them.”

“It’s too late to pray for that,” Falstaff replied. “I made it hot for two of them. They have died and gone to Hell. I am sure that two of them are roasting: two rogues in buckram suits. I tell you what, Hal, if I tell you a lie, spit in my face and call me a stupid horse.”

Falstaff continued, “You know my style of fighting.” He assumed a fencing position and added, “Like this I stood and thus I bore my sword. Four rogues in buckram attacked me —”

“What, four?” Prince Hal said. “You said there were but two just now.”

“Four, Hal,” Falstaff replied. “I told you four.”

To encourage Falstaff to continue lying, Poins took his side: “True. He said four.”

“These four attacked me and mightily thrust their swords at me. I did not panic but took the points of their seven swords in my shield.”

“Seven men attacked you?” Prince Hal said. “There were just four a moment ago.”

“In buckram?” Falstaff asked.

Ned Poins said, “Yes, four, in buckram suits.”

“Seven,” Falstaff said. “I swear by the hilts that form a cross on my sword, or I am a villain else.”

Prince Hal said, “Ned, let him alone. We shall hear about even more fighters soon.”

“Did you hear me, Hal?” Falstaff asked.

“Not only did I hear you, but I am keeping count, too,” Prince Hal replied.

“My tale is well worth paying attention to,” Falstaff said. “These nine fighters in buckram that I told you about —”

“See, two more already,” Prince Hal said to Poins.

“The points of their swords broke against my shield —”

“And they were so afraid they peed their pants,” Poins said.

“They began to back away from me,” Falstaff continued. “I followed them closely, attacked, and as quickly as thought I stabbed seven of the eleven of them.”

Prince Hal exclaimed, “How monstrous! Eleven men in buckram grown out of two!”

Falstaff continued, “But, as the Devil would have it, three misbegotten knaves wearing Kendal green outfits came at my back and let drive at me; for it was so dark, Hal, that you could not even see your hand.”

“These lies are like their father who begets them: huge as a mountain and obvious and easily perceived,” Prince Hal said to Poins.

He said to Falstaff, “Why, you clay-brained guts, you blockheaded fool, you son of a whore, you obscene pan that that catches the drippings of grease from a roasted bird —”

“What’s wrong?” Falstaff asked. “Are you insane? Is not the truth the truth?”

Prince Hal asked, “Why, how could you know that these men were wearing Kendal green, when it was so dark that you could not see your hand? Come on and tell us how you knew. What do you have to say, Jack?”

“Yes, Jack,” Poins said, “Tell us how you knew.”

“You forgot to say ‘please,’” Falstaff said. “I will not answer the questions of any men who forget to say ‘please’ — I will not answer their questions even if I were being tortured on the rack or if my hands were tied behind me and then I was lifted into the air by my hands. I would not answer your question even if you said ‘please’ now — it’s too late! Give you an answer without you saying ‘please’ — I think not. I am offended by your lack of courtesy, really I am. I will not answer questions upon compulsion.”

Prince Hal said, “I will be no longer guilty of this sin. You are a bloody coward! You are a breaker of beds! You are a breaker of horses’ backs! You are a huge hill of flesh!”

Falstaff gave as good as he got — and more: “You are a starveling! You are the skin of an eel! You are the tongue of an ox! You are the penis of a bull! You are a long, skinny, dried codfish! I wish that I had more breath so that I could mention everything that you resemble! You are the yardstick of a tailor! You are the sheath of a sword! You are the case of a violin bow! You are a vile upright rapier!”

Falstaff started to gasp for breath.

Prince Hal said, “Catch your breath, and then again make your comparisons. When you have tired of comparing me to long, skinny objects, then listen to what I have to say.”

He waited a moment, but Falstaff continued to breathe heavily.

Poins said, “Listen carefully, Jack.”

Prince Hal said, “Poins and I saw you, Gadshill, Peto, and Bardolph rob four travelers and tie them up. You had all their money. Listen to the truth about what happened thereafter. Poins and I attacked you — not with swords but with a few words. You cowards ran away, and we took the money. We have it, and we can show it to you in this inn. And, Falstaff, you carried your guts away as nimbly, with as quick dexterity, and roared for mercy and still ran and roared, as ever I heard a bull calf run and bellow. What a base joker you are to hack up your sword as you have done, and then say your sword was damaged in a fight! Now, explain yourself. What trick, what device, what hiding-place can you now find that will protect you from your obvious and apparent shame?”

“Come, Jack,” Poins said. “Speak up. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Falstaff replied, “With God as my witness, I say that I knew you as well as He Who made you! I knew that the men who robbed us were you two the whole time!”

He turned to Prince Hal and said, “Was I going to kill the heir apparent? Was I going to attack the true Prince? Of course not! Why, you know that I am as brave as Hercules, but instinct prevails. According to legend, the lion will not harm the true Prince. Instinct is a great matter; I was a coward by instinct. I shall think the better of both of us during my life. I am a valiant lion, and you are a true Prince. But, by the Lord, lads, I am glad you have the money!”

Falstaff then tried to change the subject. He turned to a doorway and shouted, “Hostess, shut the doors. We will party late tonight, and then pray tomorrow.”

The Hostess heard him and went to shut the doors.

Falstaff then said to everyone, “Gallants, lads, boys, hearts of gold, all the titles of good fellowship come to you! Shall we be merry? Shall we have a play extempore?”

“Good idea,” Prince Hal said, “and the topic of the play shall be your running away in fear.”

“Let us hear no more about that, Hal,” Falstaff said, “if you are my friend.”

The Hostess entered the room and said, “Prince Hal, there is trouble.”

Prince Hal replied, “Hostess, what is going on?”

“My lord, there is a nobleman of the court at the door who wishes to speak with you. He says that he comes from your father the King.”

Prince Hal did not want to talk to him: “He is a noble, and a noble is worth six shillings and eight pence. Give him a royal, which is worth ten shillings. That will make him a royal man, and you can send him to my mother without his talking to me.”

Falstaff knew that Prince Hal’s mother was dead and that he wanted to get rid of the nobleman without speaking to him.

Falstaff asked, “What kind of man is he?”

The Hostess replied, “An old man.”

“I wonder what an old man is doing out of bed so late at night. It’s midnight,” Falstaff said. He asked Prince Hal, “Shall I talk to him?”

“Please do, Jack,” Prince Hal said.

“I’ll send him packing,” Falstaff promised. He left the room.

Prince Hal said to Gadshill, “You fought well.”

He added, “So did you, Peto, and so did you, Bardolph. You are lions, too. You also ran away by instinct — you will not touch the true Prince.”

Bardolph said, “I ran when I saw others run.”

Prince Hal asked, “Tell me the truth. How did Falstaff’s sword come to be so hacked up?”

Peto replied, “He hacked it with his dagger, and he swore that he would make you believe it was done in a fight — in fact, he said that he would swear his lies so strongly that truth would be banished from England — and he persuaded us to do the same thing.”

“That he did,” Bardolph said. “He persuaded us to tickle our noses with spear-grass to make them bleed, and then to beslubber our garments with the blood and swear that it was the blood of true men. I did something that I have not done for seven years: I blushed to hear his monstrous devices.”

“Liar!” Prince Hal said, looking at Bardolph’s face, which was red from his alcoholism and scarred and marred from pimples and pustules and carbuncles and boils. “You stole a cup of sack eighteen years ago, and were caught and so blushed. Ever since, you have drunk sack and acquired a permanent blush. Most people are caught red-handed; you were caught red-complexioned.

“But, Bardolph, you had the fire of your face and you had your sword, and yet you ran away. What instinct of yours made you do that?”

Bardolph pointed to his own face and said, “My lord, do you see these flaming-red meteors that I have had for a long time? Meteors often predict the future.”

“I do see them.”

“What then-coming events do you think they were evidence of?”

“A liver grown hot and a wallet grown empty because of alcoholism.”

“The correct answer, my lord, is choler, or an angry temperament. I am no coward.”

“Given your profession and your alcoholism, I think that they are predicting a collar,” Prince Hal replied. “You will be collared by the officers of the law, and most likely after that you will wear a different kind of collar — a halter, also known as a hangman’s noose.” 

Falstaff entered the room.

Prince Hal said, “Here comes lean Jack, here comes bare-bone. How are you, my sweet creature of cotton padding and high-sounding nonsense! How long ago has it been, Jack, since you last saw your own knees?”

“My own knees! Why, when I was about your age, Hal, I was not as large as an eagle’s talon in the waist. I could have slipped into any alderman’s thumb-ring and worn it as a belt. A plague on sighing and grief — it blows a man’s waist up like a balloon!”

He added, “There’s villainous news abroad. The old man at the door was Sir John Bracy, who was sent by your father. You must go to the palace in the morning. There is trouble from that mad fellow of the north, Hotspur, and from the magician of Wales, he who beat with a club the Devil named Amamon and made horns grow on Lucifer by cuckolding him and forced the Devil to swear to be his servant upon the cross of a Welsh hook — which does not have a cross. What is his name?”

Poins said, “Glendower.”

“Owen Glendower,” Falstaff said. “Yes, that is his name. Also causing trouble is his son-in-law Mortimer, and the old Earl of Northumberland, and that sprightly Scot of Scots: the Earl of Douglas, who runs on horseback up a hill perpendicularly.”

Prince Hal said, “Douglas: He who is supposed to ride at high speed and with his pistol kill a flying sparrow.”

“You have hit the nail on the head,” Falstaff said.

“He never hit the sparrow in the head,” Prince Hal replied.

“Douglas has good metal in his bullets and good mettle — courage — in himself,” Falstaff said. “He will not run.”

“Didn’t you just say that he runs on horseback up a hill perpendicularly?” Prince Hal asked.

Falstaff said, “You are acting like a cuckoo when you repeat my words without distinguishing their meaning. Douglas will run — ride fast — on horseback. But he will not run — flee in fear — on foot. Is this clear? He will run on horseback, but on foot he will not budge an inch. On foot he will not run away.”

“Yes, he will,” Prince Hal, who was still in a mood for humor, said. “He will run away by instinct.”

Falstaff shrugged and said, “Fair enough. He will run by instinct. Anyway, Douglas is causing trouble, as are Mordake and a thousand Scots. People are rebelling against your father the King. The Earl of Worcester is part of the rebellion. He has gone to Wales to meet Glendower. Your father’s beard has turned white with the news. People are worried: You may buy land now as cheap as stinking mackerel. In times of war, people sell cheap what they are afraid they will lose.”

Growing serious, Prince Hal said, “It is likely if we still have civil war this coming June, we shall buy maidenheads as carpenters buy hobnails, by the hundreds. Women and girls will be selling their bodies so that they can buy food.”

For Falstaff, this was not a dismal prospect: “By God, Hal, that is true. It is likely that we shall have good trading that way.”

Falstaff added, “Tell me, Hal. Aren’t you horribly afraid? You are the heir apparent. Could anyone pick three worst enemies for you to fight than the fiend Douglas, the brave Hotspur, and that Devil Glendower? Aren’t you horribly afraid? Doesn’t your blood grow cold with fear?”

Prince Hal answered honestly, “No. I lack some of your instinct.”

“When you see your father tomorrow, you will have to face his anger,” Falstaff said. “Here’s an idea: Why don’t we rehearse that meeting so that you can practice what you will say?”

“Good idea,” Prince Hal said. “You pretend to be my father the King. Ask me questions about how I am living my life.”

“Shall I?” Falstaff, who was very willing to play that part in a play, asked. “Yes. This chair shall be my throne, this dagger shall be my scepter, and this cushion shall be my crown.”

“Understood,” Prince Hal said. “Your throne is a chair in a tavern, your golden scepter is a lead dagger, and your precious rich crown is a pitiful bald crown.”

“If virtue is not completely absent from you, you shall now be moved,” Falstaff said. “Give me a cup of sack to make my eyes look red, so that it may be thought I have wept — I must speak with deep emotion, and I will do it in King Cambyses’ vein with lots of ranting and raving like the bombastic character in Thomas Preston’s bombastic old play.”

“Allow me to bow to you,” Prince Hal said, and he bowed.

“And allow me to speak,” Falstaff said. He asked his audience in the bar to give him a little room: “Stand aside, nobility.”

The Hostess laughed at being called a member of nobility and said, “Oh, Falstaff is so funny!”

Falstaff said to her, “Weep not, sweet Queen; for trickling tears are vain.”

The Hostess laughed and said, “I don’t see how he can keep a straight face!”

Falstaff said, “Lords, escort my tristful Queen a few steps away for tears do fill the flood-gates of her eyes.”

The Hostess, “Oh, he does this character just like one of those rascally real actors!”

“Quiet, my little pot of ale. Quiet, my little Queen with the booze-tickled brain,” Falstaff said to the Hostess.

To Prince Hal, he said, “Harry, I am amazed not only by where you spend your time but also by the company you keep. The more the chamomile plant is trodden down, the faster it grows, but the more youth is wasted, the quicker it disappears. That you are my son, I have partly your mother’s word, partly my own opinion, but chiefly an evil glint in your eye and a silly-looking droop of your lower lip, both of which you inherited from me. If you are my son, then why, since you are my son, are you so gossiped about and criticized? Shall you, the blessed son of the King, turn out to be a truant and eat blackberries instead of doing your work? This question should not be asked of any heir apparent. Shall the son of the King turn out to be a thief and steal wallets? This question must be asked of this particular heir apparent: you. There is a thing, Harry, that you have often heard of — many in our land know it by the name of pitch, or sticky tar. This pitch, as many ancient writers have stated, makes people dirty — and so does the company you keep, Harry. I am speaking to you now, Harry, not befuddled by alcohol but as one who is weeping, not in pleasure but in sorrow, not just with words but also with woes. Yet, Harry, I have often noticed near you a virtuous man, but I don’t know his name.”

“Describe him to me, please, your majesty,” Prince Hal requested.

“He is a handsome, portly man. He is portly in the sense of being stately — and fat. He has a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble way of carrying himself. And I think his age is around fifty.”

Falstaff’s audience laughed. Falstaff was much more than fifty years old.

Falstaff continued, “Or perhaps sixty years old. Ah, now I remember — his name is Falstaff. If that man should be evilly inclined, Harry, I am deceived, for I see virtue in his looks. If the tree may be known by the fruit, as the fruit is known by the tree, then — emphatically I say it — there is virtue in that man. Keep him as your friend, and banish all the rest from your presence. Now, Harry, you naughty boy, tell me where you have been for the past month.”

“Do you think that you sound like my father the King?” Prince Hal said. “Let’s switch roles. You play me, and I will play my father.”

“Are you deposing me?” Falstaff joked. “If you play the King half as well and half as majestically as I did, both in word and bearing, then hang me up by my heels like a baby rabbit sold by a man who sells chicken carcasses.”

Prince Hal sat in the chair and said, “I am ready.”

“As am I,” Falstaff said. “Members of the audience, judge which of us is the better actor.”

Prince Hal said, “Harry, from where have you come?”

“My noble lord, from Eastcheap,” Falstaff replied.

“The complaints I hear about you are grievous.”

“My lord, they are lies,” Falstaff said to Prince Hal. To the members of the audience, he said, “I will play a young Prince who will amuse you.”

“Can you really swear to that, you profane boy?” Prince Hal asked. “From here on, never see me again. You are violently being turned away from all that is good. A Devil who has taken on the appearance of an old fat man is haunting you; your companion is an alcoholic barrel of a man. Why do you talk with that trunk of diseases, that bin of beastliness, that swollen parcel of bodily fluids, that huge jug of sack, that carrying case of guts, that Essex roasted ox with stuffing in its belly, that ancient figure of Vice who leads people into immorality, that grey-haired corrupter of youth, that father ruffian, that aged vanity?”

Prince Hal paused, and then he continued, “For what is he good, but to taste sack and drink it? In which activity is he neat and skillful, but to carve a chicken and eat it? In what is he skillful and cunning, but in crafty deceit? In what is he crafty, but in villainy? In what is he villainous, but in all things? In what is he worthy, but in nothing?”

Falstaff replied, “I do not understand you, my lord. Please explain.”

“I am talking about that villainous abominable misleader of youth. He is named Falstaff, and he is an old, white-bearded Satan.”

“My lord, this man I know,” Falstaff said.

“I know you do.”

“But to say I know more harm in him than in myself, would be to say more than I know,” Falstaff said.

This line got a big laugh from everyone except Prince Hal.

Falstaff continued, “It is true that he is old, but that is to be pitied — his white hairs do witness that he is old. But to say that he is — I beg your pardon for my language — a whoremaster, that is something I utterly deny. If drinking sack and sugar is a fault, God help the wicked! If to be old and merry is a sin, then many an old host whom I know is damned. If to be fat is to be hated, then the Egyptian Pharaoh’s seven lean cattle that prophesied seven years of famine in his dream are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins. But sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, do not banish him from your Harry’s company because if you banish plump Jack, then you banish all the world.”

Prince Hal said coldly, “I do. I will.”

A very loud knocking at the door interrupted the play. The Hostess, Francis, and Bardolph went to see who was knocking.

A panicked Bardolph quickly came running into the room where the impromptu play was being held.

Bardolph said to Prince Hal, “Oh, my lord! The Sheriff and several officers of the law are at the door!”

Falstaff wanted to continue the play. He yelled at Bardolph, “Out, you rogue! Let us finish the play: I have much to say on behalf of Falstaff.”

The panicked Hostess entered the room but could say only, “My lord!”

An unpanicked Prince Hal asked the Hostess, “What’s the matter? What mischief is afoot?”

“The Sheriff and lots of officers of the law are at the door. They have come to search the house. Shall I let them in?”

Hearing that, Falstaff was able to guess immediately why they wanted to search the inn: They were searching for evidence that would convict — and hang — the men who had robbed the travelers of 300 marks.

Falstaff said, “Did you hear that, Hal? What are you going to do? A true piece of gold should never be called a counterfeit. Despite some appearances to the contrary, you are true to your friends and would not turn your friends over to officers of the law so that they can be hanged.”

In the play, Prince Hal had spoken the truth about Falstaff being a corrupter of youth, and he was half-tempted to let Falstaff hang. He said, “You, Falstaff, are a coward by nature, and not by instinct.”

“I deny that I am a coward by nature, although I do not deny that I am a coward by instinct,” Falstaff said. “If you will not let the Sheriff in and so keep him from arresting me, fine. But if you want to let the Sheriff in so that he can arrest me, that is also fine. I can be drawn in a cart to the gallows as well as any other man. Perhaps that has always been my future. I can hang as well as another man.”

Prince Hal decided to be merciful. He ordered, “Falstaff, hide yourself in the little alcove hidden by that wall hanging. All of the rest of you, go upstairs so that you are not seen. Now all of us need honest faces and good consciences.”

“I used to have those two things, but that was long ago,” Falstaff said. “Therefore, I will hide.”

Because the Hostess was still panicked, Prince Hal said to Peto, “Let the Sheriff in.”

Peto opened the door and let in the Sheriff, one of the travelers who had been robbed, and some officers of the law. The traveler did not recognize Peto, who had worn a mask during the robbery.

Prince Hal, whom the Sheriff recognized, asked politely, “How can I help you?”

“First, pardon me, my lord,” the Sheriff said. “We are searching for the men who robbed four travelers recently. Information that we have received has led us to this inn, where we think we will find the men we are seeking.”

“Which men are they?” Prince Hal asked.

The Sheriff replied, “One of them is well known, my gracious lord. He is a massively fat man.”

The traveler said, “As fat as butter.”

Prince Hal replied, “I know the man you mean, but he is not here. I myself have employed the man on an errand.”

This was true, equivocally. Falstaff was not in the room itself, but he was in an alcove in a wall of the room. And Prince Hal had ordered Falstaff to hide, so Falstaff’s errand was to stay hidden until the Sheriff had left.

Prince Hal continued, “Sheriff, I give you my word that by noon tomorrow I will send him to you so that he can be questioned about anything he is accused of doing. And now let me ask you to leave this inn.”

The heir apparent was a person to be obeyed. The Sheriff said, “I will, my lord.”

But he added, “Four men have been robbed, two of whom — gentlemen — lost three hundred marks in the robbery.”

“I don’t doubt you,” Prince Hal said. “If the fat man has robbed these men, he shall pay the penalty. And now, farewell.”

“Good night, my noble lord,” the Sheriff said.

“I think it is early morning, isn’t it?” Prince Hal asked.

“Yes, my lord,” the Sheriff replied. “I think it is two o’clock.”

The Sheriff, the traveler, and the officers of the law departed, leaving behind Prince Hal and Peto.

Prince Hal said to Peto, “This oily rascal Falstaff is as well known as St. Paul’s Cathedral. Go and call him.”

Peto called, “Falstaff!”

He lifted the wall hanging, looked at Falstaff, and said, “He is fast asleep, and snorting like a horse.”

Prince Hal listened and said, “He snores heavily. He is so fat that he works hard to draw in each breath.”

He then said to Peto, “Search his pockets.”

Peto followed Prince Hal’s order.

“What did you find?”

“Nothing but papers, my lord.”

“Let’s see what they are. Read one of them to me.”

Peto said, “Here is a tavern bill:

Item, A chicken, 2 shillings, 2 pence.

Item, Sauce, 4 pence.

Item, Sack, two gallons, 5 shillings, 8 pence.

Item, Anchovies and sack after supper, 2 shillings, 6 pence.

Item, Bread, a half-penny’s worth.

“That’s monstrous!” Prince Hal said. “Only a half-penny’s worth of bread to soak up so much wine! Keep all of Falstaff’s papers. We will read them later. We will let Falstaff sleep. In the morning, I will go to the palace. All of us must go and fight in the war. Peto, I will find a position in the army for you that shall be honorable. I will put this fat rogue Falstaff in charge of a company of foot soldiers, although I think that he will die if he walks 240 yards. The money that all of you stole will be paid back with interest. I will see you again after I see my father. And so, good morning, Peto.”

“Good morning, my lord,” Peto said.

They departed.

https://www.amazon.com/William-Shakespeares-Henry-aka-Part-ebook/dp/B00HT9V9UK

 

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