William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 3

— 3.3 —

At the Boar’s-Head Tavern in Eastcheap, Bardolph and Falstaff were talking.

Falstaff said, “Bardolph, have I not lost weight since the robbery at Gadshill? Does not my weight decline? Do I not dwindle? Why, my skin hangs about me like an old lady’s loose gown. I am withered like a shriveled old apple. Well, I’ll repent, and that at once, now that I am in the mood and something still remains of my body. Soon, I will be in a different mood and bodily condition, and then I won’t have the strength to repent. If I have not forgotten what the inside of a church looks like, I am withered like a peppercorn or a decrepit horse that belongs to a brewer. Company, villainous company, has been the ruin of me.”

Bardolph said, “Sir John, you are so fretful and complain so much that you cannot live long.”

“You’re right,” Falstaff said. “Sing a bawdy song to me to make me merry. I have lived as virtuously as a gentleman needs to be. I have been virtuous enough. I have sworn only a little; gambled not … more than seven times a week; went to a bawdy-house not more than once … in a quarter of an hour; paid back money that I borrowed … three or four times; lived well and in good compass. Now I live out of all order, out of all compass.”

“Why, you are so fat, Sir John, that you must be out of all compass, out of all reasonable compass, Sir John,” Bardolph said. “Your girth vastly exceeds the average, so any belt that encompasses your belly will greatly exceed the average.”

Falstaff, who was not pleased to hear this, said to the fiery-faced Bardolph, “Fix your face, and I will fix my life. You are a flagship, as we can tell by the lantern, but a flagship has its lantern in the rear, and you bear a lantern in your nose. You are the Knight of the Burning Lamp.”

“Why, Sir John, my face does you no harm.”

“You are right, of course,” Falstaff said. “In fact, I make good use of your face. Many men have rings that are engraved with a Death’s-head, and many men keep skulls as a memento mori — a reminder of death — for all of us shall die some day. I never see your face but that I think about hell-fire and Dives, the rich man who wore purple; for there he is in his robes, burning, burning. If you were in any way virtuous, I would swear by your face. My oath would be ‘By this fire that is God’s angel’ because of all the accounts in the Bible of angels manifesting themselves as fire. Unfortunately, you are altogether given over to evil, and you would be, if not for the light in your face, the son of utter darkness. After the robbery, you ran up Gadshill at night to catch my horse, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t think you were an ignis fatuus or fireworks. If that isn’t true, then money won’t buy anything. Oh, you are a perpetual torch-lit procession, an everlasting bonfire-light! You have saved me a thousand marks in lamps and torches as I have walked with you in the night between tavern and tavern; however, the money for sack that you have drunk would have bought me much light at the shop of the most expensive candlemaker in Europe. Salamanders are thought to live in fire. I have maintained that salamander nose of yours with fire — and you with sack to make your nose red — for the past two and thirty years. May God reward me for it!”

Bardolph replied, “I wish that my face were in your belly!”

“Then God have mercy on me,” Falstaff said, “because I would be sure to suffer from heartburn.”

The Hostess entered the room.

“Hello, Dame Partlet the hen!” Falstaff said. “Have you inquired yet who picked my pockets?”

The Hostess, who was upset at the accusation of Falstaff’s pockets being picked in her inn, said, “Why, Sir John, what do you think, Sir John? Do you think I keep thieves in my house? I have searched, I have inquired, and so has my husband, man by man, boy by boy, servant by servant. The tenth part of a hair was never lost in my inn before.”

Falstaff replied, “You lie, Hostess. Bardolph was shaved and lost many a hair here, and I swear that my pockets were picked. You are a woman, so you know about deceit.”

The Hostess, who knew that Falstaff was capable of making witty insults and so was on guard against being insulted, replied, “Who is a woman? Am I? No! I deny what you said! By God, I was never called that in my own inn before.”

“Go on, I know you well enough,” Falstaff said.

The Hostess replied, “No, Sir John, you do not know me, Sir John. I know you, Sir John. You owe me money, Sir John, and now you pick a quarrel to beguile me of it. I bought you a dozen shirts to wear.”

“They were made of dowlas, filthy dowlas — cheap linen. I gave them to bakers’ wives to make sieves out of them.”

“As I am a true woman,” the Hostess said, “they were made out of fine linen — holland that cost eight shillings an ell. You also owe money here, Sir John, for your meals and for your drinks, and for money lent to you — four and twenty pounds.”

Falstaff pointed at Bardolph and said, “He had his part of it; let him pay.”

“He?” the Hostess said, “He is poor; he has nothing.”

“Poor?” Falstaff said. “Look at the red-gold and copper tones of his face. If he turns the red-gold and copper into coins, he will be rich. As for me, I will not pay the tenth part of a penny. Are you trying to treat me like an ignorant youngster? Can’t I even relax in an inn without having my pockets picked? I have lost a seal-ring of my grandfather’s that is worth forty marks.”

“I have heard the Prince say many times that your ring is only copper.”

“Ha!” Falstaff said. “Prince Hal is a rascal. He is a sneak. If he were here, I would beat him like a dog if he were to say that my ring is made of copper.” He grabbed a walking stick and demonstrated.

This speech was badly timed because Prince Hal and Peto entered the room, marching as if going to war. Falstaff pretended that the walking stick was a flute and he accompanied the marchers.

Falstaff said, “What is the news? By your actions, I can guess that we must all march off to war.”

“Yes, we must march,” Bardolph said. “We will march two by two in pairs like prisoners being taken to Newgate Prison.”

The Hostess said to Prince Hal, “My lord, please hear what I have to say.”

“What do you have to say, Mistress Quickly?” Prince Hal replied. “How is your husband? I much respect him, for he is an honest man.”

The Hostess repeated, “My good lord, listen to me.”

Falstaff knew what she wanted to say, and so he said to Prince Hal, “Ignore her, and listen to me.”

“What have you got to say, Jack?” Prince Hal said to Falstaff.

Falstaff said, “The other night I fell asleep here in the alcove behind the wall hanging and someone picked my pockets. This inn has apparently been turned into a bawdy-house; people pick pockets in whorehouses.”

Prince Hal, who knew exactly what Falstaff had had in his pockets, asked, “What did you lose, Jack?”

“Would you believe it, Hal,” Falstaff replied, “I lost three or four IOUs each worth forty pounds, and I lost a seal-ring that had belonged to my grandfather.”

“The ring was a trifle, worth around eight pennies,” Prince Hal said.

“That’s what I told him,” the Hostess said. “I said that I had heard you say so, and, my lord, he speaks most vilely of you, like the foul-mouthed man he is — he said that he would beat you with a stick.”

“What!” Prince Hal said. “Did he really say that?”

The Hostess replied, “There’s neither faith, truth, nor womanhood in me else.”

Falstaff, who did not want to get in trouble with the Prince, said to her, “There’s no more faith in you than in a stewed prune served in a whorehouse, or more accurately, there’s no more faith in you than in a whore. There is no more truth in you than in a fox that is willing to play every trick on hunters that it knows in order to get back safe and sound to its lair. As for womanhood, the wanton maid known as Marian is like the virtuous wife of an officer of the law or a preacher in comparison to you. Go away, you thing.”

“Thing?” the Hostess cried. “What kind of thing do you think I am?”

“What thing! Why, a thing to thank God for.”

Afraid that she had been insulted, the Hostess said, “I am no thing to thank God for — I wish you knew that! I am an honest man’s wife, and, even though you are a Knight, you are a knave to call me so.”

“Even though you are a woman, you are a beast to say that,” Falstaff said.

“What kind of beast am I, knave?” the Hostess asked.

“What kind of beast! Why, you are an otter.”

Surprised by the answer, Prince Hal asked, “An otter, Sir John? Why an otter?”

“Why, she’s neither fish nor flesh; a man knows not where to have her.”

Afraid once more that she had been insulted, the Hostess said, “You are wrong when you say that. You or any man knows where to have me, you knave, you!”

The Prince knew the sexual meaning of having a woman; he smiled and said, “Hostess, you say the truth, and Falstaff has slandered you most grossly.”

“He has lied about you, too,” the Hostess replied. “Just the other day he said that you owed him a thousand pounds.”

Prince Hal said to Falstaff, “Creep, do I owe you a thousand pounds?”

Quick-thinking Falstaff replied, “A thousand pounds, Hal? You owe me a million pounds. Your love is worth a million pounds, and you owe me your love.”

The Hostess said, “My lord, he called you a rascal, and he said he would beat you.”

Falstaff asked, “Did I, Bardolph?”

Falstaff expected Bardolph to back him up and say that he had not threatened to beat the Prince, but Bardolph was still sore about the comments that Falstaff had made about his face and replied, “Indeed, Sir John, you said so.”

“Yes, if he said my ring was copper,” Falstaff said.

“I do say that it is made of copper,” Prince Hal said. “Do you dare to be as good as your word now?”

“Why, Hal, you know, as you are a man, I dare. However, you are a Prince, and I fear you as a Prince as I fear the roaring of a lion’s pup.”

“And why not as the lion?”

“The King is to be feared as the lion. Do you think that I would fear you as I fear your father? No, and if I do, I pray to God that my belt will break.”

“If it does, your guts will fall down to your knees,” Prince Hal said. “But there’s no room for faith, truth, or honesty in your bosom — it is all filled up with guts and belly fat. Accuse an honest woman of picking your pockets! Why, you son of a whore, you impudent, swollen-up rascal, if there were anything in your pockets but tavern-reckonings, keepsakes from bawdy-houses, and one poor penny’s worth of sugar-candy to make you long-winded, if your pockets were enriched with anything but these, I am a villain. Yet you continue to pretend that you have been robbed of valuables and you will not admit that you are wrong. Aren’t you ashamed?”

“But, Hal, Adam fell in the days of innocence in the Garden of Eden, so what can you expect of poor Jack Falstaff in these days of villany? You can see that I have more flesh than another man, and therefore I have more frailty. You confess then that you picked my pockets?”

“It appears so by my story.”

Falstaff exclaimed, “Hostess, I forgive you. Go and make my breakfast. Love your husband, tend to your servants, and cherish your guests. You shall find me reasonable. As you can see, I am calm and peaceful again. Go now.”

Happy to be forgiven, the Hostess departed to make Falstaff’s breakfast.

Falstaff turned to Prince Hal and asked, “What news do you have? What about the robbery?”

“Oh, my sweet beef,” Prince Hal said, “I am still your guardian angel. The money you robbed has been paid back.”

Falstaff said, “I do not like that paying back; it is a double labor. First comes the stealing, and then comes the paying back.”

Prince Hal said, “My other news is that I am again on good terms with my father. He trusts me again.”

“Use that trust to rob the treasury for me,” Falstaff said. “And don’t bother to stop and wash your hands before you commit the robbery.”

“Please do what Falstaff said,” Bardolph said.

Prince Hal said, “I have procured for you, Jack, a charge of … foot.”

“I wish it were a charge of cavalry,” Falstaff said. “Where shall I find a competent thief to steal a horse for me? I need a fine thief of the age of two and twenty or thereabouts! I am dreadfully unequipped. Well, God be thanked for these rebels — they offend none but the virtuous. The unvirtuous can always find a way to turn a war to their advantage. I laud the rebels — I praise them.”

“Bardolph,” Prince Hal said.

“Yes, my lord?”

“Go and deliver this letter to Lord John of Lancaster, my brother. Go and deliver this letter to my Lord of Westmoreland.”

Bardolph departed to do his errands.

“Peto, get our horses ready,” Prince Hal said. “You and I have thirty miles to ride before dinnertime.”

Peto departed to do his errand.

To Falstaff, Prince Hal said, “Jack, meet me tomorrow in the temple hall at two o’clock in the afternoon. There you shall get your orders as well as money to pay for your troops’ equipment.”

Prince Hal added, “The land is burning; Hotspur stands on high; and either we or they must lower lie. Many men will soon lower lie in their graves.”

Prince Hal departed.

To himself, Falstaff said, “Those are well-spoken words, and this is a splendid world. I can find ways to profit from war.”

He called, “Hostess, bring me my breakfast!”

Then he said to himself, “I wish I could stay in this tavern and make a profit while other people fight in the war.”

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