David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “HENRY IV, PART 2”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

On a street in London, Mistress Quickly met Fang, a police sergeant. Following behind him was his assistant, Snare.

“Master Fang, have you filed my lawsuit?” Mistress Quickly asked. She often gave people titles higher than the ones they actually had. Such was the case with “Master” Fang now.

“I have filed it,” Fang said.

“Where’s your yeoman — your assistant?” Mistress Quickly asked. “Is he a lusty, strong yeoman? Will he stand up for me?”

Anyone who knew Mistress Quickly knew that she was often unintentionally bawdy. “Stand up for me” could be interpreted as referring to a male body part that could at times be erect. That male body part could be referred to as a weapon.

Fang looked to each side and did not see his assistant. He said to himself, “Where’s Snare?”

Mistress Quickly called, “Master Snare!”

Snare walked up behind them and said, “Here I am; here I am.”

“Snare, we must arrest Sir John Falstaff,” Fang said.

“Yes, good Master Snare,” Mistress Quickly said. “I have filed a lawsuit against him.”

“It may perhaps cost some of us our lives,” Snare said, “because he will stab.”

“Then it will be a bad day!” Mistress Quickly said. “Be careful around Falstaff; he stabbed me in my own house, and that most beastly. Truly, Falstaff does not care what mischief he does. If his weapon is out, he will thrust it like any Devil; he will spare neither man, woman, nor child.”

A person with a bawdy sense of humor could laugh at the thought of Falstaff stabbing Mistress Quickly with his “weapon.”

“If I can get close enough to him to grab him,” Fang said, “I won’t care about his thrust.”

“No, and I won’t either,” Mistress Quickly said. “I’ll be at your elbow.”

“If I can hit him once,” Fang said, “if he comes within my grasp —”

“I am undone by his going to fight in the war,” Mistress Quickly said. “He will leave without paying me what he owes me. I promise you, he owes me an infinitive amount of money on his tab.”

By “infinitive,” Mistress Quickly meant “infinite.”

She continued, “Good Master Fang, be sure to restrain him. Good Master Snare, let him not escape. He comes continuantly to Pie Corner — saving your manhoods — to buy a saddle.”

By “continuately,” Mistress Quickly meant a combination of “continuously” and “incontinently.” By “saving your manhoods,” she was apologizing for bringing up an unsavory topic. “Pie Corner” was known for its squealing pigs and its smell of food cooking. It also had shops that sold cattle, and other places where women rented their “pies.” Falstaff was going to war, but he already had a saddle, and he had no need to go to Pie Corner “continuously” and “incontinently” to buy saddles, except that men such as Falstaff rode prostitutes and “saddle” was slang for female genitals and for a prostitute.

She continued, “Falstaff is indited to dinner with Master Smooth’s the silkman at the Lubber’s Head on Lumbert Street.”

By “indited,” she meant “invited.” By “the Lubber’s Head,” she meant “The Leopard’s Head.” A “lubber” is a big and clumsy fellow.

She continued, “Please, since my exion is entered [action, aka lawsuit, has been filed] and my case so openly known to the world, let Falstaff be brought in to answer.”

Again, Mistress Quickly was unintentionally bawdy. A woman’s “case” is a good place in which to sheath a penis, and she had said that her case is “so openly known to the world.” By the way, the Latin word vagina means “sheath.”

She added, “A hundred marks is a long one for a poor lone woman to bear.” Falstaff’s tab had a hundred marks on it and it was a long tab and he owed Mistress Quickly a hundred marks — marks are units of money.

She continued, “I have borne, and borne, and borne, and have been fubbed off, and fubbed off, and fubbed off, from this day to that day, that it is a shame to be thought on. Falstaff will not pay me the money he owes me. There is no honesty in such dealing; unless a woman should be made an ass and a beast, to bear every good-for-nothing’s wrong.”

She looked up, saw Falstaff, and said, “Yonder he comes; and that errant malmsey-nose good-for-nothing, Bardolph, with him. Malmsey is a red wine, and Bardolph has a red nose from drinking so much wine. Do your offices, do your offices, Master Fang and Master Snare. Do me, do me, do me a favor and do your offices.”

An eavesdropper might have laughed after hearing Mistress Quickly urge Fang and Snare to “do me, do me.”

Falstaff and Bardolph walked over to Mistress Quickly, Fang, and Snare. Falstaff’s page was with him.

“How are you?” Falstaff asked. They were looking at him at him oddly, so he asked, “Whose mare’s dead?” This was a way of asking, “What’s the fuss?”

He added, “What’s the matter?”

Fang said, “Sir John, I arrest you at the suit of Mistress Quickly.”

Falstaff resisted arrest: “Go away, varlets! Draw your sword, Bardolph, and cut off this villain’s head for me, then throw the harlot in the gutter.”

“Throw me in the gutter!” Mistress Quickly said. “I’ll throw you in the gutter. Would you do that? Would you? You bastardly rogue!”

“Bastardly” was Mistress Quickly’s combination of “Bastard” and “Dastardly.” “Dastardly” means “cowardly.”

She cried, “Murder, murder! Ah, you honeysuckle villain! Will you kill God’s officers and the King’s? Ah, you honey-seed rogue! You are a honey-seed, a man-queller, and a woman-queller.”

Mistress Quickly had mixed up her words again. By “honeysuckle” and “honey-seed,” she meant “homicidal” — she was accusing Falstaff of being a man-killer and a woman-killer.

“Keep them away from me, Bardolph,” Falstaff ordered.

Fang shouted, “A rescue! A rescue!”

Often, when a man was being arrested for debt, his friends would come and rescue him and help him flee from the officers of the law.

Mistress Quickly, who thought that Fang was calling for reinforcements, asked the people around her, “Good people, bring a rescue or two.”

She said to Falstaff, “You will, will you? You will, will you? Do, you rogue! Do, you hemp-seed!”

Hangmen’s ropes were made of hemp, and Mistress Quickly was saying that Falstaff would someday become intimately acquainted with a hangman’s noose.

Falstaff shouted, “Go away, you scullion — you lowly kitchen servant! Go away, you rampallion — you ramping strumpet! Go away, you fustilarian — you fustilug, aka fat, frowsy woman! I’ll tickle your catastrophe — I’ll whip your posterior!”

The Lord Chief Justice and some of his men arrived on the scene.

“What is the matter?” the Lord Chief Justice said. “Keep the peace here!”

“My good lord, be good to me,” Mistress Quickly said. “I beg you to stand up for me.”

The Lord Chief Justice recognized Falstaff and said, “How are you, Sir John? Why are you brawling here? Does this become your place, your time, and your business? You should have been well on your way to York by now.”

He said to Fang, “Stand back and away from him, fellow. What are you charging him with?”

Mistress Quickly said, “Oh, most worshipful lord, if it please your grace, I am a poor widow of Eastcheap, and Falstaff is being arrested at my suit.”

As she often did when talking to people, she addressed him by a better title than he had earned. Royalty, Dukes, and Archbishops are called “grace.”

The Lord Chief Justice could guess that the dispute was over money that Falstaff had borrowed but not paid back. He asked, “For what sum?”

“It is more than for some, my lord; it is for all — all I have,” Mistress Quickly replied. “He has eaten me out of house and home; he has put all my substance into that fat belly of his.”

She said to Falstaff, “But I will have some of it out again, or I will ride you of nights like the mare.”

Falstaff knew that she meant “nightmare,” but he punned, “I think I am as likely to ride the mare, if I have any vantage of ground to get up.”

Being able to get a leg up is an advantage when it comes to riding a mare — or a woman. And when someone weighs as much as Falstaff, it helps to stand on higher ground while climbing onto a saddle.

“How comes this to be, Sir John?” the Lord Chief Justice said. “For pity! What man of good temper would be able to endure this tempest of exclamation? Are you not ashamed to force a poor widow to undertake such a drastic action as a lawsuit in order to get what is owed to her?”

Falstaff asked Mistress Quickly, “What is the gross sum that I owe you?”

Mistress Quickly replied, “By Mother Mary, if you were an honest man, you would know that you owe me yourself and the money, too. You swore to me upon a partly gilded goblet, while you were sitting in the Dolphin room of my inn, at the round table, by a coal fire, on Wednesday of Whitson week, when Prince Hal broke your head for comparing his father to a singing-man of Windsor who was an imposter and a pretender to the throne, you swore to me then, as I was washing your wound, to marry me and make me my lady your wife. Can you deny it? Did not goodwife Keech, the butcher’s wife, come in then and call me gossip Quickly? She came in to borrow some vinegar, and she told us that she had some good prawns. You wanted to eat some, but I told you that they were bad for a fresh wound. And did you not, when she was gone downstairs, tell me to be no more so familiarity with such poor people; saying that before long they should call me madam?”

Words about social classes are important when social classes are important. If Mistress Quickly were to marry Sir John Falstaff, a knight, she would be called “lady” and “madam” instead of such familiar terms as “goodwife” and “gossip,” aka friend and neighbor. By the way, although Mistress Quickly may have frequently misused words, she had a large multi-syllable vocabulary. By “familiarity,” she meant “familiar.”

She continued, “And did you not kiss me and ask me to bring you thirty shillings? I put you now to your book-oath: Put your hand on the Bible, and deny that what I had said is true, if you can.”

Falstaff said to the Lord Chief Justice, “My lord, this is a poor mad soul; and she says up and down the town that her eldest son looks just like you. She has been wealthy, but the truth is that poverty has made her insane. As for these two foolish officers, I beg you that I may have redress against them — they have committed a wrong against me by attempting to arrest me.”

“Sir John, Sir John, I am well acquainted with your manner of wrenching the true cause the false way,” the Lord Chief Justice said. “You want to make it appear that you have been wronged when, in fact, you have wronged this woman. It is not a confident brow — your false appearance of innocence — nor the throng of words that come with very much more than impudent sauciness from you, that can keep me from forming an unbiased judgment. You have, as it appears to me, manipulated the easily manipulated spirit of this woman, and made her serve your uses both in purse and in person.”

“Yes, that is true, my lord,” Mistress Quickly said.

“Please, be quiet,” the Lord Chief Justice said to her.

He then said to Falstaff, “Pay her the debt you owe her, and unpay the villany you have done her. Make things right. You can pay her the debt you owe her with money, and you can unpay the villany you have done her with sincere apology and repentance.”

“My lord, I will not undergo this sneap — this snub — without reply,” Falstaff replied. “You mistake honorable boldness for impudent sauciness. You believe that a man who bows before you and says nothing is a virtuous man, but no, my lord, with all due respect, I will not bow down before you. I say to you that I desire deliverance from these officers. They ought not to arrest me because I must quickly attend to the business that King Henry IV wants me to do.”

“You speak as if you have the power to do wrong — to commit a crime and get away with it,” the Lord Chief Justice said. “You have a certain status and reputation. Live up to your status and reputation, and make things right with this woman. No one should be above the law.”

“Come here, hostess,” Falstaff said to Mistress Quickly. They talked together quietly.

Gower, who was carrying a message, walked up to the Lord Chief Justice, who said, “Now, Master Gower, what is the news you have for me?”

Gower replied, “The King, my lord, and Harry the Prince of Wales are nearby. This message tells the rest of the news.”

Falstaff said to Mistress Quickly, “I swear as a gentleman. Come. Agree to lend me some money. Let us talk no more about this.”

“By this Heavenly ground I tread on, I will have to pawn both my plate and the tapestries in my dining rooms,” Mistress Quickly said. She had combined two well-known expressions, “By this Heavenly light” and “By this ground I tread on.”

“Glasses, glasses is the only material to use for drinking,” Falstaff said. “Glass is replacing plate — metal such as pewter. As for your walls, you can replace your tapestry with a comic painting, or a depiction of the parable of the Prodigal Son, or a German boar-hunting scene painted on imitation tapestry. One of those is worth a thousand of these cheap bed-curtains and these fly-bitten tapestries. Let me borrow ten pounds, if you can. Come, if it were not for your moods, there would not be a better wench than you in all of England. Go, wash your face, and withdraw your lawsuit. Come, you must not be mad at me. Don’t you know me better than that? Come, come, I know that someone persuaded you to do this.”

“Please, Sir John, let the loan be only twenty nobles.”

A noble was a gold coin worth about a third of a pound.

She continued, “Truly, I am loath to pawn my plate, so help me.”

Falstaff said, “Forget about it. I will find somebody else. You will always be a fool.”

“Well, you shall have the money,” Mistress Quickly said, “even if I have I pawn my gown. I hope you’ll come to supper. You’ll pay me back all you owe me?”

“Will I live?” Falstaff said.

He whispered to Bardolph, “Go with her. Follow her closely, and make sure that she does not change her mind.”

“Will you have Doll Tearsheet meet you at supper?” Mistress Quickly asked.

“Yes, but let’s have no more talking,” Falstaff said. “Invite her to dinner.”

Mistress Quickly, Bardolph, Fang and Snare, and the page left.

The Lord Chief Justice said to Gower about the King’s campaign in Wales, “I have heard better news.”

Falstaff asked, “What’s the news, my lord?”

Ignoring Falstaff, the Lord Chief Justice asked Gower, “Where did the King sleep last night?”

Gower replied, “At Basingstoke, fifty or so miles from London, my lord.”

“I hope, my lord, all’s well,” Falstaff said. “What is the news, my lord?”

Continuing to ignore Falstaff, the Lord Chief Justice asked, “Did all the King’s forces come back?”

“No,” Gower replied, “fifteen hundred foot soldiers and five hundred soldiers on horseback are marching to join Prince John of Lancaster and fight against Northumberland and the Archbishop of York.”

The Archbishop of York and other leaders of the rebellion had not anticipated that soldiers who had been delegated to fight the Welsh would be reassigned to fight the rebels in the North of England.

“Is the King coming back from Wales, my noble lord?” Falstaff asked.

Continuing to ignore Falstaff, the Lord Chief Justice said to Gower, “You shall receive letters to deliver from me quickly. Come, let’s go, good Master Gower.”

Falstaff shouted, “My lord!”

The Lord Chief Justice asked, “What’s the matter?”

Ignoring the Lord Chief Justice, Falstaff said, “Master Gower, will you have dinner with me?”

“I must serve my good lord here,” Gower replied, “but I thank you, good Sir John.”

“Sir John, you loiter here too long,” the Lord Chief Justice said. “You are supposed to be busy recruiting soldiers as you travel to join Prince John of Lancaster and the Earl of Westmoreland.”

Ignoring the Lord Chief Justice, Falstaff said, “Will you dine with me, Master Gower?”

“What foolish master taught you these manners, Sir John?” the Lord Chief Justice asked.

Ignoring the Lord Chief Justice, Falstaff said, “Master Gower, if my manners do not become me, he was a fool who taught them to me.”

He meant that he had learned his manners — ignoring someone who spoke to him — from the Lord Chief Justice.

He said to the Lord Chief Justice, “This is the right fencing style, my lord — tap for tap, and tit for tat — and so we are even.”

“Now may the Lord lighten you — enlighten you and make you lighter!” the Lord Chief Justice said. “You are a great big fool.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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