David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “HENRY IV, PART 2”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 4

— 2.4 —

At the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, two drawers, aka tapsters or bartenders, were talking. They were preparing a room for the arrival of Sir John Falstaff and others.

The first drawer said, “What the Devil have you brought there? Apple-johns? You know that Sir John cannot endure an apple-john.”

Apple-johns were apples that were eaten after they had become shriveled and withered. Saint John’s Day was June 24, and the apples, which were harvested after that date, kept until then.

“By the Mass, you are saying the truth,” the second drawer said. “Prince Hal once set a dish of apple-johns in front of Falstaff, and told him here were five more Sir Johns, and, putting off his hat, the Prince said, ‘I will now take my leave of these six dry, round, old, withered knights.’ It angered Falstaff to the heart, but he got over it and has forgotten it.”

“Why, then, cover the table with a cloth, and set the apple-johns down,” the first drawer said, “and see if you can locate Sneak’s noise; Mistress Tearsheet would like to hear some music.”

A group of geese on the ground is a gaggle. A group of hens is a brood. A noise of musicians is a band.

He continued, “Hurry! The room where they dined is too hot; they’ll come in here soon.”

The second drawer replied, “Also coming in here soon will be the Prince and Master Poins. They will put on two of our jackets and aprons. Sir John must not know about it. Bardolph told me this.”

“By the Mass, here will be good times,” the first drawer said. “It will be an excellent joke and like the eighth day of a festival.”

“I’ll see if I can find Sneak,” the second drawer said, and then both drawers departed.

Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet entered the room. Doll Tearsheet’s name suited her; she was a prostitute.

Mistress Quickly said to Doll Tearsheet, who had been ill, “Truly, sweetheart, I think now that you are in an excellent good temporality [temper]: your pulsidge [pulse] beats as extraordinarily as any heart would desire; and your color, I warrant you, is as red as any rose, truly! But, truly, you have drunk too much canaries [wine from the Canary Islands]; and that’s a marvelously intoxicating wine, and it perfumes [pervades] the blood before one can say, ‘What’s this?’ How do you feel now?”

“Better than I did,” Doll Tearsheet said, and then she coughed.

“Why, that’s well said,” Mistress Quickly said. “A good heart is worth gold. Look, here comes Sir John.”

Falstaff entered the room, singing, “When Arthur first in court.”

He called, “Empty the jordan. Empty the chamberpot!”

Then he sang, “And was a worthy King.”

He asked, “How are you now, Mistress Doll?”

Mistress Quickly replied, “Sick of a calm, truly.”

She meant “qualm,” but Falstaff pretended that she really had meant “calm.”

“So is all her sect,” Falstaff said. “Anytime a prostitute is in a calm and not furiously working, they are sick.”

Doll Tearsheet said, “You muddy rascal, is that all the comfort you give me?”

“You make fat rascals, Mistress Doll. You make rascals fat.”

“I make them fat! Gluttony and diseases make them fat; I do not make them fat.”

“If the cook helps to make gluttony, then you help to make the diseases, Doll. We catch venereal diseases from you, Doll. We catch them from you. Grant that, my poor virtue, grant that.”

“You do the catching,” Doll Tearsheet replied. “You catch at and steal our necklaces and other jewelry.”

Falstaff sang, “Your brooches, pearls, and gems.”

He then said, “All of the ‘jewels’ we receive from such as you are sores on our genitals. People who serve bravely in battle limp off the battlefield. Those of us who use your services come away from the breach in your wall — the opening in your body — with our pikes bravely bent. We then bravely go to the doctor to get our venereal disease cured, and then we again bravely mount our attack and discharge our weapons against you —”

Doll Tearsheet said, “Go hang yourself, you muddy conger eel, go hang yourself!”

“Truly,” Mistress Quickly said, “this happens every time you two meet. You two never meet without having an argument. You are both, truly, as rheumatic [she meant to say choleric, aka easy to anger] as two pieces of dry toast grating against each other. You cannot bear the other’s conformities [infirmities]. What the Devil! One must bear, and that must be you, Doll Tearsheet. You are the weaker vessel, as they say — you are the emptier vessel.”

“Can a weak empty vessel bear such a huge full barrel of a man as Falstaff?” Doll Tearsheet asked. “There is a whole cargo of Bordeaux wine in him; you have not seen a merchant ship better stuffed with a cargo of wine.”

She added, “Come, I’ll be friends with you, Jack. You are going to the wars; and whether I shall ever see you again or not, there is nobody who cares.”

The first drawer walked into the room, which was on the second story, and said to Falstaff, “Sir, Ancient Pistol’s downstairs, and he wants to speak to you.”

An Ancient is a standard-bearer in the military; he is an Ensign.

Doll Tearsheet knew and loathed Pistol: “Hang him, the swaggering rascal! Don’t let him in here. He is the most foul-mouthed rogue in England.”

“If he is a swaggerer, let him not come in here,” Mistress Quickly said. “No, by my faith. I must live among my neighbors, and I want to be on good terms with them. I’ll have no swaggerers here. I have a good name and a good reputation — it is among the very best. Shut the door; there are no swaggerers allowed in here. I have not lived all this while, to have swaggering now — shut the door, please.”

“Did you not hear, hostess?” Falstaff asked Mistress Quickly.

“Please, be quiet, Sir John,” Mistress Quickly said. “Swaggerers are not allowed in here.”

“Did you not hear? He is my Ancient.”

“Tilly-fally and fiddle-faddle and fiddlesticks, Sir John,” Mistress Quickly said. “Don’t tell me. Your Ancient the swaggerer is not allowed inside my doors. I was made to appear before Master Tisick, the debuty [deputy] in charge of keeping the peace, the other day; and, as he said to me — it was no longer ago than last Wednesday — ‘Truly, neighbor Quickly,’ says he; Master Dumbe, our minister, was nearby then; ‘neighbor Quickly,’ says he, ‘receive those who are civil because,’ said he, ‘you have an ill name.’ He said that, and I know the reason why he said that. Says he, ‘You are an honest woman, and well thought of; therefore take heed what guests you receive.’ Says he, ‘Receive no swaggering companions.’ There comes none here. You would bless yourselves to hear what he said. No, I’ll allow no swaggerers in here. I don’t want any troublemakers.”

Mistress Quickly had contradictory parts in her story. According to her, the deputy had told her both that she had “an ill name” and that she was “well thought of.”

“He’s no swaggerer, hostess,” Falstaff said, “He is a tame cheater, a petty gamester who cheats a little, truly. You may stroke him as gently as a puppy greyhound. He will not even swagger with a Barbary hen, if her feathers turn back in any show of resistance.”

As events would soon show, this was not true. Pistol was happy to swagger in front of a Barbary hen.

A Barbary hen is a guinea fowl; in slang, a Barbary hen is a prostitute.

Falstaff ordered, “Bring him in here, drawer.”

The first drawer left to get Pistol.

“He is a cheater, you say?” Mistress Quickly asked.

She meant “escheator,” or royal treasury officer. Many of them had bad reputations, and from this term we get our word “cheat.”

She added, “Cheater, call you him? I will bar no honest man from my house, nor no cheater, but I do not love swaggering, to say the truth. I feel ill when I hear the word ‘swagger.’ Masters, feel and look at how I am shaking.”

“So you are, hostess,” Doll Tearsheet said.

“Am I?” Mistress Quickly said. “Yes, truly I am. I am shaking as if I were a leaf on an aspen tree. I cannot bear swaggerers.”

Pistol, Bardolph, and Falstaff’s page entered the room.

Pistol said loudly, “May God save you, Sir John!”

“Welcome, Ancient Pistol,” Falstaff said. “Here, Pistol, I charge you with a cup of wine. I want you to discharge upon my hostess.”

As you expect with Falstaff, the puns flowed like wine. “To charge” means “to drink a toast to” and “to put on a tab” and “to load a pistol.” “To discharge” means “to drink a toast to another person,” “to shoot,” and “to ejaculate.”

“I will discharge upon her, Sir John, with two bullets,” Pistol replied.

The two bullets hung by his trouser-snake.

“She is Pistol-proof, sir,” Falstaff replied. “You shall hardly offend her.”

Mistress Quickly was beyond the age of bearing children, and she was unable to bear swaggerers such as Pistol. She said, “Come, I’ll drink no proofs nor no bullets. I’ll drink no more than will do me good, for no man’s pleasure.”

Pistol said, “Then I will charge you, Mistress Dorothy.”

“Charge me!” Doll Tearsheet said. “I scorn you, scurvy fellow. What! You are a poor, base, rascally, cheating, lack-linen mate! You own very few shirts. Go away, you moldy rogue, go away! I am meet for Falstaff, your master.”

Anyone hearing Doll Tearsheet might think that she had said that she was meat for Falstaff rather than meet, aka fitting.

“I know you, Mistress Dorothy,” Pistol said. “I know all about you.”

“Go away, you cut-purse, pickpocketing rascal!” Doll Tearsheet shouted.

She pulled out a knife and said, “You filthy purse-snatcher, go away! I swear by this wine, I’ll thrust my knife in your moldy cheeks, if you try to play saucy tricks on me. Go away, you bottle-ale, boozy rascal! You are a basket-hilt stale juggler, you! I don’t even think you fight with a real sword — you fight with a wooden cudgel that has a hilt made of strips of metal woven like a basket. You are like a performer fighting with wooden cudgels as entertainment at a country fair! Since when are you good enough for me, I ask you, sir? By God’s light, you have two points on your shoulder! Are those laces for securing armor or have you sewn together two handkerchiefs to make yourself a half-shirt?”

“May God not let me live unless I murder your ruff for this!” Pistol shouted.

Prostitutes such as Doll Tearsheet wore a large ruff — a projecting starched frill — around their neck. Drunken bullies sometimes tore these ruffs and assaulted the prostitutes.

“No more of this, Pistol,” Falstaff said, and then he punned “I would not have you go off in here. Discharge yourself of our company, Pistol.”

“Good Captain Pistol,” Mistress Quickly said, giving him a military title he had not earned, “do not go off in here, sweet Captain.”

“Captain!” Doll Tearsheet exclaimed.

She said to Pistol, “You abominable damned cheater, aren’t you ashamed to be called Captain? If Captains were of my mind, they would truncheon you out of their ranks — they would beat you with a truncheon for taking their title before you have earned it. You a Captain! You slave, for what action have you earned that title? For tearing a poor whore’s ruff in a bawdy house?”

She continued, “He a Captain! Hang him — he is a rogue! He lives upon moldy stewed prunes and day-old cakes that he gets at bawdy houses and pastry-cook shops. A Captain! By God’s light, these villains will make the word ‘Captain’ as odious as the word ‘occupy,’ which was an excellent word before it was used to refer to fornication. Therefore, real Captains need to make sure that people such as Pistol do not steal the title of Captain.”

Falstaff was a real Captain.

“Please, go downstairs and leave, good Ancient,” Bardolph said to Pistol.

“Listen to me, Mistress Doll,” Falstaff said.

Pistol shouted, “Leave! Not I! I tell you what, Corporal Bardolph, I could tear Doll Tearsheet to pieces! I’ll be revenged on her!”

“Please, go downstairs and leave,” the page said to Pistol.

“I’ll see her damned first!” Pistol shouted. He loved extravagant language of the kind he heard in action-filled plays. “She shall be damned to the Underworld, to Pluto’s damned lake, by this hand, to the infernal deep, with Erebus and tortures vile, also. Hold hook and line, say I. Down, down, dogs! Down, traitors! Have we not Hiren here?”

Hiren was a woman’s name that Pistol had given to his sword, possibly because his sword was made of iron.

“Good Captain Peesel [Pistol], be quiet,” Mistress Quickly pleaded. “It is very late, truly: I beseek [beseech] you now, aggravate [she meant to say “moderate”] your choler [anger].”

Pistol loved extravagant language so much that he did not care if it made sense or was appropriate to the situation. He shouted, “These be good humors, indeed! Shall packhorses and hollow pampered jades of Asia, which cannot travel but thirty miles each day, compare with Caesars, and with Cannibals, and with Trojant Greeks? Nay, rather damn them with King Cerberus; and let the welkin roar.”

Pistol sometimes mixed up his literary references. Cerberus was not a King; Cerberus was the three-headed dog that served as a guard dog in Hell. When referring to the “hollow pampered jades of Asia” and how much they could travel in a day, he was misquoting some lines from Christopher Marlowe’s play Tamburlaine — according to that play, the jades could draw a chariot only twenty miles a day. His reference to Cannibals may have been a mistake for Hannibals; Hannibal was the great Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with his elephants to make war on the Romans in Italy. Apparently, by “Trojant Greeks,” he meant the Greeks who besieged Troy.

Pistol continued, “Shall we fall foul for toys? Shall we fight over toys?”

He was referring to Doll Tearsheet.

Mistress Quickly said, “Truly, Captain, these are very bitter words.”

“Leave here, good Ancient,” Bardolph said. “This will grow into a brawl soon.”

“Die men like dogs! Give crowns like pins! Have we not Hiren here?”

When Pistol shouted, “Give crowns like pins!” he was thinking of Tamburlaine, who gave away Kingdoms as if they were valueless pins.

Mistress Quickly misunderstood the word “Hiren,” which was the name of Pistol’s sword. She thought that he was referring to a woman — probably a prostitute — whom he believed was at the tavern.

“On my word, Captain,” she said, “there’s no such woman here. What the Devil? Do you think that I would deny she was here if she really was here? For God’s sake, be quiet.”

“Then feed, and be fat, my fair Calipolis!” Pistol shouted. “Come, give me some wine. Si fortune me tormente, sperato me contento.”

The motto’s garbled Spanish and Italian meant, “If fortune torments me, hope comforts me.”

He continued, “Fear we broadsides? No, let the fiend give fire. Give me some wine.” He placed his sword on a table and said, “Sweetheart, lie you there. Come we to full points here; and are etceteras no thing?”

A full point is a period at the end of a sentence. Pistol was saying, “Have we come to an end here? Are we done shouting?”

Pistol could be bawdy. By “etceteras,” he meant vaginas, and a thing is a penis. Therefore, an etcetera is no thing.

“Pistol, I wish that you would be quiet,” Falstaff said.

“Sweet knight, I kiss your fist,” Pistol said. “What! We have seen the seven stars.”

This was true. Falstaff and Pistol had seen the seven stars of the Big Dipper together. They had stayed up late at night.

“For God’s sake, throw him downstairs,” Doll Tearsheet said. “I cannot endure such a worthless rascal.”

“Throw him — me! — downstairs! Know we not Galloway nags?”

Galloway nags were small high-stepping horses bred in Ireland. A nag was also slang for a prostitute. Doll Tearsheet’s job was to be ridden.

“Quoit him down, Bardolph, and while you are at it, quiet him down, Bardolph,” Falstaff said. “Quoit him down like a shove-groat shilling.”

“To quoit him down” meant to throw him downstairs. A quoit was an iron ring that was thrown in a game similar to horseshoes. A shove-groat shilling was used as a puck in a game similar to shuffleboard.

Falstaff added, “If Pistol does nothing but speak nothing, he shall be nothing here. He is talking nonsense, and I will not allow him to stay here.”

“Come, let’s get you downstairs,” Bardolph said to Pistol.

“What!” Pistol shouted. “Shall we make incisions in each other’s bodies? Shall we imbrue our blades with blood?”

He grabbed his sword and said, “Then death rock me asleep; abridge and shorten my doleful days! Why, then, let grievous, ghastly, gaping wounds untwine the Sisters Three! Come, Atropos, I say!”

The Three Sisters are the Three Fates. Clotho spun the thread of life. Lachesis measured the string of life. Atropos cut the thread of life; when she cut your thread of life, you died. “To untwine” means to remove by unwinding. Grievous, ghastly, gaping wounds might untwine the thread of life and get it cut, but they would never untwine the Sisters Three.

“Here’s ‘goodly’ stuff coming!” Mistress Quickly said. “This fight will be bad for the reputation of my tavern!”

“Give me my rapier, boy,” Falstaff said.

The page handed Falstaff his sword, which was in a sheath.

“Please, Jack,” Doll Tearsheet said. “Please do not draw your sword.”

She liked — even loved — him, and she did not want him to get hurt.

Falstaff drew his sword and said to Pistol, “Get yourself downstairs.”

Mistress Quickly said, “Here’s a ‘goodly’ tumult! I’ll forswear keeping a tavern, before I’ll be in these tirrits [terrors and fits] and frights. Murder! I can just see it happening now! Heavens! Put up your naked weapons! Put up your naked weapons!”

Pistol was no fighter. After Falstaff and he exchanged a few thrusts of their swords, he fled. Bardolph pursued him downstairs and out of the tavern.

Falstaff pretended to continue to fight with his sword.

“Please, Jack, relax and be quiet,” Doll Tearsheet said, putting away her knife. “The rascal’s gone. Ah, you whoreson little valiant villain, you!”

Mistress Quickly asked Falstaff, “Did he hurt you in the groin? I thought he made a shrewd thrust at your belly.”

Bardolph returned, and Falstaff asked him, “Have you thrown him out of doors?”

“Yes, sir,” Bardolph said. “The rascal’s drunk. You have wounded him, sir, in the shoulder.”

“He is a rascal!” Falstaff said. “I can’t believe that he dared to challenge me! I am his superior officer, and he should have left the first time I told him to!”

“Ah, you sweet little rogue, you!” Doll Tearsheet said. “Oh, poor ape, how you are sweating! Come, let me wipe your face; come on, you whoreson fat-cheeks! Oh, you are a rogue! Truly, I love you: You are as valorous as Hector of Troy, you are worth five of Agamemnon, and you are ten times better than the Nine Worthies. Oh, you are a villain!”

This was high praise. Hector was the leader of the Trojans in the Trojan War. He was the bravest Trojan, and when he died, everyone knew that Troy was doomed to fall to the Greeks. Agamemnon was the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War. The Nine Worthies were nine heroes: three were pagan, three were Jewish, and three were Christian. The three pagan heroes were Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar. The three Jewish heroes were Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabaeus. The three Christian heroes were King Arthur, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon, who was one of the leaders of the First Crusade.

“Pistol is a rascally slave!” Falstaff said. “I will toss the rogue in a blanket.”

This was regarded as a suitable punishment for a coward.

Doll Tearsheet replied, “Do it, if you dare to risk your life. If you do it, I will toss you between a pair of sheets.”

She regarded this as a suitable reward for her hero.

Sneak and some other musicians entered the room.

Seeing them, the page said to Falstaff, “The music has come, sir.”

“Let them play,” Falstaff said.

He said to the musicians, “Play, sirs,” and then he requested, “Sit on my knee, Doll.”

She sat on his knee, and the musicians began playing.

He added, “Pistol is a rascally bragging slave! The rogue fled from me like quicksilver — like Mercury, the fleet messenger of the gods!”

Doll Tearsheet said, “Truly, he did.”

She joked, “And you followed him as quickly as if you were a church building.”

She added, more seriously, “You whoreson little tidy Bartholomew boar-pig, when will you stop fighting during the days and thrusting during the nights, and when will you begin to patch up your old body for Heaven?”

A Bartholomew boar-pig was a roast pig served at the Bartholomew Fair, which was held in London annually on August 24.

“Please, good Doll,” Falstaff requested, “please do not speak to me as if you were a death’s-head, a skull, a memento mori, a reminder that one day we will die. Please do not ask me to think about my death.”

Prince Hal and Poins entered the room; they were wearing the jackets and aprons of drawers to hide their identities.

Doll Tearsheet recognized them and knew that they wanted to play a joke on Falstaff, their sometimes companion.

Doll Tearsheet asked Falstaff, “What is Prince Hal like?”

“He is a good shallow young fellow,” Falstaff replied. “He would have made a good pantryman; he would have chipped bread well.”

One of the jobs of a pantryman was to chip, or cut, the burned parts off loaves of bread.

“They say Poins has a good wit,” Doll Tearsheet said.

“He a good wit?” Falstaff said. “Hang him; he is a baboon! He is utterly stupid, and his wit is as thick as Tewksbury mustard. I can only wish that his wit were as sharp as the flavor of Tewksbury mustard. He has no more invention, imagination, and wit in him than a mallet or hammer has.”

“Why does the Prince regard Poins as a good friend, then?”

“Because their legs are both of an attractive quality and look good in stockings, and because he plays a good game of quoits, and because he eats conger eels — which are reputed to make eaters stupid — seasoned with fennel. Poins has a good appetite and a dull wit. In addition, he is good at drinking games. If you float some small pieces of lit candles in an alcoholic beverage, he can manage to drink the alcohol without being badly burnt. He is also able to play boyish games well, and to become boisterous and jump up on bar stools, and he swears with a good talent, and he wears his boots very tight to show off his attractive legs, which are like the boots and legs on a sign that advertises a boot maker. He also breeds no anger when he tells his discreet stories — he does not tell secrets. He has other playful qualities that show that he has a weak mind and an able body. Because of these qualities, Prince Hal allows Poins to be in his presence. Prince Hal is just like Poins. If you put them in a pair of scales, the scales would be exactly even.”

Prince Hal whispered to Poins, “Shouldn’t this nave of a wheel have his ears cut off?”

The nave of a wheel is the round hub of a wheel. Having one’s ears cut off was the punishment for defaming a member of the royal family.

“Let’s beat him in front of his whore,” Poins said.

“Look,” Prince Hal said. “The withered elder is getting his poll clawed like a parrot.”

Doll Tearsheet was scratching the top of Falstaff’s head.

“Is it not strange that sexual desire should by so many years outlive sexual performance?” Poins asked.

He believed that Falstaff, because of his advanced age and immense obesity, was impotent.

“Kiss me, Doll,” Falstaff requested.

She obliged.

“Saturn and Venus are this year in conjunction!” Prince Hal said. “I wonder what the almanac says about that!”

Saturn was the planet of old age, and Venus was the planet of love. If Poins were wrong about Falstaff being impotent, it seemed that soon Saturn and Venus, aka Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet, would be in conjunction. Almanacs then and now concern themselves with astrology.

“And look, the fiery Trigon, Falstaff’s man, is lisping words of love to his master’s old tables, his notebook, his counsel-keeper, his confidant, his keeper of secrets,” Poins said. “To speak plainly, fiery-faced Bardolph is whispering sweet nothings to Mistress Quickly.”

The signs of the Zodiac are divided into four groups of three, each of which is called a Trigon. Each Trigon is associated with water, air, earth, or fire. The three astrological signs associated with fire are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.

“You are giving me flattering kisses,” Falstaff said.

“Truly, I kiss you with a most constant and faithful heart,” Doll Tearsheet replied.

“I am old. I am old,” Falstaff mourned.

“I love you better than I love any scurvy young boy.”

“Of which material do you want a kirtle made?” Falstaff asked. “I shall receive money on Thursday. I will give you a cap tomorrow.”

A woman wore a kirtle between her petticoats and her gown.

The musicians were still playing, and Falstaff said, “This is a merry song. Come, it is growing late; let’s go to bed.”

He paused and then said to Doll Tearsheet, “You’ll forget me when I am gone.”

He may have been talking about going to war; he may have been talking about dying.

“Truly, you’ll make me cry, if you say that,” Doll Tearsheet replied, “I will not dress in fine clothing until you return from the war. Well, wait and see. We will see what will happen.”

“Bring us some wine, Francis,” Falstaff said to Prince Hal, who was pretending to be a drawer. Francis was one of the drawers at the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Prince Hal responded the way that a drawer would: “Anon, anon, sir. Right away, right away, sir.”

He then came forward and faced Falstaff so that Falstaff could recognize him. Poins did the same thing.

Falstaff, who did recognize them, said, “Ha! Are you a bastard son of the King’s? And aren’t you Poins’ brother?”

“Why, you globe of sinful continents!” Prince Hal said. “You are a huge and round mass of sinful contents! What a life you lead!”

“I lead a better life than you,” Falstaff said. “I am a gentleman; you are a drawer.”

“Very true, sir,” Prince Hal said, “and I come to draw you out of this room by your ears.”

“Oh, may the Lord preserve your good grace!” Mistress Quickly said. “Truly, welcome to London. Now, may the Lord bless that sweet face of yours! Oh, have you come from Wales?”

Falstaff said to Prince Hal, “You whoreson mad compound of majesty,” and then he added, referring to Doll Tearsheet, “by this light flesh and corrupt blood, you are welcome.”

A light woman was a woman who engaged in fornication.

“You fat fool!” Doll Tearsheet shouted, getting off Falstaff’s lap. “I scorn you!”

Poins said to Prince Hal, “My lord, he will drive you out of your mood for getting revenge on him for what he said about you, and he will turn everything into a merry joke, unless you strike while the iron is hot.”

Prince Hal said to Falstaff, “You whoreson candle-mine, you mine of tallow fat, you! How vilely did you speak of me just now before this honest, virtuous, civil gentlewoman!”

“May God bless your good heart!” Mistress Quickly said. “She really is an honest, virtuous, civil gentlewoman!”

“Did you hear what I said about you?” Falstaff asked Prince Hal.

“Yes, I did, and I am sure that you will say that you recognized me although I was in disguise, as you did when you ran away following the robbery at Gad’s Hill. You will say this: You recognized me just now, and you said those bad things about me on purpose just to test my patience.”

“No, no, no,” Falstaff said. “That is not true; I did not think you were within hearing distance.”

“I shall drive you then to confess that you willfully showered words of abuse on me,” Prince Hal said, “and then I will know how to handle you and what punishment to give to you.”

“There was no abuse, Hal,” Falstaff said. “On my honor, there was no abuse.”

“You claim that you did not insult me and call me a pantryman and a bread-chipper and I know not what else?”

“There was no abuse, Hal.”

“No abuse?” Ned Poins asked.

“No abuse, Ned, in the world,” Falstaff said. “Honest Ned, there was none. I dispraised Prince Hal before the wicked, so that the wicked might not fall in love with him. By so doing, I have done the part of a careful friend and a true subject, and Hal’s father the King ought to give me thanks for it. So, you can see that there was no abuse, Hal. There was none, Ned, none. No, truly, boys, there was none.”

“Let us see now,” Prince Hal said, “whether your pure fear and entire cowardice has made you wrong this virtuous gentlewoman so you can make peace with us. Is she — this woman who was just now sitting on your lap — one of the wicked? Is your hostess here — Mistress Quickly — one of the wicked? Is the boy who is your page one of the wicked? Or honest Bardolph, whose zeal can be seen burning in his nose — Puritans praise burning zeal — one of the wicked?”

“Answer him, you dead elm-tree trunk, answer him,” Poins said.

“The fiend we know as Satan has written Bardolph’s name among those whose souls are irrecoverable,” Falstaff said. “His red face is Lucifer’s kitchen, aka Hell, where he does nothing but roast malt-worms — alcoholics. As for the boy, there is a good angel about him, but the Devil has blinded the boy so that he cannot see the good angel.”

“What about the women?” Prince Hal asked.

“As for one of them, she is in Hell already, and she burns poor souls.”

Falstaff was referring to Doll Tearsheet, who infected men with venereal disease and made them burn when they urinated.

“As for the other, I owe her money, and whether she has been damned for that, I don’t know.”

“I have not been damned for that, I assure you,” Mistress Quickly said.

“I think that you are right and you have not been damned for that,” Falstaff said. “I think you have avoided being damned for that.”

Puritans regarded the lending of money — usury — as a sin. But since Falstaff had no intention of paying back the money he had borrowed from Mistress Quickly, was she really engaging in usury?

Falstaff continued, “But by Mother Mary, there is another indictment against Mistress Quickly.”

He said to her, “You allow flesh to be sold and consumed in your house, contrary to the law; for which sin I think you will howl in Hell.”

Eating houses were not allowed by law to serve meat during Lent.

Mistress Quickly said, “All keepers of eating houses do that; what’s a joint of mutton or two in a whole Lent?”

Falstaff had in mind a different kind of selling and consuming flesh; he was referring to the flesh of prostitutes. “Mutton” was a slang word used to refer to prostitutes.

Prince Hal said to Doll Tearsheet, “You, gentlewoman —”

He hesitated.

Doll Tearsheet asked, “What do you want, your grace?”

Falstaff said, “His grace says that which his flesh rebels against.”

He was punning again. He knew that Prince Hal knew that Doll Tearsheet was not a gentlewoman. One meaning of Falstaff’s sentence was that Prince Hal was saying something that he knew was not true. Another meaning was that as Prince Hal called Doll Tearsheet a gentlewoman, a part of his body that knew what she really was, was rebelling in an uprising — that is, rising up (and becoming erect).

Knocking sounded on the door downstairs.

“Who is knocking so loudly?” Mistress Quickly said. “Go and see who is at the door, Francis.”

Peto, another of Prince Hal’s Eastcheap friends, walked upstairs.

Prince Hal saw him and said, “Peto, how are you! What news have you brought to me?”

Peto replied, “The King, your father, is at Westminster. Twenty weak and weary messengers have come from the North with important news, and as I was coming here, I met and overtook a dozen Captains, who were bare headed, sweating, knocking at the tavern doors, and asking everyone for the location of Sir John Falstaff.”

“By Heaven, Poins,” Prince Hal said, “I feel myself much to blame, so idly to profane and waste the precious time. Now a storm of war, like the South wind blowing black clouds, begins to melt and drop tears upon our bare unhelmeted heads. Bring me my sword and cloak.”

He then said, “Falstaff, good night.”

Prince Hal, Poins, Peto, and Bardolph left the room.

Falstaff said, “Now comes in the sweetest morsel of the night, and we must go from here and leave it unpicked.”

Knocking sounded on the door downstairs.

Bardolph came into the room and Falstaff said to him, “What’s the matter?”

Bardolph replied, “You must leave here and go to court, sir, immediately; a dozen Captains are waiting at the door for you.”

Falstaff said, “Pay the musicians.”

He then said, “Farewell, hostess; farewell, Doll. You see, my good wenches, how men of merit are sought after. The undeserver may sleep when the man of action is called on to go to work. Farewell, good wenches. If I am not sent away to war immediately, I will see you again before I go.”

“I cannot speak,” Doll Tearsheet said. “My heart is ready to burst. Well, sweet Jack, take care of yourself.”

“Farewell, farewell,” he said.

Falstaff and Bardolph went downstairs.

Mistress Quickly said as Falstaff left, “Well, fare you well. I have known you these past twenty-nine years, come peascod-time — come the time when the pods form peas. But an honester and truer-hearted man — well, fare you well.”

Bardolph called from downstairs, “Mistress Tearsheet!”

“What’s the matter?” Mistress Quickly called back.

Bardolph called, “Good Mistress Tearsheet, come to Falstaff, my master.”

Mistress Quickly, who had gone to the door of the room, said, “Oh, run, Doll, run; run, good Doll. Come.”

Crying with sadness at Falstaff’s departure, Doll Tearsheet stood up.

Mistress Quickly repeated, “Come, Doll.”

Doll Tearsheet ran downstairs.

Say what you will about Falstaff, at least two women loved him.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

 

This entry was posted in Books, Retellings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s