David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “HENRY IV, PART 2”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 3

— 4.3 —

Prince John of Lancaster’s soldiers were pursuing the rebels and killing or capturing as many of them as they could. Falstaff was one of the soldiers doing the pursuing.

Falstaff saw a rebel and asked, “What’s your name, sir? Please tell me your rank, and where you are from.”

“I am a knight, sir, and my name is Colevile of the Dale.”

A dale is a low, deep place — a valley.

“Well, then, Colevile is your name, a knight is your rank, and your place is the dale,” Falstaff said. “Colevile shall still be your name, a traitor will be your rank, and your place will be in a dungeon. That is a low, deep place, and so you shall still be Colevile of the Dale.”

“Aren’t you Sir John Falstaff?” Colevile asked.

“I am as good a man as he, sir, whoever I am,” Falstaff replied. “Do you surrender, sir? Or shall I sweat as I fight you? If I sweat, my drops of sweat will be the drops that fall from the eyes of your friends as they mourn your death; therefore, rouse your fear and trembling, and do homage to me by kneeling before me.”

Colevile knelt and said, “I think that you are Sir John Falstaff, and therefore I surrender.”

Sir John Falstaff was thought to have killed Hotspur at Shrewsbury, and that had given him an undeserved reputation as a mighty warrior.

“I have a whole school — a large number — of tongues in this belly of mine,” Falstaff said, “and not a tongue of them all speaks any other word but my name. People look at my huge belly and immediately know my identity. If I had a belly of normal size, I would be the most energetic — but anonymous — fellow in Europe. My womb, my womb, my womb — my belly — undoes me.”

He looked up and said, “Here comes our general.”

Prince John of Lancaster, Westmoreland, and Sir John Blunt came over to Falstaff and Colevile.

Prince John of Lancaster said, “The time for urgency of action is past; let us no longer pursue the rebels. Call back our soldiers, good Westmoreland.”

Westmoreland left to carry out this order.

Prince John of Lancaster said, “Now, Falstaff, where have you been all this while? When everything is over and done, then you show up. These tardy tricks of yours will, I swear by my life, result in your sometime or other breaking some gallows’ back. You will be hung, and because you are so heavy, you will break the gallows.”

“I am sorry, my lord, that you should think that way,” Falstaff said. “I have never known yet when rebuke and threat were not the reward of valor. Do you think that I am a swallow, an arrow, or a bullet? Do you think that I can travel as quickly as a swallow, an arrow, or a bullet? Do I have, in my poor and old motion, the ability to cover ground as quickly as thought? I have speeded hither with the very quickest speed possible; I have exhausted more than one hundred and eighty horses traveling here from post to post, and here, stained by travel as I am, I have with my pure and immaculate valor captured Sir John Colevile of the Dale, a most furious knight and valorous enemy. Isn’t that worthy of praise? He saw me, and he yielded. I may justly say, with the hook-nosed fellow of Rome, Julius Caesar, that ‘I came, saw, and overcame.’”

“Your capturing him was more his doing than your own,” Prince John of Lancaster said. He thought, Sir John Colevile of the Dale surrendered to you instead of fighting you.

“I don’t know about that,” Falstaff said. “Here he is, and here I give him to you, and I beg your grace, let this be recorded with the rest of this day’s notable deeds. By the Lord, if it is not, I will have printed a ballad about my valor, with my own picture on the top of it, showing Colevile kissing my foot. If I am forced to do that, and if you do not all look like gilded counterfeits compared to me, and if I in the clear sky of fame do not outshine you as much as the full Moon outshines the cinders of the element, aka the stars in the sky, which appear to be like the shiny heads of pins compared to the Moon, then do not believe the word of noble men. Therefore, let me have the credit that is rightfully mine, and let my just rewards mount high.”

“Yours is too heavy to mount,” Prince John of Lancaster said. He meant that Falstaff’s belly was too heavy for him to ascend or climb high.

“Let it shine, then,” Falstaff replied.

“Yours is too thick to shine,” Prince John of Lancaster said. He meant that Falstaff’s belly was too thick for light to shine through. Thick can also mean dense, and Prince John of Lancaster, who did not like Falstaff, was saying — falsely — that Falstaff’s intellect was too dense for his wit to shine.

“Let it do something, my good lord, that may do me good, and call it what you will,” Falstaff said.

Prince John of Lancaster asked the prisoner, “Is your name Colevile?”

“It is, my lord.”

“You are a famous rebel, Colevile.”

“And a famous and true subject took him,” Falstaff said.

“I am, my lord, like my superiors are who led me here,” Colevile said. “If they had been ruled by me and I had been their leader, you would not have won the day so easily. This victory would have cost you.”

“I do not know how your fellow rebels sold themselves,” Falstaff said, “but you, like a kind fellow, gave yourself away gratis — free — and I thank you for it.”

Westmoreland returned.

Prince John of Lancaster asked him, “Now, have you ordered that the pursuit of the rebels cease?”

“Our soldiers have retreated, and they have stopped pursuing the rebels.”

“We will send Colevile with his confederates to York for immediate execution,” Prince John of Lancaster said. “Blunt, lead him hence; and see that you guard him well.”

He added, “And now we will hurry home to the court, my lords. I hear that the King my father is very sick. Our good news shall go before us to his majesty.”

He said to Westmoreland, “You shall bear this good news to comfort my father, and we with sober and temperate speed will follow you.”

“My lord Prince John of Lancaster, please give me permission to go home through Gloucestershire,” Falstaff requested, “and, when you arrive at your father’s court, speak well of me in your report.”

“Fare you well, Falstaff,” Prince John said. “I, as Prince, shall speak better of you than you deserve.”

Everyone departed except Falstaff, who said to himself, “I wish that you had wit, Prince John of Lancaster. Wit is worth more than your Dukedom. Truly, this young sober-blooded boy does not like me, and no man can make him laugh, but that’s no marvel — he never drinks wine.

“None of these demure boys ever come to any good because weak beer, which very thoroughly cools their blood, and the many meals they make of fish cause them to fall into a kind of male green-sickness — the anemia that is usually suffered by young girls — and then when they marry, they give birth to girls, not boys. They are generally fools and cowards. Some of us would be fools and cowards, too, except for the inflammation wrought by intoxication.

“A good sherry wine has a two-fold effect on its drinker. The first effect of your excellent sherry wine is that it ascends into the brain and gets rid of all the foolish and dull and curdled thoughts that inhabit it. Wine makes the brain quick in understanding, full of nimble fiery and delectable thoughts, which, delivered over to the tongue, which gives birth to the voice, becomes excellent wit.

“The second effect of your excellent sherry wine is the warming of the blood. Before intoxication, the blood is cold and settled, white and pale — the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice. But the sherry wine warms the blood and makes it move from the insides to the outermost parts. It brightens the face, which like a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little Kingdom, man, to take up weapons and be ready to fight. The vital and not-so-vital spirits report to their Captain, the heart, which, great and puffed up with this retinue, does any deed of courage, and this valor and courage comes from sherry wine. Skill in the handling of weapons is nothing without wine because wine puts that knowledge of weapons to work. Learning by itself is like a hoard of gold guarded by a Devil — the gold cannot be used. But sherry wine sets the learning free and allows it to be used in action. The learning graduates and ceases to be theoretical knowledge and instead becomes practical knowledge.

“That is why Prince Hal is valiant. He naturally inherited cold blood from his father, but he has cultivated his cold blood, like one would cultivate lean, sterile, and bare land. He has manured, aka fertilized, husbanded, and tilled his cold blood with the excellent endeavor of drinking well a good quantity of fertile sherry wine, and by so doing, he has become very hot and valiant.

“If I had a thousand sons, the first human and secular principle I would teach them would be to never drink weak beer and to instead addict themselves to sherry wine.”

Say what you will about Falstaff, his opinions were often interesting and contrary to conventional thinking.

Bardolph walked over to Falstaff, who asked him, “What is the news?”

Bardolph replied, “The army has been discharged, and all of the soldiers are gone.”

“Let them go,” Falstaff said. “I’ll travel home by way of Gloucestershire; there I will visit Master Robert Shallow, esquire. I have him already softening like wax between my finger and my thumb, and shortly I will seal with him some kind of agreement that will be advantageous to me.

“Let’s go.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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