David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “HENRY IV, PART 2”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

Falstaff was visiting Justice Shallow in his house in Gloucestershire. With them were Falstaff’s page and Bardolph.

Justice Shallow said to Falstaff, “I swear by cock and pie, sir, you shall not go away from here tonight. I want you to be my guest tonight.”

He called for a servant to come to him: “Davy!”

“You must excuse me, Master Robert Shallow,” Falstaff replied.

Justice Shallow would not take no for an answer: “I will not excuse you; you shall not be excused; excuses shall not be admitted; there is no excuse that shall serve to excuse you; you shall not be excused.”

He moved to the door and shouted, “Davy!”

Davy entered the room and said, “Here I am, sir.”

“Davy, Davy, Davy, Davy, let me see, Davy; let me see, Davy; let me see,” Justice Shallow said. “Tell William the cook to come here. Sir John, you shall not be excused.”

Davy wanted Justice Shallow to make some business decisions. He showed him some papers and said, “Those legal writs cannot be served. Also, sir, shall we sow the headland with wheat?”

The headland is the strip of land where the plow turns. It cannot be sown until the rest of the field is sown.

“Sow it with red wheat,” Justice Shallow replied.

Red wheat is a variety of wheat that is sown later than other varieties of wheat.

Justice Shallow said, “About William the cook: Are there any young pigeons that can be cooked?”

“Yes, sir,” Davy replied. “Here is the blacksmith’s bill for shoeing horses and for the plow blades.”

“Add the figures, double-check them, and pay the bill,” Justice Shallow said.

He added, “Sir John, you shall not be excused.”

Davy said, “Now, sir, a new chain for the bucket is needed. Also, sir, do you mean to dock William’s wages for the wine he lost the other day at Hinckley Fair?”

“Yes, dock his wages,” Justice Shallow said. “Davy, tell William to cook some pigeons, a couple of short-legged hens because hens with short legs have more meat, a joint of mutton, and some pretty little tiny delicacies.”

“Will the man of war — the Captain — stay all night, sir?”

Davy was referring to Falstaff. A man of war is a large ship, and Falstaff is a large man.

“Yes, Davy,” Justice Shallow said. “I will treat him well: A friend in the court is better than a penny in the purse.”

He whispered, “Treat his men well, Davy; they are arrant good-for-nothings, and will backbite.”

“They will backbite no worse than they are backbitten, sir,” Davy whispered back, “because they have marvelously foul linen and lice bite their backs.”

“Well jested, Davy,” Justice Shallow said. “Now go about your business, Davy.”

“Please, sir,” Davy said, “show favor to William Visor of Woncot in his lawsuit against Clement Perkes of the hill.”

“There are many complaints, Davy, against that William Visor,” Justice Shallow said. “That Visor is an arrant good-for-nothing — this I know.”

“I grant your worship that he is a good-for-nothing, sir,” Davy said, “but yet, God forbid, sir, that a good-for-nothing should not have some strings pulled at his friend’s request. An honest man, sir, is able to speak for himself when a good-for-nothing is not. I have served your worship truly, sir, this eight years; and if I cannot once or twice in a quarter support a good-for-nothing against an honest man, I have only a very little credit with your worship. The good-for-nothing is my honest friend, sir; therefore, I beg your worship, show him some favor.”

“I tell you that he shall suffer no wrong,” Justice Shallow replied. “Go about your business, Davy.”

Davy departed to do his duties.

“Where are you, Sir John?” Justice Shallow asked, looking around. Seeing Falstaff, he moved toward him and said to him, “Come, come, come, off with your boots.”

He added, “Give me your hand, Master Bardolph.”

He shook hands with Bardolph, who said, “I am glad to see your worship.”

“I thank you with all my heart, kind Master Bardolph,” Justice Shallow said. Then he said to the page, who was only a boy, “Welcome, my tall fellow.”

He added, “Come, Sir John.”

“I’ll follow you, good Master Robert Shallow,” Falstaff said.

He added, “Bardolph, look after our horses.”

Bardolph and the page left to look after the horses, leaving Falstaff alone.

Falstaff said to himself, “If I were sawed into lengths, I would make four dozen bearded hermits’ walking staffs — Justice Shallow is exactly the size of one such walking staff. It is a wonderful thing to see the close correspondence of his men’s spirits and his. By observing him, his servants learn how to act like foolish justices. By talking to his servants, he learns to act like a justice-like servant. Their spirits are so alike because of their close partnership that they act like so many wild geese that fly together in close formation. If I needed a favor from Master Shallow, I would court his servants by pretending to be friends with their master. If I needed a favor from his servants, I would curry favor with Master Shallow by flattering him by saying that no man could better command his servants.

“It is certain that either wise bearing or ignorant carriage is caught, as men take diseases, one of another. If you wish to be wise, seek the company of the wise. If you wish to be foolish, seek the company of the foolish. Men need to take heed of their company. As a man is, so is his company. I will get so much comedic material from observing this Shallow that I will keep Prince Harry continually laughing for the length of time that it takes six fashions to go out of fashion. That length of time is one year, which is the length of four terms held at the Inns of Court, or of two legal actions, and Prince Hal shall laugh without intermissions.

“A lie told with a slight oath that it is true and a jest told with a straight face will do much to cause laughter in a young fellow who has never had a backache! Prince Hal will laugh until his face wrinkles like a wet cloak that was carelessly rolled up into a ball and allowed to dry!”

Justice Shallow called, “Sir John!”

“I am coming, Master Shallow,” Falstaff called back. “I am coming, Master Shallow.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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