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

— 5.5 —

In a public street near Westminster Abbey, two men were strewing rushes, plants that were usually used as floor coverings, on the street. King Henry V was being crowned, and he would be traveling on this street soon.

The first man said, “More rushes, more rushes.”

The second man said, “The trumpets have sounded twice.”

The first man said, “It will be two o’clock before they come from the coronation. Hurry! Hurry!”

They left, and Falstaff, Justice Shallow, Pistol, Bardolph, and the page arrived.

Falstaff said, “Stand here by me, Master Robert Shallow; I will make the King show favor to you. I will look him directly in the face as he goes by. Watch the facial expression he will give to me.”

Falstaff expected a good reception from the King; however, he did not plan to show the King the respect that was due to the King. Citizens on the street were expected to bow their heads respectfully as the King went by. Falstaff believed that he need not do that. He expected the new King — the former Prince Hal — to allow him to do whatever he wanted to do. Falstaff wanted wealth and honor for himself and his friends, and he wanted to punish the Lord Chief Justice.

“God bless your lungs, good knight,” Pistol said. He expected Falstaff to shout to the King so that the King would see him.

“Come here, Pistol,” Falstaff said. “Stand behind me.”

He then said to Justice Shallow, “Oh, if only I had had time to have ordered new clothing to be made for myself in honor of the King, I would have spent the thousand pounds I borrowed from you. But it does not matter; the travel-stained clothing I am wearing shows how eager I was to see the new King. It implies the zeal I had to see him.”

“That is true,” Justice Shallow said.

“It shows my earnestness of affection and how much I love him —” Falstaff said.

“That is true,” Justice Shallow said.

“My devotion —” Falstaff said.

“That is true, true, true,” Justice Shallow said.

“It shows that I rode day and night,” Falstaff said, “and it shows that I did not think, remember, or have enough patience to pause and change into clean clothing —” Falstaff said.

“That is best, no doubt,” Justice Shallow said.

“So here I stand stained with travel, and sweating with desire to see him,” Falstaff said. “It shows that I am thinking of nothing else, I am putting all other affairs aside, as if there were nothing else to be done except to see him.”

Pistol said, “It is semper idem, for obsque hoc nihil est; it is all in every part.”

Pistol knew a little Latin. Semper idem means “always the same.” By obsque Pistol meant absque; absque hoc nihil est means “apart from this, there is nothing.”

“That is true, indeed,” Justice Shallow said.

“My knight, I will inflame your noble liver and make you rage,” Pistol said. “I will tell you something that will make you angry. Your Doll Tearsheet, who is the Helen of Troy of your noble thoughts, is suffering base imprisonment in a pestilential prison. She was haled thither by a most working-class and dirty hand. Rouse up revenge from ebon den — dark Hell — with fell and dangerous Alecto’s snake, because your Doll Tearsheet is in jail. Pistol speaks nothing but the truth.”

Alecto was one of the Furies, goddesses of vengeance. Her hair was snakes.

“I will deliver her,” Falstaff said confidently. “I will make sure that she is set free.”

Trumpets sounded; the new King — Henry V — was coming.

“There roared the sea, and trumpet-clangor sounds,” Pistol said.

King Henry V and several other men, including the Chief Lord Justice, arrived.

Falstaff and Pistol did not behave the way that the King’s loyal subjects ought to behave. They should have bowed their heads respectfully; instead, they looked at and shouted at the King as if they were in a bar carousing together.

“God save your grace, King Hal!” Falstaff shouted. “My royal Hal!”

“The Heavens guard and keep you, most royal imp of fame!” Pistol shouted.

“God save you, my sweet boy!” Falstaff said.

King Henry V knew that he had to reject Falstaff; otherwise, Falstaff would flout law and order and would rob the royal treasury. However, he was not looking forward to it and preferred to do it in private. He hoped that the Lord Chief Justice could take care of the situation for now.

King Henry V said, “My Lord Chief Justice, speak to that vain and foolish man and make him behave properly.”

The Lord Chief Justice said to Falstaff, “Have you lost your wits? Don’t you know to whom you are speaking?”

Falstaff shoved the Lord Chief Justice aside and shouted at Henry V, “My King! My Jove! I speak to you, my heart!”

This was the moment that King Henry V had to choose between the rule of law and the no rule of disorder. Who would be his chief counselor? Would it be the Lord Chief Justice, who would advise him well and obey the laws of England and do what was best for England? Or would it be Falstaff, who would advise him ill and disobey the laws of England and do what was best for Falstaff? Falstaff was forcing the King to make this decision on a public street with many witnesses.

King Henry V looked at Falstaff and said, “I know thee not, old man. Fall to your knees and pray. How ill white hairs become a fool and jester! I have long dreamed of such a kind of man as you — very swelled by eating to excess, very old, and very profane. But, now that I am awake, I despise my dream. Henceforward, make your body less in size, and work to strengthen your virtue. Stop gormandizing; know that the grave gapes for you three times wider than for other men.”

Like Falstaff, King Henry V knew the Bible. When he said “I know thee not,” he was referencing Matthew 25:1-13. These were words the Lord spoke to the foolish virgins.

Falstaff opened his mouth to speak, but Henry V cut him off: “Reply not to me with a fool-born jest. You were born a fool, and only fools can bear your jests. Presume not that I am the thing I was; for God knows, and soon the world will perceive, that I have turned away and rejected my former self. So will I turn away and reject those who kept me company.

“When you hear that I am as I was used to be, approach me, and you shall be what you used to be — the tutor and the feeder of my riotous behavior. Until then, I banish you, on pain of death, as I have done the rest of my misleaders. Do not come as close to our royal person as ten miles — if you disobey this command, you will die.

“I will allow you to receive a pension so that you can pay for the necessities of life; that way, lack of means will not force you to do evil. And, when and if we hear that you have reformed yourselves, we will, according to your strengths and qualities, give you advancement.”

King Henry V said to the Lord Chief Justice, “It is your task, my lord, to see that what I just said is carried out. Let’s go.”

King Henry V, the Lord Chief Justice, and the King’s attendants exited.

Falstaff said, “Master Shallow, I owe you a thousand pounds.”

“Yes, you do,” Justice Shallow said, “and I beg you to let me have it so that I can take it home with me.”

“That can hardly be, Master Shallow,” said Falstaff, who had not yet spent the money. “Do not grieve at this; I shall be sent for in private to go to the King. Look, he must seem to reject me in public; he will treat me differently in private. Do not be afraid that I will not use my influence to get advancements for you; I will yet be the man who shall make you a great man.”

Justice Shallow joked, “I cannot see how you can make me a great man, unless you should give me your jacket and stuff it with straw. I beg you, good Sir John, let me have five hundred of my thousand pounds.”

Say what you will about Falstaff, he was not the kind of man to whom you ought to lend money — or allow to advise you how to run a country.

Ignoring the request, Falstaff said, “Sir, I will be as good as my word. This that you heard was only a color — a pretense.”

Justice Shallow joked, “A color that I fear you will die in, Sir John. You will die with a hangman’s collar — a noose — around your neck.”

Justice Shallow had actually made a double pun. “Die” also meant “dye” — Falstaff would die in a hangman’s collar while wearing a dyed color.

“Fear no colors,” Falstaff punned back. “Colors” are the flags of the enemy, and so Falstaff was saying, “Fear no enemy.”

He added, “Come with me and let us go to dinner. Come, Lieutenant Pistol; come, Bardolph. I shall be sent for soon, at night.”

Falstaff had verbally given Ancient, aka Ensign, Pistol a promotion to Lieutenant; he was still hopeful of being a great man in England with the patronage of King Henry V.

Prince John of Lancaster, the Lord Chief Justice, and several officers of the law came over to Falstaff and the others. King Henry V was thinking ahead. He knew that Falstaff would still try to be his advisor, and he wanted to make it very clear to Falstaff that that was not going to happen. Or perhaps it was the Lord Chief Justice or Prince John of Lancaster who was thinking ahead.

The Lord Chief Justice ordered the law officers,
“Arrest and take Sir John Falstaff to the Fleet Prison and detain him there. Take all his company along with him.”

“My lord, my lord —” Falstaff started to say.

The Lord Chief Justice cut him off: “I cannot speak to you now. I will hear your case soon.”

He said to the law officers, “Take them away.”

Pistol said one of his mottos: “Si fortune me tormenta, spero contenta. [If fortune torments me, hope comforts me.]”

The law officers took Falstaff and his companions to prison, leaving behind Prince John of Lancaster and the Lord Chief Justice.

Prince John of Lancaster said, “I like this fair proceeding of the King’s. He intends that his former companions shall all be very well provided for, but he has banished all of them until their conversations appear more wise and modest to the world.”

“They are definitely banished,” the Lord Chief Justice said.

“The King has called his Parliament, my lord,” Prince John of Lancaster said.

“Yes, he has.”

“I will lay odds that, before the end of this year, we will bear our swords that have been used in civil wars and our native fire as far as France. I heard a bird so sing, whose music, I think, pleased the King.

“Come, shall we go?”

They went to the Parliament.


Note: In the Epilogue, a person would appear after a play was over and speak to the audience, usually to ask for applause, but sometimes to convey information. This epilogue contains three paragraphs, but probably never would all three paragraphs be spoken together. A particular performance of 2 Henry IV would have an epilogue of one or two of the paragraphs below, but probably never all three. Sometimes, a dance performance would follow the end of a play.

Paragraph #1: Possibly Spoken by the Playwright:

“First I will tell you what my fear is, then I will bow to you with courtesy, and last I will make my speech. My fear is your displeasure and your dislike of this play; my courtesy is my duty to you; and the purpose of my speech is to beg your pardons. If you look for a good speech now, you undo me because what I have to say is of my own making; and what indeed I should say will, I fear, prove my own marring. But to the purpose, and so to the venture. As you very well know, I was lately here on stage at the end of a play that displeased the audience, and I asked for your forgiveness for it and I promised you a better play. I meant indeed to repay you with this play, which, if it is like a business venture that goes badly, I will break my promise and go bankrupt, and you, my gentle creditors, will lose what I promised you. Here I promised you that I would be, and here I commit my body to your mercies. Forgive me some of my debt and I will pay you some of what I owe you and, as most debtors do, I will promise you infinitely and over and over to pay back the rest of what I owe you someday. I now kneel down before you to pray for the Queen.”

Paragraph #2: Spoken by a Dancer:

“If my tongue cannot entreat you to acquit me, will you command me to use my legs? Yet that would be only a light payment, to lightly dance out of your debt. But a good conscience will make any possible satisfaction, and so would I. All the gentlewomen here have forgiven me: if the gentlemen will not forgive me, then the gentlemen do not agree with the gentlewomen, which has never been seen before in such an assembly.”

Paragraph #3: Spoken by a Dancer:

“One word more, I beg you. If you are not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story in another play, Henry V, with Sir John Falstaff in it, and make you merry with fair Katharine of France. In France, for all I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless he is already killed with your hard opinions. Oldcastle died a martyr, and Falstaff is not Oldcastle. My tongue is weary; when my legs are weary, too, I will bid you good night.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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