King Henry IV, dressed in a robe, works in the study near his bedchamber. He rises, distraught, from his writing desk and summons a page. “Go call the Earls of Surrey and of Warwick; but, ere they come, bid them o’er-read these letters, and well consider of them. Make good speed!” The boy bows and hurries away with the papers.
The king paces, then pauses at a high window of the palace at Westminster, looking down at the Thames, then northeast toward the city proper.
How many thousand of my poorest subjects are at this hour asleep?
O Sleep, O gentle Sleep, nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee that thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down and steep my senses in forgetfulness? Why rather, Sleep, lie’st thou in smoky cribs, upon uneasy pallets stretching thee, then hushed with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber, than in the perfumèd chambers of the great, under the costly canopies of state, and lulled with sounds of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile in loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch unto a watch-call or a common ’larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains in the cradle of a rude, imperious surge, and in the visitation of the winds that take the ruffian billows by the top, curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them with deafening clamour in the slippery cloud such that, with the hurly, death itself awakes!
Canst thou, O partial Sleep, give thy repose to the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude, but in the calmest and most stillest night, with all appliances and means, to boot, deny it to a king?
Then happy, lowly, lie down! Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
The visiting earls arrive.
“Many good morrows to Your Majesty,” says Warwick, bowing.
“Is it good morrow, lords?”
“’Tis one o’clock, and past,” Surrey tells him.
“Why, then, good morrow to you, my lords. Have you read o’er the letters that I sent you?”
“We have, my liege.”
“Then you perceive the body of our kingdom—how foul it is, what rank diseases grow, and with what danger, near the heart of it!”
“It is as yet but as a body distempered,” says Warwick, “which to its former strength may be restored with good advice and a little medicine. My lord Northumberland will soon be cooled,” he assures the king; they have yet to learn of Percy’s flight to Scotland.
Henry again paces, feverishly. “Oh, God, that one might read the book of Fate, and see the revolution of the times make mountains level, and the continent, weary of solid firmness, melt itself into the sea!—and other times see the beachy girdle of the ocean too wide for Neptune’s hips!—see how chances mock, and changes fill the cup of alteration with divers liquors!
“Oh, if this were seen, the happiest youth, viewing his progress through—what perils past, what crosses to ensue—would shut the book, and sit him down and die!
“’Tis not ten years gone since Richard and Northumberland, great friends, did feast together—and in two years after were they at war! It is but eight years since this Percy was the man nearest my soul—who like a brother toiled in my affairs, and laid his love and life under my foot—yea, for my sake, even to the eyes of Richard gave him defiance!
“But which of you was nearby—your cousin Neville, as I may remember,” he tells Warwick, “when Richard, with his eyes brimful of tears, then checked and berated by Northumberland, did speak these words, now proven prophecy: ‘Northumberland, thou ladder by the which my cousin Bolingbroke ascends my throne,—’
“—though then, God knows, I had no such intent, but that necessity so bowed the state that I and greatness were compelled to kiss—
“—‘the time shall come,’—thus did he bellow it—‘the time will come that foul sin, gathering head, shall break into corruption!’” Henry regards the lords. “So he went on, foretelling this same time’s condition, and the division of our amity!”
Warwick is unimpressed. “There is a history in all men’s lives resembling the nature of times deceased, the which observèd, a man may prophesy with a near aim on the main chance of things as yet not come to life, which in their seeds and weak beginnings lie intreasurèd.
“Such things become the hatch and brood of time; and by the necessary form of this, King Richard might create a perfect guess that great Northumberland, then false to him, would of that seed grow to a greater falseness—which should not find a ground to root upon, unless on you.”
“Are these things then necessary?” wonders Henry. He faces the lords. “Then let us meet them like imperatives! And that same word even now cries out on us—they say the bishop and Northumberland are fifty thousand strong!”
Warwick replies, calmly, “It cannot be, my lord; rumour doth double a voice, as does the echo, in numbers of the feared.
“Please it Your Grace to go to bed,” he urges. “Upon my soul, my lord, the powers that you already have sent forth shall bring this prize in very easily!
“To comfort you the more: I have received the certain assurance that Glendower is dead!” He watches as the monarch weighs what effect the Welsh legend’s demise will have on the rebellion.
“Your Majesty hath been ill this fortnight,” he says, “and these unseasoned hours perforce must add unto your sickness.”
Wearily, the king nods assent. “I will take your counsel.”
But Richard’s prophetic words continue to vex him. “And were these inward wars once in hand, we would go, dear lords, unto the Holy Land.”
Henry releases his lieutenants, and retires to a troubled sleep.
Called to the Fight
On this bright morning in Gloucestershire, almost a hundred miles west of London, an elderly justice of the peace emerges from his house, happy to greet the gentleman at his door, a neighbor—and to see the men waiting outside with him. “Come on, come on, come on, sir!” he cries. “Give me your hand, sir, give me your hand, sir!”
He and the other county justice shake hands warmly. “An early stirrer, by the rood! And how doth my good cousin Silence?”
“Good morrow, good cousin Shallow.”
“And how doth my cousin, your bedfellow? And your fairest daughter and mine, my god-daughter Ellen?”
“Alas, a black ousel, cousin Shallow!” jests Silence, on fairest; the young woman is not pale and blonde.
“By yea and no, sir, I dare say my cousin William is become a good scholar! He is at Oxford still, is he not?”
“Indeed, sir, to my cost,” grumbles Justice Silence.
“He must, then, to the Inns o’ Court”—London’s law colleges—“shortly. I was once of Clement’s Inn,”—a student residing there, “where I think they will talk of ‘mad Shallow’ yet!”
Silence grins. “You were called ‘lusty Shallow’ then, cousin.”
Shallow laughs, remembering. “By the Mass, I was called anything—and I would have done anything indeed, too!—and roundly, too! There was I, and little John Penny of Staffordshire, and black-haired George Barnes, and Francis Pickbone, and Will Squeel, a Cotswold man!—you had not four such swashbucklers in all the Inns o’ Court again!
“And, I may say to you, we knew where the bona-robas”—fashionable prostitutes—“were, and had the best of them all at commandment!
“Then was Jack Falstaff, now Sir John, a boy, and page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk.”
Silence is surprised. “This Sir John, cousin, that comes hither anon about soldiers?”
Shallow nods. “The same Sir John, the very same! I saw him break Skogan’s head at the court-gate, when ’a was a cracker not thus high! And the very same day did I fight with one Sampson Stockfish, a fruiterer, behind Gray’s Inn!
“Jesu, Jesu, the mad days that I have spent!” He shakes his head mournfully. “And to see how many of my old acquaintance are dead!”
“We shall all follow, cousin,” says Silence.
“Certain, ’tis certain,” notes Shallow. “Very sure, very sure. Death, as the Psalmist saith, is certain to all. All shall die.” He ponders for a moment, then looks up. “How a good yoke of bullocks at Stamford fair?”
“By my troth, I was not there,” Silence admits, unable to cite the current pricing for castrated bulls.
Justice Shallow sighs. “Death is certain. Is old Double of your town living yet?”
Shallow shakes his head again. “Jesu, Jesu, dead! ’A drew a good bow; and dead! ’A shot a fine shoot; John a Gaunt loved him well, and betted much money on his head. Dead! ’A would have clapped i’ the clout”—struck the target’s center—“from twelve score,” he notes of the archer’s skill, “and carried you aforehand a shaft at fourteen, fourteen-and-a-half, such that it would have done a man’s heart good to see!” Again he stops to think. “How a score of ewes now?”
“Thereafter as they be”—according to merit, Silence tells him. “A score of good ewes may be worth ten pounds.”
Shallow muses. “And is old Double dead….”
Justice Silence points to the road. “Here come two of Sir John Falstaff’s men, as I think.”
The soldiers approach the justices. “Good morrow, honest gentlemen,” says Bardolph. “I beseech you, which is Justice Shallow?”
“I am Robert Shallow, sir—a poor esquire of this county, and one of the king’s justices of the peace. What is your good pleasure with me?”
“My captain, sir, commends himself to you: my captain is ‘Sir John Falstaff—a tall gentleman, by heaven, and a most gallant leader!’”
“He greets me well, sir!” says Shallow, of his ever-immodest old friend. “I knew him a good back-sword man!” he laughs. “How doth the good knight? May I ask how my lady his wife doth?”
“Sir, pardon; a soldier is better accommodated than with a wife,” says Bardolph knowingly.
Shallow laughs. “It is well said, in faith, sir!—and it is well said in deed, too!” He chuckles. “‘Better accommodated!’—it is good; yea, indeed, is it! Good phrases are surely, and ever were, very commendable.
“‘Accommodated’—it comes of ‘accommodo.’ Very good; a good phrase!”
“Pardon me, sir; I have heard the word,” says Bardolph. “Phrase call you it? By this good day, I know not the phrase; but I will maintain the word with my sword to be a soldier-like word, and a word of exceeding good commendation, by heaven! ‘Accommodated’—that is when a man is, as they say,” he winks—“accommodated! For when a man is being where ’a may be thought to be accommodated, it is an excellent thing!”
Shallow concurs—based on memory: “It is! Very just!
“Look, here comes good Sir John!” He hurries forward to meet the knight, who is marching his new troops down the broad highway. “Give me your good hand, give me Your Worship’s good hand! By my troth, you look well, and bear your years very well! Welcome, good Sir John!”
“I am glad to see you well, good Master Robert Shallow!” Falstaff turns to the other justice. “Master Surecard, as I think?”
“No, Sir John, it is my cousin Silence, in commission with me.”
Falstaff smiles “Good Master Silence, it well befits you should be of the peace.”
The gentleman has heard that quip before, but he nods. “Your Good Worship is welcome.”
Falstaff pulls off his hat and wipes his brow. “Fie, this is hot weather! Gentlemen, have you provided me here half a dozen sufficient men?”
“Marry, have we, sir!” says Justice Shallow. “Will you sit?”
“Let me see them, I beseech you.”
“Where’s the roll, where’s the roll,” the justice mumbles to himself, patting about his coat, “where’s the roll? Let me see, let me see, let me see. So, so….” He finds the list. “Yea, marry, sir.” He peers at the paper and reads the first name. “Ralph Mouldy!” he says aloud. “Let them appear as I call,” he tells Silence, “let them do so, let them do so. Let me see; where is Mouldy?”
“Here, an’t please you.”
“What think you, Sir John?” asks Shallow. “A good-limbed fellow; young, strong, and of good friends.” Ralph is about thirty.
Falstaff eyes the yeoman. “Art thou Mouldy?”
“Yea, an’t please you.”
“Then ’tis time thou wert used,” says the knight.
Shallow is tickled. “Most excellent, i’ faith! Things that are mouldy lack use! Very singular good! In faith, well said, Sir John, very well said!”
Falstaff tells the justice to mark the name of the first man inducted. “Prick him.”
“I was pricked well enough before,” says Mouldy, “and you could have let me alone! My old dame will be undone now, for no one to do her husbandry, and her drudgery! You need not to have pricked me; there are other men fitter to go out than I!”
“Go to! Peace, Mouldy; you shall go,” Falstaff orders. “Mouldy, it is time you were spent.”
“Spent!” Ralph does not want to underwrite the war with his life.
Shallow waves him back. “Peace, fellow, peace; stand aside! Know you where you are?” he demands, as a butterfly alights in the sunshine warming his hat. “As for the others, Sir John, let me see… Simon Shadow!”
“Yea, marry, let me have him to sit under!” says Falstaff. “He’s likely to be a cool soldier.”
The justice looks to the waiting men. “Where’s Shadow?”
Falstaff regards him carefully. “Shadow, whose son art thou?”
“My mother’s son, sir.”
“Thy mother’s sun likely enough!” he laughs. “And thy father’s shadow! So the son of the female is the shadow of the male; it is often, indeed, only that much of the father’s substance!”—because someone else is the real one.
“Do you like him, Sir John?” asks Shallow.
Falstaff nods. “A Shadow will serve for summer. Prick him.” For we have a number of shadows to fill up in the muster-book, he thinks, concerning the places left by men who have bribed him to find surrogates for them.
Shallow calls, “Thomas Warp!”
Falstaff looks over the country crew. “Where’s he?”
“Is thy name Warp?” he asks the disheveled, decrepit man.
“Thou art a very ragged warp,” says Falstaff, thinking of the woof and warp of woven fabric.
“Shall I prick him down, Sir John?”
The knight shakes his head. “It were superfluous—for his apparel has been built upon his back, and the whole frame relies upon pins! Prick him no more.”
Shallow laughs heartily. “You can do it, sir; you can do it! I commend you well!” He again examines his list. “Francis Feeble!”
“What trade art thou, Feeble?” asks Falstaff
“A woman’s tailor, sir.”
“Shall I prick him, sir?” laughs Shallow.
“You may.” He sees Feeble’s scowl. “But if he had been a man’s tailor, he’d ha’ prickèd you.” Falstaff regards the pale and precise young man. “Wilt thou make as many holes in an enemy’s army as thou hast done in a woman’s petticoat?”
“I will do my good will, sir; you can have no more.”
“Well said, good woman’s tailor! Well said, courageous Feeble!” cries Falstaff. “Thou wilt be as valiant as the wrathful dove or most magnanimous mouse!
“Prick the woman’s tailor.” He regards the others prospects. “Well, Master Shallow—deeper, Master Shallow.”
“I would Warp might have gone, sir!” protests Feeble.
“I would thou wert a man’s tailor, so that thou mightst mend him,” counters Falstaff, “and make him fit to go. I cannot pull one to be a private soldier who is the leader of so many thousands!”—of parasites. “Let that suffice, most forcible Feeble.”
“It shall suffice, sir,” grumbles the tailor.
Sir John glares. “I am bound to thee, reverend Feeble. Who is next?”
“Peter Bullcalf, o’ the Green.”
“Yea, marry, let’s see Bullcalf!”
But a thin, sallow man moans weakly, “Here, sir.” He gives out a loud, barking cough.
“’Fore God, a likely fellow,” says Falstaff dryly. “Come, bring me Bullcalf, till he roar again.”
The man is taken aback. “Oh, Lord! Good my lord captain—”
“What?—dost thou roar before thou art pricked?”
“Oh, Lord, sir! I am a diseasèd man!”
“What disease hast thou?”
“A whoreson cold, sir; and cough, sir—which I caught with ringing-in the king’s affairs, upon his coronation-day, sir!”
“Come, thou shalt go to the wars in a robe,” says Falstaff comfortingly. “We wilt have away thy cold!—and will take such care that thy friends shall brag about thee!”
Bullcalf, aware of the sarcasm, blows his nose—loudly.
“Is he all?” the knight asks Justice Shallow.
“Here is two more called than your number; you must have but four here, sir. And so, I pray you, go in with me to dinner! Come.”
“I will go drink with you, but I cannot tarry dinner. I am glad to see you, by my troth, Master Shallow!”
The justice, noting the knight’s considerable girth, looks relieved about the lunch. “Oh, Sir John, do you remember since we lay all night in the Windmill”—a questionable inn—“in Saint George’s field?”
Falstaff laughs. “No more of that, good Master Shallow, no more of that!”
“Ha! ’Twas a merry night! And is Jane Nightwork alive?”
“She lives, Master Shallow.”
Shallow frowns. “She never would away with me.”
“Never, never; she would always say she could not abide Master Shallow!”
“By the Mass, I could anger her to the heart!” laughs Shallow, remembering. “She was then a bona-roba. Doth she hold her own well?”
Falstaff shakes his head. “Old, old, Master Shallow.”
Shallow shrugs. “Aye, she must be old, she cannot choose but be! Certainly she’s old—one called Nightwork, old by night work before I came to Clement’s Inn.”
“That’s fifty-five year ago,” Justice Silence points out.
Shallow says to the slightly younger man, smiling fondly, “Ah, cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen that that this knight and I have seen! Eh, Sir John, said I well?”
Falstaff nods. “We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow!”
“That we have, that we have, that we have. I’ faith, Sir John, we have! Our watch-word was ‘Amen boys!’”—drink up! “Come, let’s to dinner; come, let’s to dinner! Jesus, the days that we have seen! Come, come!”
He and Justice Silence amble inside with the large Londoner to eat and drink.
Bullcalf approaches a soldier. “Good Master Corporal Bardolph, stand as my friend, and here’s four ten-shillings in French crowns for you!” He offers the silver coins. “In very truth, sir, I had as lief be hanged, sir, as go!” Still, he adds, as Bardolph takes the money, “And yet, for mine own part, sir, I do not care,” he contends, “but rather because I am unwilling—and have a desire to stay with my friends… else, sir, I did not care, for mine own part, so much—”
“Go to; stand aside.” Bardolph waves him away.
Mouldy comes forward. “And, good Master Corporal Captain, for my old wife’s sake, stand as my friend! She has nobody to do anything about her when I am gone; and she is old, and cannot help herself. You shall have forty, sir!” He hands over the coins.
“Go to; stand aside,” says Bardolph, taking the money. Mouldy joins Bullcalf.
Feeble now tells the corporal, “By my troth, I care not! A man can die but once. We owe God a death. I’ll ne’er bear a base mind! An’t be my destiny, so; an’t be not, so. No man is too good to serve ’s prince! And let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is acquitted for the next.”
Bardolph knows that means the man has no money. “Well said; thou’rt a good fellow.”
“’Faith, I’ll bear no base mind!” insists Feeble, as Falstaff returns with the justices.
“Come, sir, which men shall I have?” the knight asks Shallow.
“Four, those which you please.”
Says Bardolph to Falstaff, “Sir, a word with you.” They step aside and speak privately. “I have three pound to free Mouldy and Bullcalf.” He has pocketed four.
“Go to! Well!”
Justice Shallow wants to proceed. “Come, Sir John, which four will you have?”
“Do you choose for me.”
Shallow looks at the men. “Marry, then: Mouldy, Bullcalf, Feeble and Shadow.”
“Mouldy and Bullcalf?” Falstaff wags his head, frowning in disapproval. “As for you, Mouldy, stay at home till you are past service; and for your part, Bullcalf, grow till you come unto it! I will none of you.” The suborners tramp away, heading home.
“Sir John, Sir John, do not yourself wrong,” protests Shallow. “They are your likeliest men, and I would have you served with the best!”
“Will you tell me, Master Shallow, how to choose a man?” demands Falstaff haughtily. “Care I about the limb, the thewes, the stature, bulk and big assemblance of a man? Give me the spirit, Master Shallow!
“Here’s Warp; you see what a ragged appearance is. But he shall charge and discharge with the motion of a pewterer’s hammer, come on and off swifter than he that gibbets on a brewer’s bucket!”—a street boy snagging a swig from one hung at either end of a shoulder-bar.
He looks at the slender conscript. “And this half-faced fellow, Shadow—give me this same man! He presents no mark to the enemy: the foeman may with as great aim level at the edge of a penknife! And for a retreat, how swiftly will this Feeble, the woman’s tailor, run off! Oh, give me the spare men—and spare me the great ones!”
Falstaff motions to the corporal. “Put a caliver”—a light musket—“into Warp’s hand, Bardolph.”
Says Bardolph, showing him how to wield it, “Hold, Warp; traverse thus, thus, thus….”
“Come, manage me your caliver!” commands Falstaff. “So! Very well! Go to! Very good, exceeding good!” he cries, as Warp fumbles with the gun. “Oh, give me always a little, lean, old, chapt, bald-spot! Well done, i’ faith, Warp!—thou’rt a good scab!
“Hold, there’s a tester for thee!” he says, handing the man a small coin.
Old Justice Shallow watches as the weapon slips again from Warp’s hands. “He is not his craft’s master; he doth not do it right.
“I remember, at Mile-end Green when I lay at Clement’s Inn, I was then Sir Dagonet in Arthur’s show”—he played that king’s fool in the law-college pageant. “There was a little, quivering fellow, and ’a would manage you his piece thus”—he thrusts an imaginary musket as one would a spear—“and ’a would about and about, and come you in, and come you in! ‘Rah, tah, tah!’ would ’a say; ‘Bounce!’ would ’a say!” he cries, springing back. “And away again would ’a go, and again would ’a come!
“I shall ne’er see such a fellow!” he cackles, savoring the reminiscence.
“These fellows will do well, Master Shallow,” says Falstaff; he will be paid again to replace men killed in battle. “God keep you, Master Silence! I will not use many words with you: fare you well, gentlemen both!
“I thank you. I must a dozen mile tonight. Bardolph, give the soldiers coats.” The corporal signals for one of his men to unpack some very worn ones for the king’s newest warriors.
“Sir John, the Lord bless you!” says Justice Shallow. “God prosper your affairs! God send us peace!
“At your return, visit our house! Let our old acquaintance be renewed; peradventure I will go with ye to the court!”
“’Fore God, I would you would, Master Shallow!” The knight hopes to be rewarded with just such favor after the war.
“Go to; I have spoken the word,” Shallow assures him. “God keep you!” he says, heading back to the house with Justice Silent.
“Fare you well, gentle gentlemen!” The captain turns to the corporal. “On, Bardolph; lead the men away.”
While the tattered troops straggle down the road, Falstaff thinks ahead.
As I return, I will fetch off these justices! He intends to fleece them.
I do see to the bottom of Justice Shallow! Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to this vice of lying! This same starvèd justice hath done nothing but prate to me of the wildness of his youth, and the feats he hath done about Turnbull Street—and every third word a lie, duer paid to the hearer, and greater than the Turk’s tribute!—a ruler’s ransom.
I do remember him at Clement’s Inn: like a ‘man’ made after supper out of a cheese-paring!—wax. When ’a was naked he was for all the world like a forkèd radish with a head fantastically carved upon it with a knife! ’A was so shorn that his thickest dimension were invisible to any sight! ’A was the very essence of famine, yet lecherous as a monkey, and the whores called him mandrake!
’A came ever in the rearward of fashion, and sung those tunes to the overscutchèd huswives—most popular prostitutes—that he heard the cart-men whistle at, and swore they were his fancies or his good-nights!
And now is this Vice’s-dagger—an actor’s wooden one—become a squire, and talks as familiarly of John a Gaunt as if he had been sworn brother to him!—and I’ll be sworn a’ ne’er saw him but once, in the tilt-yard—and then the noble lord burst his head for crowding in past the marshal’s men!
I saw it, and told John of Gaunt he beat his own name, for you might have thrust Shallow and all his apparel into an eel-skin! The case of a treble hautboy—a long, thin wind instrument—was a mansion for him, a court!
And now has he land and beefs! Well, I’ll be acquainted with him, if I return; and it shall go hard but I will make him a philosopher’s two stones to me! The mythical stone offers renewed youth and limitless wealth; stones is a term for testes.
If the minnow be fare for the pike, I see no reason in the law of Nature but I may snap at him!
Let time shape it, and there’s an end.
Wiping sweat from his forehead, Falstaff trudges along after his contingent of patriots.