Mistress Quickly protests loudly, as two of the blue-coated parish officers who administer punishment pull her and Doll Tearsheet along a drab street in London: “No, thou arrant knave! I would to God that I might die—so that I might get thee hanged! Thou hast drawn my shoulder out of joint!”
The wiry beadle tells his younger deputy, “The constables have delivered her over to me, and she shall have whipping soon enough, I warrant her! There hath been a man or two lately killed about her!”—victims of advanced venereal illness.
“Nut-hook, nut-hook, you lie!” cries Doll, struggling indignantly. “Come on, I’ll tell thee what, thou damnèd, tripe-visaged rascal: if the child I now go with do miscarry, thou wert better thou hadst stuck thy mother, thou paper-faced villain!” A woman who is pregnant can escape or delay being whipped.
Mistress Quickly regards her younger friend sadly. “Oh, would the Lord that Sir John were come!” she moans. “He’d make this a bloody day for somebody!”
The cynical beadle tells the madam, “But I pray God the fruit of her womb does miscarry! If it do not, you shall again have a dozen cushions!”—for men to lie on. “You have but eleven now!”
He regards the women angrily. “Come, I charge you both go with me—for the man is dead that you and Pistol beat amongst you!”
“I’ll tell you what, you face-on-a-censer, I will have you soundly swinged for this!—you blue-bottle rogue, you filthy, famished correctioner!” shouts Doll. “If you be not swinged I’ll forswear half-kirtles!”—skirts.
The beadle tugs at Mistress Quickly’s plump arm. “Come, come, you she-knight errant,”—one who makes trysts, “come!”
“Oh, God, that right should thus overcome night!” she groans. “Well, of sufferance comes ease,” she says, in half-hearted resignation.
“Come, you rogue, come,” Doll demands of the beadle, “bring me to a justice!”
“Aye, come, you starvèd blood-hound!” cries her companion.
Doll scowls at the man. “Goodman Death, Goodman Bones!”
“Thou skeleton, thou!” adds her friend.
“Come, you thin thing!”—puny penis, “come, you rascal!” cries Doll, as she is pulled along.
“Very well!” He smiles, already breathing more heavily as they approach the jail; the lonely man enjoys his work.
Near Westminster Abbey, the pavement has been swept unusually clean, and two grooms are strewing freshly cut long-grasses on the street, which is already milling with people eager for a glimpse of the new king.
“More rushes, more rushes!” cries the smaller worker.
The other nods, pulling a sheaf from the wagon as they hurry with preparations. “The trumpets have sounded twice!”
“’Twill be two o’clock ere they come from the coronation. Dispatch, dispatch!” They finish here and move steadily away among the still-swelling crowds.
Sir John Falstaff has finally reached London, and with him are Justice Shallow, Corporal Bardolph, and the young page. Their horses have been left at a fashionable inn near the Royal Exchange.
“Stand here by me, Master Robert Shallow,” says the big knight, shoving his way through a throng to stand at the front, facing the street. “I will make the king do you grace! I will leer upon him as ’a comes by—and do but mark the countenance that he will give me!”
Having heard Falstaff over the noise, his ensign, who has been trying to find him, pushes forward. “God bless thy lungs, good knight!” He has heard some news.
“Come here, Pistol; stand behind me!” commands Falstaff, positioning himself and the others to face along the route of the new monarch’s procession. He turns to Shallow. “Oh, if I had had time to have made new liveries I would have bestowed the thousand pound I borrowed of you! But ’tis no matter: this poor show doth better—this doth imply the zeal I had to see him!”
“It doth so,” says Shallow.
“It shows my earnestness of affection!”
“It doth so.”
“It doth, it doth, it doth!”
“—as it were, to ride day and night, and not to deliberate, not to remember, not to have patience shifting for me,—”
Shallow nods. “It is best, certain!”
“—but to stand, stained with travel, and sweating with desire to see him!—thinking of nothing else, putting all affairs else in oblivion, as if there were nothing else to be done but to see him!”
Mutters Pistol, “’Tis semper idem,”—always the same, “for obsequi hoc nihil est!” He means absque hoc nihil est, there’s nothing else. “’Tis all in every part!”
“’Tis so, indeed,” says Shallow.
“My knight!” cries Pistol insistently, “I will inflame thy noble liver, and make thee rage!
“Thy Doll—the Helen of thy noble thoughts—is in base durance and contagious prison!—haled thither by most mechanical and dirty hands!
“Rouse up Revenge from ebon den for fell Alecto’s sake!”—she is another of the three Furies, “for Doll is in! Pistol speaks nought but truth!”
Falstaff, still watching the street, motions for silence. “I will deliver her.”
They can hear, from down the way toward the church, loud cries of public approval, and horns heralding the arrival of King Henry V.
“There roared the sea, and trumpet-clangor sounds!” pronounces Pistol.
Behind a contingent of soldiers, some of whom move ahead to clear a path, King Henry and his royal train lead noble lords of the court toward the intersection and its cheering citizens.
“God save Thy Grace, King Hal!” shouts Falstaff over the clamor of approval. “My royal Hal!”
“The heavens guard and keep thee, most royal imp of fame!” cries Pistol.
“God save thee, my sweet boy!” bellows Falstaff.
The king turns to the nobleman walking beside him. “My lord chief justice, speak to that vain man.”
The judge moves toward Falstaff, frowning. “Have you your wits? Know you what ’tis you speak?”
“My king! My Jove!” cries Falstaff. “I speak to thee, my heart!”
The king regards him sternly. “I know thee not, old man! Fall to thy prayers! How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
“I have long imagined such a kind of man—so surfeit-swellèd, so old and so profane; but, being awaked, I do despise my dream! Henceforth make less thy body and more thy grace; leave gormandizing!—know the grave doth gape for thee thrice wider than for other men!”
He raises a warning hand. “Reply not to me with a fool-born jest! Presume not that I am the thing I was! For God doth know—soon shall the world perceive—that I have turned away from my former self; so will I from those that kept me company.
“When thou dost hear I am as I have been, approach me and thou shalt be as thou wast, the tutor and the feeder of my riots. Till then I banish thee, on pain of death, as I have done the rest of my misleaders, not to come near our person by ten miles!
“As for competence of life, I will allow it you, so that lack of means enforce you not to evil.”
He looks at Pistol too. “And, as we hear that you do reform yourselves, we will, according to your strengths and qualities, give you advancement.”
Henry nods to the chief justice. “Be it your charge, my lord, to see performèd the tenor of our word.” He motions to the military guard. “Set on.” The king and his stately train proceed to greet the other jubilating citizens of the capital.
Falstaff watches as the procession leaves them behind. “Master Shallow,” he begins, “I owe you a thousand pound….”
The country justice is clearly alarmed. “Yea, marry, Sir John!—which I beseech you to let me have home with me!”
The big knight smiles. “That can hardly be, Master Shallow. Do not you grieve at this!—I shall be sent for in private to him!
“Look you, he must seem thus to the world! Fear not your advancements; I will be the man yet that shall make you great!”
Shallow frowns. “I cannot well perceive how—unless you should give me your doublet, and stuff me out with straw! I beseech you, good Sir John, let me have five hundred of my thousand!”
“Sir, I will be as good as my word,” Falstaff assures him—oblivious to the irony. “This that you heard was but a colour!”—an affectation.
Shallow shakes his head ruefully. “A colour that I fear you will die in, Sir John!”—a play on dye.
“Fear no colours!”—a martial cry concerning flags, the erstwhile soldier tells him boldly. “Go with me to dinner! Come, Lieutenant Pistol! Come, Bardolph!
“I shall be sent for soon, at night,” he insists confidently.
Along with the lord chief justice, Prince John and several men of the royal guard return to them. “Go, carry Sir John Falstaff to the Fleet,” the judge tells the officers. “Take all his company along with him.”
Falstaff protests: “My lord, my lord!—”
“I cannot speak now. I will hear you soon,” says the chief justice. “Take them away,” he orders.
“Si Fortune me tormenta, sorrow contenta,” shrugs Pistol, as Falstaff and his tavern companions are led down the street to the prison where Hal had once been held briefly.
Prince John and the chief justice watch as the crowds disperse.
“I like this fair proceeding of the king’s,” says John. “He hath intent that his wonted followers shall all be very well provided for; but all are banished, till their conversations appear to the world more wise and modest.”
The high justice nods. “And so they are.”
“The king hath called his Parliament, my lord.”
“I will lay odds that, ere this year expire, we bear our civil swords and native fire as far as France!” says the prince. “I heard a bird so sing—whose music, to my thinking, pleased the king!
“Come, will you hence?”
They walk together toward the palace.
A sprightly actor springs forward onto the stage’s trodden rushes to address his still-applauding audience.
“First my fear, then my courtesy; last my speech!
“My fear is your displeasure; my courtesy”—he bows, “my duty! And my speech: to beg your pardons!
“If you look for a good speech now, you undo me, for what I have to say is of mine own making, and what indeed I should say will, I fret, prove mine own marring!
“But to the purpose, and so to the venture! Be it known to you, as it is very well, I was lately here at the end of a displeasing play to pray your patience for it, and to promise you a better.”
His tone is clearly wry. The author’s previous play about King Henry IV was very successful, but for portraying a fat knight called Oldcastle, it drew the ire of an influential family by that name.
“I meant indeed to pay you with this—which, if like an ill venture it come unluckily home, I break, and you, my gentle creditors, lose! Here I promised you I would be; and here I commit my body to your mercies! Abate me some, and I will pay you a sum—and, as most debtors do, promise you infinitely!”
He shrugs, pretending his laughing auditors disapprove: “If my tongue cannot entreat you to acquit me, will you command me to use my legs?”—perform a jig, as is customary after a stage play. “And yet that were but light payment—to dance out of your debt!
“But a good conscience will make any possible satisfaction—and so would I!” he quips.
“All the gentle women here have forgiven me; if the gentle men will not, then the gentlemen do not agree with the gentlewomen!—which was never seen before in such an assembly!”
He speaks over the laughter. “One word more, I beseech you.
“If you be not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katherine of France!—where, for anything I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat—unless he already be killed by your hard opinions; for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not that man.
“My tongue is weary. When my legs are, too, I will bid you good night!—and so kneel down before you.”
He raises an eyebrow at the lewd catcalls, and grins. “But only, indeed, to pray for the queen!” And with that he begins a lively dance, and soon the other players join in.