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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Scenes from the Comedies and Histories: Falstaff and Prince Hal

By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

From First Part of ‘King Henry IV.’

Scene: Eastcheap.A Room in the Boar’s Head Tavern.Prince Henry, Poins.Enter Falstaff, Gadshill, Bardolph, and Peto.

POINS—Welcome, Jack. Where hast thou been?

Falstaff—A plague of all cowards, I say, and a vengeance too! marry, and amen!—Give me a cup of sack, boy.—Ere I lead this life long, I’ll sew nether-stocks, and mend them, and foot them too. A plague of all cowards!—Give me a cup of sack, rogue.—Is there no virtue extant?[He drinks.]

Prince Henry—Didst thou never see Titan kiss a dish of butter? pitiful-hearted Titan, that melted at the sweet tale of the sun! If thou didst, then behold that compound.

Falstaff—You rogue, here’s lime in this sack too; there is nothing but roguery to be found in villainous man: yet a coward is worse than a cup of sack with lime in it; a villainous coward.—Go thy ways, old Jack; die when thou wilt, if manhood, good manhood, be not forgot upon the face of the earth, then am I a shotten herring. There live not three good men unhanged in England; and one of them is fat, and grows old: God help the while! a bad world, I say. I would I were a weaver: I could sing psalms or anything. A plague of all cowards, I say still.

Prince Henry—How now, wool-sack! what mutter you?

Falstaff—A king’s son! If I do not beat thee out of thy kingdom with a dagger of lath, and drive all thy subjects afore thee like a flock of wild geese, I’ll never wear hair on my face more. You Prince of Wales!

Prince Henry—Why, you whoreson round man, what’s the matter?

Falstaff—Are you not a coward? answer me to that! and Poins there?

Poins—Zounds! ye fat paunch, and ye call me coward, I’ll stab thee.

Falstaff—I call thee coward! I’ll see thee damned ere I call thee coward; but I would give a thousand pound I could run as fast as thou canst. You are straight enough in the shoulders; you care not who sees your back. Call you that backing of your friends? A plague upon such backing! give me them that will face me.—Give me a cup of sack: I am a rogue if I drunk to-day.

Prince Henry—O villain! thy lips are scarce wiped since thou drunkest last.

Falstaff—All’s one for that.[He drinks.]A plague of all cowards, still say I.

Prince Henry—What’s the matter?

Falstaff—What’s the matter? there be four of us here have ta’en a thousand pound this day morning.

Prince Henry—Where is it, Jack! where is it?

Falstaff—Where is it? taken from us it is: a hundred upon poor four of us.

Prince Henry—What, a hundred, man?

Falstaff—I am a rogue, if I were not at half-sword with a dozen of them two hours together. I have ’scaped by miracle. I am eight times thrust through the doublet; four through the hose; my buckler cut through and through; my sword hacked like a hand-saw: ecce signum.[Drawing it.]I never dealt better since I was a man: all would not do. A plague of all cowards!—Let them speak: if they speak more or less than truth they are villains, and the sons of darkness.

Prince Henry—Speak, sirs: how was it?

Bardolph—We four set upon some dozen,—

Falstaff—Sixteen, at least, my lord.

Bardolph—And bound them.

Peto—No, no, they were not bound.

Falstaff—You rogue, they were bound, every man of them; or I am a Jew else, an Ebrew Jew.

Bardolph—As we were sharing, some six or seven fresh men set upon us,—

Falstaff—And unbound the rest, and then come in the other.

Prince Henry—What! fought ye with them all?

Falstaff—All? I know not what ye call all: but if I fought not with fifty of them, I am a bunch of radish; if there were not two or three and fifty upon poor old Jack, then am I no two-legged creature.

Prince Henry—Pray God you have not murdered some of them.

Falstaff—Nay, that’s past praying for: I have peppered two of them; two, I am sure, I have paid; two rogues in buckram suits. I tell thee what, Hal—if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face, call me horse. Thou knowest my old ward;—here I lay, and thus I bore my point. Four rogues in buckram let drive at me,—

Prince Henry—What, four? thou saidst but two even now.

Falstaff—Four, Hal; I told thee four.

Poins—Ay, ay, he said four.

Falstaff—These four came all a-front, and mainly thrust at me. I made me no more ado, but took all their seven points in my target, thus.

Prince Henry—Seven? why, there were but four even now.

Falstaff—In buckram.

Poins—Ay, four in buckram suits.

Falstaff—Seven, by these hilts, or I am a villain else.

Prince Henry[to Poins]—Pr’ythee, let him alone: we shall have more anon.

Falstaff—Dost thou hear me, Hal?

Prince Henry—Ay, and mark thee too, Jack.

Falstaff—Do so, for it is worth the listening to. These nine in buckram, that I told thee of,—

Prince Henry—So, two more already.

Falstaff—Their points being broken,—

Poins—Down fell their hose.

Falstaff—Began to give me ground; but I followed me close, came in, foot and hand, and with a thought, seven of the eleven I paid.

Prince Henry—Oh, monstrous! eleven buckram men grown out of two.

Falstaff—But as the Devil would have it, three misbegotten knaves in Kendal-green came at my back, and let drive at me;—for it was so dark, Hal, that thou couldst not see thy hand.

Prince Henry—These lies are like the father that begets them: gross as a mountain; open, palpable. Why, thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson, obscene, greasy tallow-keech—

Falstaff—What! art thou mad? art thou mad? is not the truth the truth?

Prince Henry—Why, how couldst thou know these men were in Kendal-green, when it was so dark thou couldst not see thy hand? Come, tell us your reason: what sayest thou to this?

Poins—Come, your reason, Jack, your reason.

Falstaff—What, upon compulsion? No: were I at the strappado or all the racks in the world, I would not tell you on compulsion. Give you a reason on compulsion! if reasons were as plenty as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion, I.

Prince Henry—I’ll be no longer guilty of this sin: this sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horse-back-breaker, this huge hill of flesh—

Falstaff—Away, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s pizzle, you stockfish,—oh for breath to utter what is like thee!—you tailor’s yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing-tuck—

Prince Henry—Well, breathe awhile, and then to it again; and when thou hast tired thyself in base comparisons, hear me speak but this.

Poins—Mark, Jack.

Prince Henry—We two saw you four set on four; you bound them, and were masters of their wealth.—Mark now, how plain a tale shall put you down.—Then did we two set on you four, and with a word, outfaced you from your prize, and have it; yea, and can show it you here in the house.—And, Falstaff, you carried your guts away as nimbly, with as quick dexterity, and roared for mercy, and still ran and roared, as ever I heard bullcalf. What a slave art thou, to hack thy sword as thou hast done, and then say it was in fight! What trick, what device, what starting-hole, canst thou now find out, to hide thee from this open and apparent shame?

Poins—Come, let’s hear, Jack: what trick hast thou now?

Falstaff—By the Lord, I knew ye as well as He that made ye. Why, hear ye, my masters: was it for me to kill the heir apparent? Should I turn upon the true prince? Why, thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules: but beware instinct; the lion will not touch the true prince. Instinct is a great matter; I was a coward on instinct. I shall think the better of myself and thee during my life; I for a valiant lion, and thou for a true prince. But by the Lord, lads, I am glad you have the money.