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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

Valorous Jack Falstaff

From “First Part of King Henry IV


Poins.Welcome, Jack. Where hast thou been?

Fal.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?(Drinks.)

P. Hen.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.

Fal.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!

P. Hen.How now, wool-sack? What mutter you?

Fal.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!

P. Hen.Why, you round man, what’s the matter?

Fal.Are you not a coward? answer me to that; and Poins there?

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

Fal.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.

P. Hen.O villain! thy lips are scarce wiped since thou drunk’st last.

Fal.All’s one for that.(Drinks.)A plague of all cowards, still say I!

P. Hen.What’s the matter?

Fal.What’s the matter! There be four of us here have ta’en a thousand pound this day morning.

P. Hen.Where is it, Jack? Where is it?

Fal.Where is it? Taken from us it is: a hundred upon poor four of us.

P. Hen.What, a hundred, man?

Fal.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. 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.

P. Hen.Speak, sirs; how was it?

Gads.We four set upon some dozen—

Fal.Sixteen, at least, my lord.

Gads.And bound them.

Peto.No, no, they were not bound.

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

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

Fal.And unbound the rest, and then come in the other.

P. Hen.What, fought ye with them all?

Fal.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.

P. Hen.Pray Heaven you have not murdered some of them.

Fal.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—

P. Hen.What, four? Thou saidst but two, even now.

Fal.Four, Hal; I told thee four.

Poins.Ay, ay, he said four.

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

P. Hen.Seven? Why, there were but four, even now.

Fal.In buckram?

Poins.Ay, four, in buckram suits.

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

P. Hen.Prithee, let him alone; we shall have more anon.

Fal.Dost thou hear me, Hal?

P. Hen.Ay, and mark thee too, Jack.

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

P. Hen.So, two more already.

Fal.Their points being broken—

Poins.Down fell their hose.

Fal.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.

P. Hen.Oh, monstrous! eleven buckram men grown out of two!

Fal.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.

P. Hen.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 obscene, greasy tallow-keech—

Fal.What! art thou mad, art thou mad? Is not the truth the truth?

P. Hen.Why, how couldst thou know these men 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.

Fal.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.

P. Hen.I’ll be no longer guilty of this sin: this sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horseback-breaker, this huge hill of flesh—

Fal.Away, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you stock-fish! Oh, for breath to utter what is like thee! You tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow case, you vile—

P. Hen.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.

P. Hen.We two saw you four set on four; you bound them, and were masters of their wealth. Mark now, how a plain 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 bull-calf. 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?

Fal.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.(To Hostess within.)Hostess, clap to the doors: watch to-night, pray to-morrow.—Gallants, lads, boys, hearts of gold, all the titles of good fellowship come to you! What! Shall we be merry? Shall we have a play extempore?

P. Hen.Content. And the argument shall be, thy running away.

Fal.Ah! no more of that, Hal, an thou lovest me!