London. An apartment of the Prince’s.
(Prince of Wales; Sir John Falstaff; Poins)
Merry and careless, Prince Hal jokes around with the fat old rogue Falstaff, who looks forward to the day when his companion shall be King. Poins enters, and tells of a company of pilgrims who will be easy to rob the next night on the highway. Hal is recalcitrant at the idea of becoming a thief, but when they are on their own, Poins suggests that they should wait for Falstaff and others to do the robbing, and then attack them and take all the loot themselves, looking forward to the tall tales Falstaff will tell of the event. Hal agrees. Left alone, he reflects on how he knows all these men well, and sees through them; he may appear to be a carefree rascal, but this is a role he is putting on so that later, when he seems to reform, it will be that much more effective. (85 lines)
Enter Prince of Wales and Sir John Falstaff.
Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?
Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldest truly know. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-color’d taffeta; I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.
Indeed you come near me now, Hal, for we that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars, and not by Phoebus, he, “that wand’ring knight so fair.” And I prithee, sweet wag, when thou art a king, as, God save thy Grace—Majesty I should say, for grace thou wilt have none—
No, by my troth, not so much as will serve to be prologue to an egg and butter.
Well, how then? Come, roundly, roundly.
Marry, then, sweet wag, when thou art king, let not us that are squires of the night’s body be call’d thieves of the day’s beauty. Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon, and let men say we be men of good government, being govern’d, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.
Thou sayest well, and it holds well too, for the fortune of us that are the moon’s men doth ebb and flow like the sea, being govern’d, as the sea is, by the moon. As, for proof, now: a purse of gold most resolutely snatch’d on Monday night and most dissolutely spent on Tuesday morning; got with swearing “Lay by,” and spent with crying “Bring in”; now in as low an ebb as the foot of the ladder, and by and by in as high a flow as the ridge of the gallows.
By the Lord, thou say’st true, lad. And is not my hostess of the tavern a most sweet wench?
As the honey of Hybla, my old lad of the castle. And is not a buff jerkin a most sweet robe of durance?
How now, how now, mad wag? What, in thy quips and thy quiddities? What a plague have I to do with a buff jerkin?
Why, what a pox have I to do with my hostess of the tavern?
Well, thou hast call’d her to a reckoning many a time and oft.
Did I ever call for thee to pay thy part?
No, I’ll give thee thy due, thou hast paid all there.
Yea, and elsewhere, so far as my coin would stretch, and where it would not, I have us’d my credit.
Yea, and so us’d it that, were it not here apparent that thou art heir apparent—But I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art king? And resolution thus fubb’d as it is with the rusty curb of old father antic the law? Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief.
No, thou shalt.
Shall I? O rare! By the Lord, I’ll be a brave judge.
Thou judgest false already. I mean thou shalt have the hanging of the thieves, and so become a rare hangman.
Well, Hal, well, and in some sort it jumps with my humor as well as waiting in the court, I can tell you.
For obtaining of suits?
Yea, for obtaining of suits, whereof the hangman hath no lean wardrobe. ’Sblood, I am as melancholy as a gib cat or a lugg’d bear.
Or an old lion, or a lover’s lute.
Yea, or the drone of a Lincolnshire bagpipe.
What sayest thou to a hare, or the melancholy of Moor-ditch?
Thou hast the most unsavory similes and art indeed the most comparative, rascalliest, sweet young prince. But, Hal, I prithee trouble me no more with vanity; I would to God thou and I knew where a commodity of good names were to be bought. An old lord of the Council rated me the other day in the street about you, sir, but I mark’d him not, and yet he talk’d very wisely, but I regarded him not, and yet he talk’d wisely, and in the street too.
Thou didst well, for wisdom cries out in the streets, and no man regards it.
O, thou hast damnable iteration, and art indeed able to corrupt a saint. Thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal, God forgive thee for it! Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing, and now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked. I must give over this life, and I will give it over. By the Lord, and I do not, I am a villain, I’ll be damn’d for never a king’s son in Christendom.
Where shall we take a purse tomorrow, Jack?
’Zounds, where thou wilt, lad, I’ll make one, an’ I do not, call me villain and baffle me.
I see a good amendment of life in thee, from praying to purse-taking.
Why, Hal, ’tis my vocation, Hal, ’tis no sin for a man to labor in his vocation.
Poins! Now shall we know if Gadshill have set a match. O, if men were to be sav’d by merit, what hole in hell were hot enough for him? This is the most omnipotent villain that ever cried “Stand!” to a true man.
Good morrow, Ned.
Good morrow, sweet Hal. What says Monsieur Remorse? What says Sir John Sack and Sugar? Jack, how agrees the devil and thee about thy soul that thou soldest him on Good Friday last, for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon’s leg?
Sir John stands to his word, the devil shall have his bargain, for he was never yet a breaker of proverbs. He will give the devil his due.
Then art thou damn’d for keeping thy word with the devil.
Else he had been damn’d for cozening the devil.
But, my lads, my lads, tomorrow morning by four a’ clock early, at Gadshill, there are pilgrims going to Canterbury with rich offerings, and traders riding to London with fat purses. I have vizards for you all; you have horses for yourselves. Gadshill lies tonight in Rochester. I have bespoke supper tomorrow night in Eastcheap. We may do it as secure as sleep. If you will go, I will stuff your purses full of crowns; if you will not, tarry at home and be hang’d.
Hear ye, Yedward, if I tarry at home and go not, I’ll hang you for going.
You will, chops?
Hal, wilt thou make one?
Who, I rob? I a thief? Not I, by my faith.
There’s neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee, nor thou cam’st not of the blood royal, if thou darest not stand for ten shillings.
Well then, once in my days I’ll be a madcap.
Why, that’s well said.
Well, come what will, I’ll tarry at home.
By the Lord, I’ll be a traitor then, when thou art king.
I care not.
Sir John, I prithee leave the Prince and me alone, I will lay him down such reasons for this adventure that he shall go.
Well, God give thee the spirit of persuasion and him the ears of profiting, that what thou speakest may move and what he hears may be believ’d, that the true prince may (for recreation sake) prove a false thief, for the poor abuses of the time want countenance. Farewell, you shall find me in Eastcheap.
Farewell, the latter spring! Farewell, All-hallown summer!
Now, my good sweet honey lord, ride with us tomorrow. I have a jest to execute that I cannot manage alone. Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto, and Gadshill shall rob those men that we have already waylaid; yourself and I will not be there; and when they have the booty, if you and I do not rob them, cut this head off from my shoulders.
How shall we part with them in setting forth?
Why, we will set forth before or after them and appoint them a place of meeting, wherein it is at our pleasure to fail; and then will they adventure upon the exploit themselves, which they shall have no sooner achiev’d but we’ll set upon them.
Yea, but ’tis like that they will know us by our horses, by our habits, and by every other appointment to be ourselves.
Tut, our horses they shall not see—I’ll tie them in the wood; our vizards we will change after we leave them; and, sirrah, I have cases of buckram for the nonce, to immask our noted outward garments.
Yea, but I doubt they will be too hard for us.
Well, for two of them, I know them to be as true-bred cowards as ever turn’d back; and for the third, if he fight longer than he sees reason, I’ll forswear arms. The virtue of this jest will be the incomprehensible lies that this same fat rogue will tell us when we meet at supper, how thirty at least he fought with, what wards, what blows, what extremities he endur’d, and in the reproof of this lives the jest.
Well, I’ll go with thee. Provide us all things necessary, and meet me tomorrow night in Eastcheap, there I’ll sup. Farewell.
Farewell, my lord.
I know you all, and will a while uphold
The unyok’d humor of your idleness,
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wond’red at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wish’d for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes,
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend, to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.