Prologue Scene 1
Before an alehouse on a heath.
(Christopher Sly; Hostess; Lord; First Huntsman; Second Huntsman; First Servingman; Players)
The drunken, penniless Christopher Sly is ejected from a tavern, though he protests that he is of respectable birth. He passes out. A Lord out hunting comes across him, and decides to amuse himself by dressing Sly up like a lord, to find out whether it would be possible to convince him that his life as a beggar was only a dream. His servants pick Sly up and bear him away. A troop of travelling actors pass by, and the Lord decides to add them to his joke/experiment. He orders his page Bartholomew to dress up as a woman and pretend to be Sly’s wife. The Lord then goes to make sure that none of his servants will laugh and give away the trick. (131 lines)
Enter beggar, Christophero Sly, and Hostess.
I’ll pheeze you, in faith.
A pair of stocks, you rogue!
Y’ are a baggage, the Slys are no rogues. Look in the chronicles; we came in with Richard Conqueror. Therefore paucas pallabris, let the world slide. Sessa!
You will not pay for the glasses you have burst?
No, not a denier. Go by, Saint Jeronimy! Go to thy cold bed, and warm thee.
I know my remedy; I must go fetch the thirdborough.
Third, or fourth, or fifth borough, I’ll answer him by law. I’ll not budge an inch, boy; let him come, and kindly.
Wind horns. Enter a Lord from hunting, with his Train.
Huntsman, I charge thee, tender well my hounds
(Brach Merriman, the poor cur, is emboss’d),
And couple Clowder with the deep-mouth’d brach.
Saw’st thou not, boy, how Silver made it good
At the hedge-corner, in the coldest fault?
I would not lose the dog for twenty pound.
Why, Belman is as good as he, my lord;
He cried upon it at the merest loss,
And twice today pick’d out the dullest scent.
Trust me, I take him for the better dog.
Thou art a fool; if Echo were as fleet,
I would esteem him worth a dozen such.
But sup them well, and look unto them all,
Tomorrow I intend to hunt again.
I will, my lord.
What’s here? One dead, or drunk? See, doth he breathe?
He breathes, my lord. Were he not warm’d with ale,
This were a bed but cold to sleep so soundly.
O monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies!
Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!
Sirs, I will practice on this drunken man.
What think you, if he were convey’d to bed,
Wrapp’d in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes,
Would not the beggar then forget himself?
Believe me, lord, I think he cannot choose.
It would seem strange unto him when he wak’d.
Even as a flatt’ring dream or worthless fancy.
Then take him up, and manage well the jest.
Carry him gently to my fairest chamber,
And hang it round with all my wanton pictures.
Balm his foul head in warm distilled waters,
And burn sweet wood to make the lodging sweet.
Procure me music ready when he wakes,
To make a dulcet and a heavenly sound;
And if he chance to speak, be ready straight,
And with a low submissive reverence
Say, “What is it your honor will command?”
Let one attend him with a silver basin
Full of rose-water and bestrew’d with flowers,
Another bear the ewer, the third a diaper,
And say, “Will’t please your lordship cool your hands?”
Some one be ready with a costly suit,
And ask him what apparel he will wear;
Another tell him of his hounds and horse,
And that his lady mourns at his disease.
Persuade him that he hath been lunatic,
And when he says he is, say that he dreams,
For he is nothing but a mighty lord.
This do, and do it kindly, gentle sirs;
It will be pastime passing excellent,
If it be husbanded with modesty.
My lord, I warrant you we will play our part
As he shall think by our true diligence
He is no less than what we say he is.
Take him up gently and to bed with him,
And each one to his office when he wakes.
Some bear out Sly.
Sirrah, go see what trumpet ’tis that sounds.
Belike some noble gentleman that means
(Travelling some journey) to repose him here.
How now? Who is it?
An’t please your honor, players
That offer service to your lordship.
Bid them come near. Now, fellows, you are welcome.
We thank your honor.
Do you intend to stay with me tonight?
So please your lordship to accept our duty.
With all my heart. This fellow I remember
Since once he play’d a farmer’s eldest son.
’Twas where you woo’d the gentlewoman so well.
I have forgot your name; but sure that part
Was aptly fitted and naturally perform’d.
I think ’twas Soto that your honor means.
’Tis very true; thou didst it excellent.
Well, you are come to me in happy time,
The rather for I have some sport in hand,
Wherein your cunning can assist me much.
There is a lord will hear you play tonight;
But I am doubtful of your modesties,
Lest, over-eyeing of his odd behavior
(For yet his honor never heard a play),
You break into some merry passion,
And so offend him; for I tell you, sirs,
If you should smile, he grows impatient.
Fear not, my lord, we can contain ourselves,
Were he the veriest antic in the world.
Go, sirrah, take them to the buttery,
And give them friendly welcome every one.
Let them want nothing that my house affords.
Exit one with the Players.
Sirrah, go you to Barthol’mew my page,
And see him dress’d in all suits like a lady;
That done, conduct him to the drunkard’s chamber,
And call him madam, do him obeisance.
Tell him from me, as he will win my love,
He bear himself with honorable action,
Such as he hath observ’d in noble ladies
Unto their lords, by them accomplished;
Such duty to the drunkard let him do,
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say, “What is’t your honor will command,
Wherein your lady, and your humble wife,
May show her duty and make known her love?”
And then with kind embracements, tempting kisses,
And with declining head into his bosom,
Bid him shed tears, as being overjoyed
To see her noble lord restor’d to health,
Who for this seven years hath esteemed him
No better than a poor and loathsome beggar.
And if the boy have not a woman’s gift
To rain a shower of commanded tears,
An onion will do well for such a shift,
Which in a napkin (being close convey’d)
Shall in despite enforce a watery eye.
See this dispatch’d with all the haste thou canst;
Anon I’ll give thee more instructions.
Exit First Servingman.
I know the boy will well usurp the grace,
Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman.
I long to hear him call the drunkard husband,
And how my men will stay themselves from laughter
When they do homage to this simple peasant.
I’ll in to counsel them; haply my presence
May well abate the over-merry spleen,
Which otherwise would grow into extremes.
Prologue Scene 2
A bedchamber in the Lord’s house.
(Sly; First Servant; Second Servant; Third Servant; Lord; Page; Messenger)
The servants press around Sly, offering him rich people’s drink, food and clothes, but he vigorously denies he is a lord and insists he prefers beer to wine. As he goes through the details of his life, the servants pretend that this is merely the form his madness takes, and beg him to get better. As they offer to bring him anything he wants and list the various things he supposedly owns, Sly begins to be convinced. The Page enters dressed as a woman, and the servants have to teach Sly how a nobleman treats a noblewoman, since Sly cannot rise above his lower-class style. He tries to get his “wife” to go to bed with him, but the Page excuses “herself” on doctors’ orders. A Messenger arrives to announce the players, and Sly agrees to see their play — “The Taming of the Shrew”. (123 lines)
Enter aloft the drunkard Sly with Attendants, some with apparel, basin and ewer, and other appurtenances, and Lord.
For God’s sake, a pot of small ale.
Will’t please your lordship drink a cup of sack?
Will’t please your honor taste of these conserves?
What raiment will your honor wear today?
I am Christophero Sly, call not me honor nor lordship. I ne’er drank sack in my life; and if you give me any conserves, give me conserves of beef. Ne’er ask me what raiment I’ll wear, for I have no more doublets than backs, no more stockings than legs, nor no more shoes than feet—nay, sometime more feet than shoes, or such shoes as my toes look through the overleather.
Heaven cease this idle humor in your honor!
O that a mighty man of such descent,
Of such possessions, and so high esteem,
Should be infused with so foul a spirit!
What, would you make me mad? Am not I Christopher Sly, old Sly’s son of Burton-heath, by birth a pedlar, by education a card-maker, by transmutation a bear-herd, and now by present profession a tinker? Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, if she know me not. If she say I am not fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale, score me up for the lying’st knave in Christendom. What! I am not bestraught. Here’s—
O, this it is that makes your lady mourn!
O, this is it that makes your servants droop!
Hence comes it that your kindred shuns your house,
As beaten hence by your strange lunacy.
O noble lord, bethink thee of thy birth,
Call home thy ancient thoughts from banishment,
And banish hence these abject lowly dreams.
Look how thy servants do attend on thee,
Each in his office ready at thy beck.
Wilt thou have music? Hark, Apollo plays,
And twenty caged nightingales do sing.
Or wilt thou sleep? We’ll have thee to a couch,
Softer and sweeter than the lustful bed
On purpose trimm’d up for Semiramis.
Say thou wilt walk; we will bestrow the ground.
Or wilt thou ride? Thy horses shall be trapp’d,
Their harness studded all with gold and pearl.
Dost thou love hawking? Thou hast hawks will soar
Above the morning lark. Or wilt thou hunt?
Thy hounds shall make the welkin answer them
And fetch shrill echoes from the hollow earth.
Say thou wilt course, thy greyhounds are as swift
As breathed stags; ay, fleeter than the roe.
Dost thou love pictures? We will fetch thee straight
Adonis painted by a running brook,
And Cytherea all in sedges hid,
Which seem to move and wanton with her breath,
Even as the waving sedges play with wind.
We’ll show thee Io as she was a maid,
And how she was beguiled and surpris’d,
As lively painted as the deed was done.
Or Daphne roaming through a thorny wood,
Scratching her legs that one shall swear she bleeds,
And at that sight shall sad Apollo weep,
So workmanly the blood and tears are drawn.
Thou art a lord, and nothing but a lord.
Thou hast a lady far more beautiful
Than any woman in this waning age.
And till the tears that she hath shed for thee
Like envious floods o’errun her lovely face,
She was the fairest creature in the world,
And yet she is inferior to none.
Am I a lord, and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? Or have I dream’d till now?
I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak;
I smell sweet savors, and I feel soft things.
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed,
And not a tinker, nor Christopher Sly.
Well, bring our lady hither to our sight,
And once again a pot o’ th’ smallest ale.
Will’t please your mightiness to wash your hands?
O how we joy to see your wit restor’d!
O that once more you knew but what you are!
These fifteen years you have been in a dream,
Or when you wak’d, so wak’d as if you slept.
These fifteen years! By my fay, a goodly nap,
But did I never speak of all that time?
O yes, my lord, but very idle words,
For though you lay here in this goodly chamber,
Yet would you say ye were beaten out of door,
And rail upon the hostess of the house,
And say you would present her at the leet,
Because she brought stone jugs and no seal’d quarts.
Sometimes you would call out for Cicely Hacket.
Ay, the woman’s maid of the house.
Why, sir, you know no house nor no such maid,
Nor no such men as you have reckon’d up,
As Stephen Sly, and old John Naps of Greece,
And Peter Turph, and Henry Pimpernell,
And twenty more such names and men as these,
Which never were, nor no man ever saw.
Now Lord be thanked for my good amends!
Enter the Page as a lady, with Attendants.
I thank thee, thou shalt not lose by it.
How fares my noble lord?
Marry, I fare well, for here is cheer enough.
Where is my wife?
Here, noble lord, what is thy will with her?
Are you my wife and will not call me husband?
My men should call me “lord”; I am your goodman.
My husband and my lord, my lord and husband,
I am your wife in all obedience.
I know it well. What must I call her?
Al’ce madam, or Joan madam?
Madam, and nothing else, so lords call ladies.
Madam wife, they say that I have dream’d,
And slept above some fifteen year or more.
Ay, and the time seems thirty unto me,
Being all this time abandon’d from your bed.
’Tis much. Servants, leave me and her alone.
Madam, undress you, and come now to bed.
Thrice-noble lord, let me entreat of you
To pardon me yet for a night or two;
Or if not so, until the sun be set.
For your physicians have expressly charg’d,
In peril to incur your former malady,
That I should yet absent me from your bed.
I hope this reason stands for my excuse.
Ay, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long. But I would be loath to fall into my dreams again. I will therefore tarry in despite of the flesh and the blood.
Enter a Messenger.
Your honor’s players, hearing your amendment,
Are come to play a pleasant comedy,
For so your doctors hold it very meet,
Seeing too much sadness hath congeal’d your blood,
And melancholy is the nurse of frenzy.
Therefore they thought it good you hear a play,
And frame your mind to mirth and merriment,
Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.
Marry, I will, let them play it. Is not a comonty a Christmas gambold, or a tumbling-trick?
No, my good lord, it is more pleasing stuff.
What, household stuff?
It is a kind of history.
Well, we’ll see’t. Come, madam wife, sit by my side, and let the world slip, we shall ne’er be younger.
They all sit. Flourish.