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.