It is to be observed of this play that, though its plan is irregular, it has been made instrumental to the production of many discriminate characters who deliver themselves with candour and propriety, as they approach towards, or recede from, the operations of Justice. The juxtaposition of Hamlet and Falstaff may be questioned by the learned or the delicate, but the conjectural critic of an author neither systematic nor consequential can affirm that those same forces of natural genius, which expatiate in splendour and passion, demand for their refreshment and sanity an abruptness of release and a lawlessness of invention, proportioned to precedent constrictions. He only who hath never toiled in the anfractuous mines of Philosophy or Letters, nor subdued himself to the ignoble needs of the Stage, will dispute the proposition.
There is a tradition that this play was composed after a drinking bout. I would prefer to credit that it owed its birth to some such concatenation of circumstances as 1 have adumbrated. The more so since, amid much that is ill-considered, or even depraved, our author has assigned to the crafty and careless Falstaff an awful, if fleeting, visitation of self-knowledge. Let us now be told no more of the illegitimacy of this play.
Argument, FALSTAFF, NYM, POINS, BARDOLPH and FLUELLEN having accompanied PRINCE HENRY in a motor drive through the city of London, their car breaks down, and FALSTAFF returns to the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, where he is, followed by the PRINCE and FLUELLEN.
Here’s all at an end between us, or I’ll never taste sack again. Prince or no Prince, I’ll not ride with him to Coventry on the hinder parts of a carbonadoed stink, not though he call her all the car in Christendom. Sack! Sack! Sack!
HOSTESS. I spied her out of the lattice. A’ fizzled and a’ groaned and a’ shook from the bones out, Sir John, and a’ ran on her own impulsidges back and forth o’ Chepe, and I knew that there was but one way to it when I saw them fighting at the handles. She died of a taking of pure wind on the heart, and they be about her body now with tongs. A marvellous searching perfume, Sir John!
FALSTAFF. He hath called me ribs; he hath called me tallow. There is no name in the extremer oiliness of comparisons which I have not borne meekly. But to go masked at midday; to wrap my belly in an horse-hide cloak of ten thousand buttons till I looked like a mushroomed dunghill; to be smoked over burnt oils; to be enseamed, moreover, with intolerable greases; and thus scented, thus habited, thus vizarded, to leap out-for I leaped, mark you . . . Another cup of sack! But there’s vengeance for my case! These eyes have seen the Lord’s Anointed on his knees in Chepe, foining with the key of Shrewsbury Castle, which Poins had bent to the very crook of Nym’s theftuous elbow, to wake the dumb devil in the guts of her. “Sweet Hal,” said I, “are all horses sold out of England, that thou must kneel before the lieges to any petrol-piddling turnspit?” Then he, Poins, and Bardolph whose nose blanched with sheer envy of her bodywork, begged a shoulder of me to thrust her into some alley, the street being full of Ephesians of the old church. Whereat I . . .
PRINCE. Whereat thou, hearing her once or twice tenderly
FALSTAFF. Heaven forgive thee, Hal! She thundered and lightened a full half-hour, so that Jove Himself could not have bettered the instruction. There’s a pit beneath her now, which she blew out of thy father’s highway the while I watched, where Sackerson could stand to six dogs.
PRINCE. Hearing, I say, her gentle outcry against Poins’ mishandling, thou didst flee up Chepe, calling upon the Sheriff’s Watch for a red flag.
FALSTAFF. I? Call me Jack if I were not jack to each of her wheels in turn till I am stamped like a butter-pat with the imprint of her underpinnings. I seek a red flag?
PRINCE. Ay, roaring like a bull.
FALSTAFF. Groans, Hal, groans such as Atlas heaved. But she overbore me at. the last. Why hast thou left her?—Faugh, that a King’s son should ever reek like a smutty-wicked lamp upon the wrong side of the morning!
PRINCE. There was Bardolph in the buckbasket behind, nosing fearfully overside like a full-wattled turkey-poult from Norfolk. There was Poins upon his belly beneath her, thrice steeped in pure plumbago, most despairfully clanking of chains like the devil in Brug’s Hall window; and there were some four thousand ’prentices at her tail, crying, “What ho!” and that she bumped. Methought ’twas no place for my father’s son.
FALSTAFF. Take any man’s horses and hale her to bed! The laws of England are at thy commandment, that the Heir should not be made a common stink in the nostrils of the lieges.
PRINCE. She’d not stir for all Apollo’s team—not though Phæton himself, drunk with nectar, lashed ’em stark mad. Poor Phæton!
HOSTESS. A’ was a King’s son, was a’ not, and came to’s end by keeping of bad company?
FALSTAFF. No more than a little horseflesh. I tell thee, Hal, this England of ours has never looked up since the nobles fell to puking over oil-buckets by the side of leather-jerkined Walloons.
PRINCE. He that drives me now is French as our princely cousin.
FALSTAFF. Dumain? Hang him for a pestilent, poke-eyed, chicken-chopping, hump-backed, leather-hatted, muffle-gloved ape! He hath been fined as often as he hath broken down; and that is at every tavern ’twixt here and York. Dumain! He’s the most notorious widow-maker on the Windsor road. His mother was a corn-cutter at Ypres, and his father a barber at Rouen, by which beastly conjunction he rightly draws every infirmity that damns him in his trade. Item: He cuts corners niggardly and upon the wrong side. Item: He’ll look behind him after a likely wench in the hottest press of Holborn, though he skid into the kennel for it. Item: He depends upon his brake to save him at need—a death-bed repentance, Hal, as hath been proved ere this, since grace is uncertain. Item: He is too proud to clean the body of her, but leaves the care of that which should be the very cote-armour of his mechanic knighthood to an unheedful ostler. Thus, at last, he comes to overlook even the oiling; and so it falls that she’s where she must be, and not where thou wouldst have her. Ay, laugh if thou wilt, Hal, but a round worthy knight need not fire himself through three baronies in eight hours to know the very essence of the petrol that fumes him. Domain will one day clutch thee into Hell upon the first speed.
PRINCE. Strange that clear knowledge should so long outlive mere nerve! I’ll dub Domain knight when I come to the throne, if he be not hanged first for murder on the highway. ’Twill save the state a pension.
FALSTAFF. So the lean vice goes ever before the solid virtue, (Confused noise without.) What riot’s afoot now?
FLUELLEN. Riots, look you, by my vizaments, make one noise, but murders another. There’s riots in Monmouth; but, by my vizaments, look you, there’s murders in Chepe. Pabes and old ’oomen—they howl so tamnably.
FALSTAFF. Rebellion rather! Half London’s calling on thy name, Hal, and half on thy father’s. Well, if it be successful, forget not who was promised the reversion of the Chief Justice-ship. Ha! Unquestioned rebellion, if broken crowns signify aught.
Most gracious lord, the car that bore thy state,
Too long neglected and adjudged acold,
Hath, without warning or advertisement,
Risen refreshed from her supposed stand
In unattended revolution.
PRINCE. This it is to be a King’s son! That a pitiful twelve horse touring-car cannot jar off her brakes but they must rehearse it me in damnable heroics. Your pleasure, gentlemen?
HERALDS. The blood upon our boltered brow attests
’Twas Bardolph’s art that waked her, whereat she
Skipped thunderously before our mazèd eyes,
Drew out o’er several lieges (all with God!),
Battered a house or so to lathes, and now
Fumes on her side in Holborn. Please you, come!
PRINCE. Anon! Seek each a physician according to his needs and revenues. I’ll be with you anon. (To FALSTAFF.) The third in three weeks! These whoreson German clockcases no sooner dint honest English paving-stone than they incontinent lay their entrails on the street. Five hundred and seventy pounds! I’ll out and pawn the Duchy!
HERALDS. The Lord Chief Justice waits thy princely will,
In thy dread father’s Court at Westminster.
FALSTAFF. A Star Chamber matter, Hal—a Star Chamber
matter! Glasses, Doll! We’ll drink to his deliverance.
HERALDS. You, too, Sir John, as party to those broils
And breakings-forth, in like attainder stand
For judgment: wherein fail not at your peril!
FALSTAFF. I do remember now to have had some dealings with this same Chief Justice. An old feeble man, drawn abroad in a cart by horses. We must enlighten—enlighten him, Hal. (Exeunt.)
Argument. PRINCE HENRY, POINS, FLUELLEN, NYM, and SIR JOHN FALSTAFF (BARDOLPH having escaped) are charged, on DOGBERRY’S evidence, before the LORD CHIEF JUSTICE at Westminster, with exceeding the speed-limit and leaving their car unattended in the street. PORTIA defends them. JUSTICE SHALLOW has been accommodated with a seat on the Bench.
PRINCE. Where’s our red rear-lamp? Where’s Bardolph?
POINS. Shining over Southwark if he be not puffed out by now. He ran when the watch came. The Chief Justice looks sourly. Is any appointed to speak for us, Hal?
PRINCE. Thy notorious innocence, my known virtue, and if these fail, Sir John’s big belly. I have fed my father’s exchequer here twice since Easter.
CH. JUSTICE. Intemperate, rash, and ill-advisèd men—
Yoke-fellows at unsavoury enterprise—
Harry, and you, Sir John, stand forth for sentence!
FLUELLEN. Put—put there is no indictments discharged upon us yet. To pronounce sentences, look you, pefore the indictments is discharged is ropperies and oppressions.
NYM. Ay, that’s the humour of it. When they cry Budget we must cry mum.
FALSTAFF. Cram the Welsh flannel down his own throat, or we are imprisoned after the fine. I know the Chief Justice is sick of me.
SHALLOW (to CH. JUSTICE). My lord, my lord, if you suffer yon fat knight to talk, he’ll cozen the teeth out of your lord-ship’s head, while his serving-man steals the steeped crust you’d mumble to. I lent him a thousand pounds, my lord.
FALSTAFF. I deny it not. For the which I promised thee advancement. And art thou not now visibly next the Chief justice himself?
SHALLOW. Not on my merits, Sir John. I sit here simple of courtesy as visiting-justice. I’d do as much for my lord if he came to Gloucestershire, ’faith!
FALSTAFF. Shallow! Shallow! I say I gave thee occasion and opportunity to rise. Promotion is in thy hands. (To CH. JUSTICE.) Have a care, my lord! He fingers his dagger already.
SHALLOW. My dagger? My ink-horn, la! I’ll sit further off. I told you how he’d talk, my lord. But I’ll sit further off. My dagger, ’faith!
CH. JUSTICE. Sir John! Sir John! The licence of inveterate humour overstretched rends like an outworn garment—with like shame to the enduer. Answer me roundly, what defence make you to the charge you have run through Chepe at ten leagues the hour?
FALSTAFF. Roundly, my lord, my shape—my evident shape.
CH. JUSTICE. But ’tis so charged, and will be so witnessed.
DOGBERRY. Yes, and by one that hath a stopped watch and everything forsworn about him. Write it down fifteen leagues, my lord.
PRINCE (to CH. JUSTICE). We knights of the road have ever been fair quarry for your knights of the post to bind to, but this passes endurance. We left our car, my lord, extinct and combust in the kennel, while we sought an engineer to hoist her. In which stay she would have continued, but for the prying vulgar who found on her some handle to their curiosity, which, doubtless, they turned. For in such a car as this——
CH. JUSTICE. In such a car as this
The enfranchised ’prentices of London quash
Our harmless babes and necessary wives
At morning to the sound of Sabbath bells
Through panicked Huntingdon.
PORTIA. In such a car as this,
Slides young Desire athwart the mountain-tops,
Drinking the airs that part him from his dear
’Twixt Berwick and Glamorgan.
CH. JUSTICE. In such a car as this,
The lecherous Israelite to Brighthelmstone
Convoys his Jessica.
PORTIA. In such a car as this,
The lean chirurgeon burns the midnight oil
Impetuous over England. Where his lamp
Strikes pale the hedgerow, all the affrighted fays,
Their misty revels in the dew divulged,
Flee to the coney’s burrow, or divide
His antre with the squirrel—whom that ministrant
Marks not, his eyes being bent to thrid the dark,
Indifferent beneath the morning star,
To the poor cot that summoned him, and the life—
Some hour-old, mother-naked life, scarce held
By the drowsy midwife but it yarks and squeaks
Batlike, and batlike, would to the void again.
This he forbids, and yet not he, whose art,
His car unaiding, else had ne’er o’erleaped
The largess of a county in an hour.
SHALLOW. Neat, faith, la! For how a brace of twins now, the far side Cotsall, of a snowy night, my lord?
FALSTAFF. A pregnant wit. Which of thy misdeeds, Hal, hath raised this angel to help us? I’ll ask Doll.
PRINCE. Peace, dunghill, peace! She was never of Doll’s company.
PORTIA. And I charge you, my lord, if ever need,
Extreme and urgent need, hath visited you,
Or, in the unprobeable decree of Time,
May visit and masterfully constrain, think well
Ere your abhorrence of new enginery
Seal up the avenues of mercy here!
CH. JUSTICE. I sealed no avenues. They sealed the King’s
(Albeit it was called Northumberland)
With hellish engines drawn across the street
In an opposed and desperate barrier
Unto the lieges’ progress.
PORTIA. Not by their will, nor their intent, my lord!
It was a passing humour of the car
Gusty incontinence which, overlooked,
As unregard oft cows pretension,
May well not chance again.
CH. JUSTICE. But if it chance?
PORTIA. If the deep-brooding vault of Heaven retain
Memory and record of miracle
Vouchsafed, like this your prayed-for mercy, once,
And, in default of quail, rain from her gate
Heaven’s sweetest choristers—then it may fall,
But not till then!
FLUELLEN. Put—put—look you, she is telling the old shentlemans to wait till the sky shall rain larks! It is open contempts of Courts!
NYM. Ay, there’s humours in them all. But I think the old man’s humour is sweeter.
CH. JUSTICE. Yet, bating miracle, how if mercy breed
Not gratitude, but livelier insolence,
And through my softened verdict after years
Grow bold to break the law? How if our England—
Loverly, temperate, the midmost close of peace—
Dissolve in smoke and oils along the green,
Till sickened memory conceive no minute
Unharried, unpollutable, unhooted?
If I loose these, what do I loose on England?
PORTIA. Too late! Too late! That babe is viable!
The hour we dread o’ertops us while we wonder,
Not asking sufferance, but imposing change,
Most multitudinously. Hark, it sings i’ the wind!
ARIEL (invisible) sings:
Where the car slips there slip I—
In a sunbeam’s path I lie!
There I crouch while crowds do cry,
After somersaults muddily!
Where I lie, where I lie, shall I live now
Under the bonnet that bangs on my brow?
FALSTAFF (to PRINCE). The Chief Justice is mazed by the fairies. He hath great motions towards virtue. He’ll let us go.
CH. JUSTICE. Ourselves have snuffed some savour of these changes,
And more our horses who, poor winkered fools,
Hearing their dooms outstrip them, cast aside
And pole the all-shattered house-fronts.
Of purpose to repair to Westminster,
Infirmity and age consenting, signalled
From her hot lair an horseless chariot
Which, in the recorded twelfth part of an hour,
Bore our inviolate ermines half a league.
It is, and woe it is, the chill refuge,
The lean, unenvied privilege of Age,
To meet new changes with old courtesy,
Not as averting change but sparing souls
Worn weak, and bodies extenuate with the years
That heed nor never heeded! Set them free.
What has been was, and what will be, must be!
Argument. A room in the Boar’s Head Tavern set for a banquet
to celebrate the discharge of the motorists from the King’s
justice. Enter PRINCE HENRY with PORTIA and several others. Also FALSTAFF drunk.
FALSTAFF. “When that I had and a little tinny car—
With a heigh-ho, the wind and the screen—”
Empty the radiator!
HOSTESS. Sir John, there’s one without says he’s your twin brother.
FALSTAFF. I’ll be the wise child. Have him in! (Enter HAMLET drunk.) Ha! ’Begot a night’s ride the cooler side o’ the blanket! But if I be knight,. he’s Blood-Royal. (To PRINCE HENRY) Here’s thy meat, Hal. I stay by our commons.
PRINCE. Lions know lions, tho’ they pride apart,
And Princes Princes. (To HAMLET) For these, my companions
Rejoicingly from Justice, your pardon, Brother,
And, if it so far please, your title.
HAMLET. Prince. Hamlet of Denmark. Your pardon too. ’Tis the Rhenish . . . But conceive, sirrah, how it comes about ’neath the unjust stars, that by a few ink-spirts and frail pretences of the plays, a bald-paced ostler to Pegasus conjures life into such as we. In which continuance, mark you, we live and inextinguishably shake spheres: he having left the globe—how long? But I’ll go find my double.
PRINCE. Rumour wrongs not the Danes. They drink too deep.
He is full proof. (To HAMLET) Welcome, distracted Sir.
We have a foolish feast in hand, whereat,
Wine and our near escapes making familiar,
You shall be richer by a score of brothers
Before the score is paid. Seek and make merry.
(To NYM) When the fat gentleman stumbles, lay him against the arras, head highest. There’s a crown waiting.
NYM. For him—not me. That’s an old humour.
PRINCE (to PORTIA). ‘Lovely lady,
To whom we go in bondage, first, of beauty,
And next of golden advocacy, snatching
Us from deservèd Bridewells,—name thy fee.
PORTIA. I here confess I never owned a car;
Never, in all my life, have driven car;
And, touching any uses of a car,
From airiest hearsays were my pleadings drawn.
Therefore, I ask no guerdon but a car,
To experience on the heels of phantasy.
PRINCE. A car? A car?
PORTIA. I said even so—one car.
HAMLET (to FALSTAFF). Women have dread affections, for their spirit,
Out-plumbing ours, their easier sympathies
Frame both the passion and the appurtenance;
Else they go mad.
FALSTAFF. True! Doll’s a she-kite of the same feather. But moulting—moulting!
PRINCE (to PORTIA). Nay, entertain conjecture of a time
When, horses fed to hounds, the thrice-stuffed streets
Ring, reek and rumble with opprobrious wains
Inveterately unheedful. Straw between
Their bulks the rash and pillioned amorists
Whose so mis-timed embracernents on the wood
Sling hose and cap to inquest.
BEATRICE. Signor Prince, spare thyself a dry mouth and us drier discourse. The world moves, for all man’s owlings, and we women in the va’ward.
NYM. That’s the new humour. To over-run the law and the lieges and say “I am a maid!”
BENEDICK. To have at a man sideways out of a blind lane, and if he give natural vent on some broken head, arm, or running board, her husband or lover must challenge him as though he were Claudio.
BEATRICE. That, Signor Benedick, shall never be. For when I drive you shall stay at home.
SHYLOCK. I have a bond! I have a bond in my office,
Whose virtue is—for every pound of flesh,
Or drop of blood, on such mistakings drawn,
Or push of market-bestial—being signed
(And some poor ducats paid) assures the holder
’Gainst every act and charge of law or leech.
PORTIA. We made sweet composition long ago,
Shylock and I. He pays upon such bonds,
As, in mine office, I can well avouch;
Having prepared the like for Jessica
Whose paths are wayward. Let them see it, Jew.
FALSTAFF (to HAMLET). Unconfined truth! Cowards natural, both of us, with each some huddled deliverance of jest or philosophy to piece out the skirts of ’voided occasion. ’You drive?
HAMLET. For action to be taken on the instant? I’d liever . . . ! But, oh, God—I have no choice, being what I am and informed of myself past endurance.
FALSTAFF. I have some same cause. How, now, of drink and lechery to drown self-knowledge?
HAMLET. ’Serves me not. There’s a mad woman whom I drowned floats in my every cup, like borage. But I am not brave.
FALSTAFF. Women in liquor! Double damnation and half satisfaction. Think you, Ham, that he who made us twins knew his work?
HAMLET. I set no limit, being born of that soul—
One spark in all its hells. Flesh, canst thou tremble?
FALSTAFF. I am too young to ’scape the cold fit o’ mornings.
HAMLET. Shake to thy core, contemplating what vasts
Unlawful, and what darkness, whereto ours
Is the sun’s targe, had he adventured down
(Holding the poised brain ice) till he arraigned
A murderess, a Moor, a mad King—me!
For ensample of all uttermosts of woe
Man bears or shall be designate to suffer
Inly or of the Gods!
FALSTAFF. True enough. But the sack’s here, and I have ’scaped Justice an hour. What a plague does the Jew with his papers?
PRINCE (taking Insurance Policy from SHYLOCK).
Thus furnished, and with knowledge of the wealth
Behind the bond, are all my doubts resolved.
My fears? (To PORTIA) Fair lady, warn me of thy comings
When that car rolls its fifty roystering steeds
Which is our instant, grateful, deadly gift!
SIR A. AGUECHEEK. There’s simply no back-alley left in Illyria now where a man may let’s liquor out of him, but he must stand ready to leap into either hedge.
PRINCE. To-morrow be his own klaxon. Till he call,
Put cars away, and revel comrades all!
FESTE. When all about the joiners thrive—
And coffins quick as man can saw;—
When learning lady-owners drive,
And beaks sit brooding on the Law;
When roasting cabs hiss on the grass,
Then lightly brays the headlong ass:—
“Where to? To Hell!” Oh, word of fear,
Unpleasing to the charioteer!