William Shakespeare's King Henry the Fourth is forever famous for the comic character Falstaff who infamously proclaims "discretion is the better part of valour".
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HOME > Plays > The First Part of King Henry the Fourth > Act II. Scene IV.

The First Part of King Henry the Fourth

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Act II. Scene IV.

Scene IV.—Eastcheap. A Room in the Boar's
Head Tavern.

Enter the PRINCE and POINS.

Prince. Ned, prithee, come out of that fat
room, and lend me thy hand to laugh a little.
Poins. Where hast been, Hal?
Prince. With three or four loggerheads a-
mongst three or four score hogsheads. I have
sounded the very base string of humility. Sir-
rah, I am sworn brother to a leash of drawers,
and can call them all by their christen names,
as Tom, Dick, and Francis. They take it already
upon their salvation, that though I be but Prince
of Wales, yet I am the king of courtesy; and tell
me flatly I am no proud Jack, like Falstaff, but
a Corinthian, a lad of mettle, a good boy,—by
the Lord, so they call me,—and when I am king
of England, I shall command all the good lads
in Eastcheap. They call drinking deep, dyeing
scarlet; and when you breathe in your watering,
they cry 'hem!' and bid you play it off. To
conclude, I am so good a proficient in one
quarter of an hour, that I can drink with any
tinker in his own language during my life. I
tell thee, Ned, thou hast lost much honour that
thou wert not with me in this action. But, sweet
Ned,—to sweeten which name of Ned, I give thee
this pennyworth of sugar, clapped even now into
my hand by an underskinker, one that never
spake other English in his life than—'Eight
shillings and sixpence,' and—'You are welcome,'
with this shrill addition,—' Anon, anon, sir!
Score a pint of bastard in the Half-moon,' or
so. But, Ned, to drive away the time till Falstaff
come, I prithee do thou stand in some by-room,
while I question my puny drawer to what end
he gave me the sugar; and do thou never leave
calling 'Francis!' that his tale to me may be
nothing but 'Anon.' Step aside, and I'll show
thee a precedent.
Poins. Francis!
Prince. Thou art perfect.
Poins. Francis! [Exit POINS.

Fran. Anon, anon, sir. Look down into the
Pomgarnet, Ralph.
Prince. Come hither, Francis.
Fran. My lord.
Prince. How long hast thou to serve, Francis?
Fran. Forsooth, five years, and as much as to—
Poins. [Within.] Francis!
Fran. Anon, anon, sir.
Prince. Five years! by'r lady a long lease for
the clinking of pewter. But, Francis, darest
thou be so valiant as to play the coward with
thy indenture and show it a fair pair of heels and
run from it?
Fran. O Lord, sir! I'll be sworn upon all the
books in England, I could find in my heart—
Poins. [Within.] Francis!
Fran. Anon, sir.
Prince. How old art thou, Francis?
Fran. Let me see—about Michaelmas next I
shall be—
Poins. [Within.] Francis!
Fran. Anon, sir. Pray you, stay a little, my
Prince. Nay, but hark you, Francis. For the
sugar thou gavest me, 'twas a pennyworth, was't
Fran. O Lord, sir! I would it had been two.
Prince. I will give thee for it a thousand
pound: ask me when thou wilt and thou shalt
have it.
Poins. [Within.] Francis!
Fran. Anon, anon.
Prince. Anon, Francis? No, Francis; but
to-morrow, Francis; or, Francis, o' Thurs-
day; or, indeed, Francis, when thou wilt. But,
Fran. My lord?
Prince. Wilt thou rob this leathern-jerkin,
crystal-button, knot-pated, agate-ring, puke-
stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish-
Fran. O Lord, sir, who do you mean?
Prince. Why then, your brown bastard is
your only drink; for, look you, Francis, your
white canvas doublet will sully. In Barbary, sir,
it cannot come to so much.
Fran. What, sir?
Poins. [Within.] Francis!
Prince. Away, you rogue! Dost thou not
hear them call?
[Here they both call him; the Drawer stands
amazed, not knowing which way to go.

Vint. What! standest thou still, and hearest
such a calling? Look to the guests within.
[Exit FRANCIS.] My lord, old Sir John, with
half a dozen more, are at the door: shall I let
them in?
Prince. Let them alone awhile, and then
open the door. [Exit VINTNER.] Poins!

Re-enter POINS.
Poins. Anon, anon, sir.
Prince. Sirrah, Falstaff and the rest of the
thieves are at the door: shall we be merry?
Poins. As merry as crickets, my lad. But
hark ye; what cunning match have you made
with this jest of the drawer? come, what's the
Prince. I am now of all humours that have
show'd themselves humours since the old days
of goodman Adam to the pupil age of this
present twelve o'clock at midnight. [FRANCIS
crosses the stage, with wine.] What's o'clock,
Fran. Anon, anon, sir. [Exit.
Prince. That ever this fellow should have
fewer words than a parrot, and yet the son of a
woman! His industry is up-stairs and down-
stairs; his eloquence the parcel of a reckoning.
I am not yet of Percy's mind, the Hotspur of the
North; he that kills me some six or seven dozen
of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and
says to his wife, 'Fie upon this quiet life! I
want work.' 'O my sweet Harry,' says she, 'how
many hast thou killed to-day?' 'Give my roan
horse a drench,' says he, and answers, 'Some
fourteen,' an hour after, 'a trifle, a trifle.' I
prithee call in Falstaff: I'll play Percy, and that
damned brawn shall play Dame Mortimer his
wife. 'Rivo!' says the drunkard. Call in ribs,
call in tallow.

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?
[He drinks.
Prince. 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
villanous man: yet a coward is worse than a cup
of sack with lime in it, a villanous coward! Go
thy ways, old Jack; die when thou wilt. If man-
hood, good manhood, be not forgot upon the
face of the earth, then am I a shotten herring.
There live not three good men unlianged 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 any-
thing. A plague of all cowards, I say still.
Prince. How now, wool-sack! what mutter
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!
Prince. Why, you whoreson 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 thou-
sand 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 back-
ing of your friends? A plague upon such back-
ing! give me them that will face me. Give me
a cup of sack: I am a rogue if I drunk to-
Prince. O villain! thy lips are scarce wiped
since thou drunkest last.
Fal. All's one for that. [He drinks.] A
plague of all cowards, still say I.
Prince. What's the matter?
Fal. What's the matter? there be four of us
here have ta'en a thousand pound this day
Prince. Where is it, Jack? where is it?
Fal. Where is it! taken from us it is; a hun-
dred upon poor four of us.
Prince. 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 'scap'd 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.
Prince. 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
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.
Prince. 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
Prince. Pray God 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,—
Prince. What, four? thou saidst but two even
Fal. Four, Hal; I told thee four.
Poms. Ay, ay, he said four.
Fal. These four came all a-front, and mainly
thrust at me. I made me no more ado but took
all their seven points in my target, thus.
Prince. Seven? why, there were but four even
Fal. In buckram.
Poins. Ay, four, in buckram suits.
Fal. Seven, by these hilts, or I am a villain
Prince. Prithee, let him alone; we shall have
more anon.
Fal. Dost thou hear me, Hal?
Prince. 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,—
Prince. 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.
Prince. O 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.
Prince. 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 whoreson, obscene, greasy tallow-
Fal. What, art thou mad? art thou mad?
is not the truth the truth?
Prince. 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? 'Zounds! an
I were 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.
Prince. I'll be no longer guilty of this sin:
this sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horse-
back-breaker, this huge hill of flesh;—
Fal. 'Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you
dried neat's-tongue, you bull's pizzle, you stock-
fish! O! for breath to utter what is like thee;
you tailor's yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you
vile standing tuck;—
Prince. 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.
Prince. We two saw you four set on four and
you bound them, and were master of their
wealth. Mark now, how a plain tale shall put
you down. Then did we two set on yon four, and,
with a word, out-faced 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 you, 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. Hostess, clap to the doors:
watch to-night, pray to-morrow. Gallants, lads,
boys, hearts of gold, all the titles of good fellow-
ship come to you! What! shall we be merry?
shall we have a play extempore?
Prince. Content; and the argument shall be
thy running away.
Fal. Ah! no more of that, Hal, an thou
lovest me!

Quick. O Jesu! my lord the prince!
Prince. How now, my lady the hostess! what
sayest thou to me?
Quick. Marry, my lord, there is a nobleman
of the court at door would speak with you: he
says he comes from your father.
Prince. Give him as much as will make him a
royal man, and send him back again to my mother.
Fal. What manner of man is he?
Quick. An old man.
Fal. What doth gravity out of his bed at mid-
night? Shall I give him his answer?
Prince. Prithee, do, Jack.
Fal. Faith, and I'll send him packing. [Exit.
Prince. Now, sirs: by'r lady, you fought fair;
so did you, Peto; so did you, Bardolph: you are
lions too, you ran away upon instinct, you will
not touch the true prince; no, fie!
Bard. Faith, I ran when I saw others run.
Prince. Faith, tell me now in earnest, how
came Falstaff's sword so hacked?
Peto. Why he hacked it with his dagger, and
said he would swear truth out of England but he
would make you believe it was done in fight, and
persuaded us to do the like.
Bard. Yea, and to tickle our noses with spear-
grass to make them bleed, and then to beslubber
our garments with it and to swear it was the
blood of true men. I did that I did not this
seven year before; I blushed to hear his mon-
strous devices.
Prince. O villain! thou stalest a cup of sack
eighteen years ago, and wert taken with the man-
ner, and ever since thou hast blushed extempore.
Thou hadst fire and sword on thy side, and yet
thou rannest away. What instinct hadst thou for
Bard. [Pointing to Ms face.] My lord, do you
see these meteors? do you behold these exhala-
Prince. I do.
Bard. What think you they portend?
Prince. Hot livers and cold purses.
Bard. Choler, my lord, if rightly taken.
Prince. No, if rightly taken, halter.—

Re-enter FALSTAFF.
Here comes lean Jack, here comes bare-bone.—
How now, my sweet creature of bombast! How
long is't ago, Jack, since thou sawest thine own
Fal. My own kneel when I was about thy
years Hal, I was not an eagle's talon in the
waist; I could have crept into any alderman's
thumb-ring. A plague of sighing and grief! it
blows a man up like a bladder. There's villan-
ous news abroad: here was Sir John Bracy from
your father: you must to the court in the mom-
ing. That same mad fellow of the north, Percy,
and he of Wales, that gave Amaimon the bastin-
ado and made Lucifer cuckold, and swore the devil
his true liegeman upon the cross of a Welsh
hook—what a plague call you him?
Poins. Owen Glendower.
Fal. Owen, Owen, the same; and his son-in-
law Mortimer and old Northumberland; and
that sprightly Scot of Scots, Douglas, that runs
o' horseback up a hill perpendicular.
Prince. He that rides at high speed and with
his pistol kills a sparrow flying.
Fal. You have hit it.
Prince. So did he never the sparrow.
Fal. Well, that rascal hath good mettle in
him; he will not run.
Prince. Why, what a rascal art thou then to
praise him so for running?
Fal. O' horseback, ye cuckoo! but, afoot he
will not budge a foot.
Prince. Yes, Jack, upon instinct.
Fal. I grant ye, upon instinct. Well, he is
there too, and one Mordake, and a thousand
blue-caps more. Worcester is stolen away to-
night; thy father's beard is turned white with the
news: you may buy land now as cheap as stink-
ing mackerel.
Prince. Why then, it is like, if there come a
hot June and this civil buffeting hold, we shall
buy maidenheads as they buy hob-nails, by the
Fal. By the mass, lad, thou sayest true; it is
like we shall have good trading that way. But
tell me, Hal, art thou not horribly afeard? thou
being heir apparent, could the world pick thee
out three such enemies again as that fiend Dou-
glas, that spirit Percy, and that devil Glendower?
Art thou not horribly afraid? doth not thy blood
thrill at it?
Prince. Not a whit, i' faith; I lack some of
thy instinct.
Fal. Well, thou wilt be horribly chid to-mor-
row when thou earnest to thy father: if thou
love me, practise an answer.
Prince. Do thou stand for my father, and ex-
amine me upon the particulars of my life.
Fal. Shall I? content: this chair shall be my
state, this dagger my sceptre, and this cushion
my crown.
Prince. Thy state is taken for a joint-stool,
thy golden sceptre for a leaden dagger, and thy
precious rich crown for a pitiful bald crown?
Fal. Well, an the fire of grace be not quite
out of thee, now shalt thou be moved. Give me a
cup of sack to make mine eyes look red, that it
may be thought I have wept; for I must speak
in passion, and I will do it in King Cambyses'
vein. [Drinks.
Prince. Well, here is my leg. [Makes a bow.
Fal. And here is my speech. Stand aside,
Quick. O Jesu! This is excellent sport, i' faith!
Fal. Weep not, sweet queen, for trickling
tears are vain.
Quick. O, the father! how he holds his coun-
Fal. For God's sake, lords, convey my tristful
For tears do stop the flood-gates of her eyes.
Quick. O Jesu! he doth it as like one of
these harlotry players as ever I see!
Fal. Peace, good pint-pot! peace, good tickle-
brain! Harry, I do not only marvel where thou
spendest thy time, but also how thou art accom-
panied: for though the camomile, the more it is
trodden on the faster it grows, yet youth, the
more it is wasted the sooner it wears. That thou
art my son, I have partly thy mother's word, part-
lymy own opinion; but chiefly, a-villanous trick of
thine eye and a foolish hanging of thy nether lip,
that doth warrant me. If then thou be son to
me, here lies the point; why, being son to me,
art thou so pointed at? Shall the blessed sun of
heaven prove a micher and eat blackberries? a
question not to be asked. Shall the son of Eng-
land prove a thief and take purses? a question
to be asked. There is a thing, Harry, which thou
hast often heard of, and it is known to many in
our land by the name of pitch: this pitch, as an-
cient writers do report, doth defile; so doth the
company thou keepest; for, Harry, now I do not
speak to thee in drink, but in tears, not in plea-
sure but in passion, not in words only, but in woes
also. And yet there is a virtuous man whom I
have often noted in thy company, but I know not
his name.
Prince. What manner of man, an it like your
Fal. A goodly portly man, i' faith, and a cor-
pulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a
most noble carriage; and, as I think, his age
some fifty, or by'r lady, inclining to threescore;
and now I remember me, his name is Falstaff: if
that man should be lewdly given, he deceiveth
me; for, Harry, I see virtue in his looks. If then
the tree may be known by the fruit, as the fruit
by the tree, then, peremptorily I speak it, there is
virtue in that Falstaff: him keep with, the rest
banish. And tell me now, thou naughty varlet,
tell me, where hast thou been this last month?
Prince. Dost thou speak like a king? Do
thou stand for me, and I'll play my father.
Fal. Depose me? if thou dost it half so
gravely, so majestically, both in word and matter,
hang me up by the heels for a rabbit-sucker or a
poulter's hare.
Prince. Well, here I am set.
Fal. And here I stand. Judge, my masters.
Prince. Now, Harry! whence come you?
Fal. My noble lord, from Eastcheap.
Prince. The complaints I hear of thee are
Fal. 'Sblood, my lord, they are false: nay, I'll
tickle ye for a young prince, i' faith.
Prince. Swearest thou, ungracious boy? hence-
forth ne'er look on me. Thou art violently car-
ried away from grace: there is a devil haunts
thee in the likeness of a fat old man; a tun of
man is thy companion. Why dost thou con-
verse with that trunk of humours, that bolting-
hutch of beasthness, that swoln parcel of dropsies,
that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-
bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with
the pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that
grey iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in
years? Wherein is he good but to taste sack and
drink it? wherein neat and cleanly but to carve
a capon and eat it? wherein cunning but in
craft? wherein crafty but in villany? wherein
villanous but in all things? wherein worthy but
in nothing?
Fal. I would your Grace would take me with
you: whom means your Grace?
Prince. That villanous abominable misleader
of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan.
Fal. My lord, the man I know.
Prince. I know thou dost.
Fal. But to say I know more harm in him
than in myself were to say more than I know.
That he is old, the more the pity, his white
hairs do witness it; but that he is, saving your
reverence, a whoremaster, that I utterly deny.
If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the
wicked! If to be old and merry be a sin, then
many an old host that I know is damned: if to
be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh's lean kino
are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto,
banish Bardolph, banish Poins; but for sweet
Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Fal-
staff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more
valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish
not him thy Harry's company: banish not him
thy Harry's company: banish plump Jack, and
banish all the world.
Prince. I do, I will. [A knocking heard.

Re-enter BARDOLPH, running.
Bard. O! my lord, my lord, the sheriff with a
most monstrous watch is at the door.
Fal. Out, ye rogue! Play out the play: I
have much to say in the behalf of that Falstaff.

Quick. O Jesu! my lord, my lord!
Prince. Heigh, heigh! the devil rides upon a
fiddle-stick: what's the matter?
Quick. The sheriff and all the watch are at
the door: they are come to search the house.
Shall I let them in?
Fal. Dost thou hear, Hal? never call a true
piece of gold a counterfeit: thou art essentially
mad without seeming so.
Prince. And thou a natural coward without
Fal. I deny your major. If you will deny the
sheriff, so; if not, let him enter: if I become not
a cart as well as another man, a plague on my
bringing up! I hope I shall as soon be strangled
with a halter as another.
Prince. Go, hide thee behind the arras: the
rest walk up above. Now, my masters, for a true
face and good conscience.
Fal. Both which I have had; but their date
is out, and therefore I'll hide me.
[Exeunt all but the PRINCE and PETO.
Prince. Call in the sheriff.
Enter Sheriff and Carrier.
Now, master sheriff, what's your will with me?
Sher. First, pardon me, my lord. A hue
and cry
Hath follow'd certain men unto this house.
Prince. What men?
Sher. One of them is well known, my gracious
A gross fat man.
Car. As fat as butter.
Prince. The man, I do assure you, is not here,
For I myself at this time have employed him.
And, sheriff, I will engage my word to thee,
That I will, by to-morrow dinner-time,
Send him to answer thee, or any man,
For anything he shall be charg'd withal:
And so let me entreat you leave the house.
Sher. I will, my lord. There are two gentle-
Have in this robbery lost three hundred marks.
Prince. It may be so: if he have robb'd these
He shall be answerable; and so farewell.
Sher. Good night, my noble lord.
Prince. I think it is good morrow, is it not?
Sher. Indeed, my lord, I think it be two
o'clock. [Exeunt Sheriff and Carrier.
Prince. This oily rascal is known as well as
Go, call him forth.
Peto. Falstaff! fast asleep behind the arras,
and snorting like a horse.
Prince. Hark, how hard he fetches breath.
Search his pockets. [He searcheth his pockets,
and findeth certain papers.] What hast thou
Peto. Nothing but papers, my lord.
Prince. Let's see what they be; read them.
Peto, Item, A capon ....... 2s. 2d,
Item, Sauce ........................ 4d.
Item, Sack, two gallons... 5s. 8d.
Item, Anchovies and sack after
supper .......................... 2s. 6d.
Item, Bread ...... .................. ob.
Prince. O monstrous! but one half-penny-
worth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack!
What there is else, keep close; we'll read it at
more advantage. There let him sleep till day.
I'll to the court in the morning. We must all to
the wars, and thy place shall be honourable. I'll
procure this fat rogue a charge of foot; and,
I know, his death will be a march of twelve-
score. The money shall be paid back again
with advantage. Be with me betimes in the
morning; and so good morrow, Peto.
Peto. Good morrow, good my lord. [Exeunt.
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