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 IV. Scene II.

The First Part of King Henry the Fourth

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Act IV. Scene II.

Scene II.—A public Road near Coventry.


Fal. Bardolph, get thee before to Coventry;
fill me a bottle of sack: our soldiers shall march
through: we'll to Sutton-Co'fil' to-night.
Bard. Will you give me money, captain?
Fal. Lay out, lay out.
Bard. This bottle makes an angel.
Fal. An if it do, take it for thy labour; and
if it make twenty, take them all, I'll answer the
coinage. Bid my Lieutenant Peto meet me at
the town's end.
Bard. I will, captain: farewell. [Exit.
Fal. If I be not ashamed of my soldiers, I am
a soused gurnet. I have misused the king's press
damnably. I have got, in exchange of a hundred
and fifty soldiers, three hundred and odd pounds.
I press me none but good householders, yeomen's
sons; inquire me out contracted bachelors, such
as had been asked twice on the banns; such a
commodity of warm slaves, as had as lief hear the
devil as a drum; such as fear the report of a
caliver worse than a struck fowl or a hurt wild-
duck. I pressed me none but such toasts-and-
butter, with hearts in their bellies no bigger than
pin's heads, and they have bought out their ser-
vices; and now my whole charge consists of
ancients, corporals, lieutenants, gentlemen of
companies, slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the
painted cloth, where the glutton's dogs licked his
sores; and such as indeed were never soldiers, but
discarded unjust serving-men, younger sons to
younger brothers, revolted tapsters and ostlers
trade-fallen, the cankers of a calm world and a
long peace; ten times more dishonourable ragged
than an old faced ancient: and such have I, to
fill up the rooms of them that have bought out
their services, that you would think that I had a
hundred and fifty tattered prodigals, lately come
from swine-keeping, from eating draff and husks.
A mad fellow met me on the way and told me I
had unloaded all the gibbets and pressed the
dead bodies. No eye hath seen such scarecrows.
I'll not march through Coventry with them,
that's flat: nay, and the villains march wide be-
twixt the legs, as if they had gyves on; for, in-
deed I had the most of them out of prison.
There's but a shirt and a half in all my com-
pany; and the half shirt is two napkins tacked
together and thrown over the shoulders like a
herald's coat without sleeves; and the shirt, to say
the truth, stolen from my host at Saint Alban's,
or the red-nose inn-keeper of Daventry. But
that's all one; they'll find linen enough on every


Prince. How now, blown Jack! how now,
Fal. What, Hal! How now, mad wag! what a
devil dost thou in Warwickshire? My good Lord
of Westmoreland, I cry you mercy: I thought
your honour had already been at Shrewsbury.
West. Faith, Sir John, 'tis more than time
that I were there, and you too; but my powers
are there already. The king, I can tell you, looks
for us all: we must away all night.
Fal. Tut, never fear me: I am as vigilant as
a cat to steal cream.
Prince. I think to steal cream indeed, for
thy theft hath already made thee butter. But
tell me, Jack, whose fellows are these that come
Fal. Mine, Hal, mine.
Prince. I did never see such pitiful rascals.
Fal. Tut, tut; good enough to toss; food for
powder, food for powder; they'll fill a pit as well
as better: tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.
West. Ay, but, Sir John, methinks they are
exceeding poor and bare; too beggarly.
Fal. Faith, for their poverty, I know not
where they had that; and for their bareness, I
am sure they never learned that of me.
Prince. No, I'll be sworn; unless you call
three fingers on the ribs bare. But sirrah, make
haste: Percy is already in the field.
Fal. What, is the king encamped?
West. He is,. Sir John: I fear we shall stay too
Fal. Well,
To the latter end of a fray and the beginning of
a feast
Fits a dull fighter and a keen guest. [Exeunt.
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