Page images

in the boundless luxury of his imagination and the pampered. self-indulgence of his physical appetites. He manures and nourishes his mind with jests, as he does his body with sack and sugar. He carves out his jokes, as he would a capon, or a haunch of venison, where there is cut and come again; and pours out upon them the oil of gladness. His tongue drops fatness, and in the chambers of his brain "it snows of meat and drink." He keeps up perpetual holiday and open house, and we live with him in a round of invitations to a rump and dozen.Yet we are not to suppose that he was a mere sensualist. All this is as much in imagination as in reality. His sensuality does not engross and stupify his other faculties, but "ascends me into the brain, clears away all the dull, crude vapors that en viron it, and makes it full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes." His imagination keeps up the ball after his senses have done with it. He seems to have even a greater enjoyment of the freedom from restraint, of good cheer, of his ease, of his vanity, in the ideal exaggerated descriptions which he gives of them, than in fact. He never fails to enrich his discourse with allusions to eating and drinking, but we never see him at table. He carries his own larder about with him, and he is himself "a tun of man." His pulling out the bottle in the field of battle is a joke to show his contempt for glory accompanied with danger, his systematic ad. herence to his Epicurean philosophy in the most trying circum. stances. Again, such is his deliberate exaggeration of his own vices, that it does not seem quite certain whether the account of his hostess's bill, found in his pocket, with such an out-of the. way charge for capons and sack with only one halfpenny.worth of bread, was not put there by himself as a trick to humor the jes upon his favorite propensities, and as a conscious caricature of himself. He is represented as a liar, a braggart, a coward, a glutton, &c., and yet we are not offended but delighted with him; for he is all these as much to amuse others as to gratify himself. He openly assumes all these characters to show the humorous part of them. The unrestrained indulgence of his own ease, appetites, and convenience, has neither malice nor hypocrisy in it. In a word, he is an actor in himself almost as

much as upon the stage, and we no more object to the character of Falstaff in a moral point of view than we should think of bringing an excellent comedian, who should represent him to the life, before one of the police offices. We only consider the number of pleasant lights in which he puts certain foibles (the more pleasant as they are opposed to the received rules and necessary restraints of society) and do not trouble ourselves about the consequences resulting from them, for no mischievous consequences do result. Sir John is old as well as fat, which gives a melancholy retrospective tinge to the character; and by the disparity between his inclinations and his capacity for enjoyment, makes it still more ludicrous and fantastical.

The secret of Falstaff's wit is for the most part a masterly presence of mind, an absolute self-possession, which nothing can disturb. His repartees are involuntary suggestions of his selflove; instinctive evasions of everything that threatens to interrupt the career of his triumphant jollity and self-complacency. His very size floats him out of all his difficulties in a sea of rich conceits; and he turns round on the pivot of his convenience, with every occasion and at a moment's warning. His natural repugnance to every unpleasant thought or circumstance of itself makes light of objections, and provokes the most extravagant and licentious answers in his own justification. His indifference to truth puts no check upon his invention, and the more improbable and unexpected his contrivances are, the more happily does he seem to be delivered of them, the anticipation of their effect acting as a stimulus to the gaiety of his fancy. The success of one adventurous sally gives him spirits to undertake another: he deals always in round numbers, and his exaggerations and excuses are "open, palpable, monstrous as the father that begets them." His dissolute carelessness of what he says discovers itself in the first dialogue with the Prince.

"FALSTAFF. By the lord, thou say'st true, lad; and is not mine hostess of the tavern a most sweet wench?

P. HENRY. As the honey of Hibla, my old lad of the castle; and is not a buff-jerkin a most sweet robe of durance?

FALSTAFF. How now, how now, mad wag, what, in thy quips and thy quiddities? what a plague have I to do with a buff-jerkin?

P. HENRY. Why, what a pox have I to do with mine hostess of the tavern?"

In the same scene he afterwards affects melancholy, from pure satisfaction of heart, and professes reform, because it is the farthest thing in the world from his thoughts. He has no quaims of conscience, and therefore would as soon talk of them as of anything else when the humor takes him.

"FALSTAFF. But Hal, I pr'ythee trouble me no more with vanity. I would to God thou and I knew where a commodity of good names were to be bought: an old lord of council rated me the other day in the street about you, sir; but I mark'd him not, and yet he talked very wisely, and in the

street too.

P. HENRY. Thou didst well, for wisdomn cries out in the street, and no man regards it.

FALSTAFF. 0, thou hast damnable iteration, and art ind ed able to coprupt a saint. Thou hast done much harm unto me, Hal. God forgive thee for it. Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing, and now I am, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked. I must give over this life, and I will give it over, by the lord; an I do not, I am a villain. I'll be damn'd for never a king's son in Christendom.

P HENRY. Where shall we take a purse to-morrow, Jack ›

FALSTAFF. Where thou wilt, lad, I'll make one; an I do not, call me villain, and batlle me.

P. HENRY. I see good amendment of life in thee, from praying to pursetaking.

FALSTAFF. Why, Hal, 'tis my vocation, Hal. Tis no sin for a man to labor in his vocation."

Of the other prominent passages, his account of his pretended resistance to the robbers, who grew from four men in buckram into eleven" as the imagination of his own valor increased with his relating it, his getting off when the truth is discovered by pretending he knew the Prince, the scene in which in the person of the old king he lectures the prince and gives himself a good character, the soliloquy on honor, and description of his new. raised recru. s, his meeting with the chief justice, his abuse of the Prince and Poins, who overhear him, to Dell Tare sheet, his reconciliation with Mrs. Quickly who has arrested him for an old debt, and whom he persuades to pawn her piate to lend him ten pounds more, and the scenes with Shallow and Silence, are

all inimitable. Of all of them, the scene in which Falstaff plays the part, first, of the King, and then of Prince Henry, is the one that has been the most often quoted. We must quote it once more in illustration of our remarks.

"FALSTAFF. Harry, I do not only marvel where thou spendest thy time, but also how thou art accompanied 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, partly my own opinion; but chiefly, a villainous 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 ask'd. Shall the son of England prove a thief, and take purses? a question not to be ask'd. 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 ancient 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 pleasure, 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.

P. HENRY. What manner of man, an it like your majesty?

FALSTAFF. A goodly portly man, i' faith, and a corpulent; 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 do 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 fruit may be known by the tree, as the tree by the fruit, 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 month? P. HENRY. Dost thou speak like a king? Do thou stand for me, and I'll play my father.

FALSTAFF. 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 poulterer's hare.

P. HENRY. Well, here I am set.



And here I stand :-judge, my masters.
Now, Harry, whence come you?

FALSTAFF. My noble lord, from Eastcheap.

P. HENRY. The complaints I hear of thee are grievous.

FALSTAFF. S'blood, my lord, they are false:-nay, I'll tickle ye for a young prince, i' faith.

P. HENRY. Swearest thou, ungracious boy? henceforth ne'er look on me. Thou art violently carried 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 converse with that trunk of humors, that bolting-hutch of beastÄiness, that swoln parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuft cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manning-tree 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 villainy? wherein villainous, but in all things? wherein worthy, but in nothing?

FALSTAFF. I would your grace would take me with you, whom means your grace?

P. HENRY. That villainous, abominable mis-leader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan.


My lord, the man I know.

P. HENRY. I know thou dost.

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 whore-master, 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 kine are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Porns : but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being as he is, old Jack Faistaff, banish not him thy Harry's company; banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

P. HENRY. I do, I will.

[Knocking; and Hostess and Bardolph go out,

Re-enter BARDOLPH, running.

BARDOLPH 0, my lord, my lord; the sheriff, with a most monstrous watch, is at the door

FALSTAFF Out, you rogue! play out the play: I have much to say in the behalf of that same Falstaff”

One of the most characteristic descriptions of Sir John is that which Mrs. Quickly gives of him when he asks her “What is the gross sum that I owe thee ?"

"Horris, Marry, if thou wert an honest man, thyself, and the money too Ihou didst swear to me upon a parcel-gilt g biet, sitting in my Doephin-chamber, at the round table, by a sea-coal fire on Wednesday in Watsun-week, when the prince broke thy head for liken ug bis father to a singing man of Windsor, thou didst swear to me then, as I was washing thy wound, to marry me, and make the my lady thy wife. Canst thou de ay it Did not goodwife Keech, the butcher's wife, came in then, and call

« PreviousContinue »