'Peace, Good Tickle-Brain': An Inedited Conversation of Jack Falstaff and Nell Quickly

(The scene takes place during the last week of Sir John Falstaff’s life, in Mistress Quickly s best bedchamber in the BoarsHead Tavern, Eastcheap. Sir John lies in a great bed, under a flowered quilt, staring at the arras, whereon is depicted a splay-footed Vulcan wantoning with a wooden-faced Juno.Sir John is as melancholy as a gib-cat.

Although, had they lived at all, Sir John and Nell would have flourished between 1375 and 14l5, they really inhabit a country of the mind, where it is always 1596, or thereabout.)

SIR JOHN (with some semblance of majesty, though in a weak, puling voice). Francis! Francis!

FRANCIS (without). Anon, anon, sir.

(After a moment he enters, followed by Dame Quickly. He carries a great bowl and a horn spoon.)

DAME QUICKLY (pulling the bedclothes straight). Now, Sir John; now, Sir John. ’T is twelve o’clock by the bell of St. Michael’s Church, and time to take your broth.

SIR JOHN. Away, mistress, away. Would ye drown me? Give me a cup of sack. Francis, you carved radish, throw it to the hens. Am I Gog and Magog and Gargantua and Goliah, to drink up oceans of gruel? Give it to Pistol. His blood is broth. Give it to my Lord Chief Justice. No. Send it to Shallow. . . . Faugh! There’s sage and thyme in it. I never could abide either. Sage and time, they ’re memento moris; they remind us of our latter end. Throw it in the kennel.

DAME QUICKLY. Tillyfally, Sir John, what a to-do you keep! Come, my sweet little valiant rogue, sup up, sup up. Sage and thyme is good for the reins. My mother, who was daughter to a potecary, Andrew Doggett, of Bucklersbury (you may see his sign there yet, at the corner of Music Lane), though she married Thomas Kiteley, my father, who was a broom-maker, of Hoxton, ever remembered her father’s mystery; and she said your thyme and your sage was sovran cures for your whorson fever.

SIR JOHN. But I have no fever. I have a chill. My feet are cold as a ditcher’s. Let Francis feel ’em. All the broth I have drank in a week has settled in ’em and congealed. It will need all the fires of . . . No. I must not think of that. Sit thee down, Nell. Let the broth go a while. It could be none the worse for heating again, like a witch’s brew. . . . Away, Anon, and come anon again, when I shall call. (Francis withdraws.) So your dame was daughter to Andrew Doggett?

DAME QUICKLY. Ay, Sir John, and he was my grandsire, but he spent his latter days in the Clink for selling hellebore to Sir Marmeduke Stukeley to cure his son’s madness, and it killed him, on the advice of my grandsirc. Lackaday, it was like to have killed my mother for shame; but she wedded Thomas Kiteley, my father, who made mops and besoms in Crooked Lane. She cried them through the streets in a barrow. She had a cry she made herself. I was singing it only Wednesday to my gossip, Mistress Keech. Let me see, let me see. It ran thus : —

Good mops and good brooms
To clean out your rooms:
Come, buy, good hussives,
Come buy my fine brooms.

SIR JOHN. Thy voice, Nell, does not vie with that of the lark or the nightingale, but as for the numbers, why, Taylor the Water-Poet could do no better. You can swear your dame composed it all herself?

DAME QUICKLY. Ay, Sir John, and many a day I went with her, a little tiny wench, sitting on the fore end of the barrow and chirruping like a fledgling sparrow to help her. I was a pretty wench, Sir John, with eyes great as pansies and hair the hue of tow and skin like curds and cream — or so my mother avouched. I was never no bigger than a pint-pot, Sir John, as you yourself have told me oft. My mother was a good woman. Sir John, who would not have me running the streets. Therefore I was never a roaring girl, like Doll Tearsheet, my gossip, who was born in Miching Lane, back of the mews, and whose mother was no better than a harridan quaen, mind you. Doll was deboshed ere she was twelve; but she hath a good heart, if she have not had too much ale, as thou knowest.

SIR JOHN (fetching a deep groan). Tell on apace, and let Doll be. I know her. She is a devil incarnate.

DAME QUICKLY. And you could never abide carnation, Sir John; ’t was ever a color you liked not. Doll is not a devil — but let that pass. . . . Oh, the good-year, the times I have had, Sir John, with my mother abroad, crying her wares, and my father at home, knotting his mops, and Rafe, our prentice, trying to kiss me in a corner. I clawed his poll well, I warrant ye. . . . But one day he took me to Bartlemy Fair, and that was the first time ever I saw you, Sir John. Do you mind the time? We were before a booth where was a man wi’ an ape on his shoulder, that made as if it would pick you-know-whats out on’s hair. Rafe had not the penny needful to enter and see Adam’s eldest daughter’s hat and Queen Mary’s pincushion and the Four Evangelists cut on a cherrystone, and I was well-nigh to tears, when by you come. . . . Ah, me, Sir John, it was five and forty year ago, come Wheeson Week, and you then but a young gallant; and you had been to Finsbury Butts with the archers. You stayed then at the Robin Hood in Hoxton to be near the butts, for you were a shrewd hand with the crossbow; but what you were at in Smithfield that day I know not.

SIR JOHN. I was walking to Notting Hill to the supper of my shooting company and . . .

DAME QUICKLY. And you were clad, Sir John, in a leathern jerkin, wi’ your hat pinned up in front and your canvas bow-case about your loins. Ah, Jesu, thou wert a bawcock, I warrant thee! I pinched Rafe, and we smiled at you, and you were a fine sight indeed, Sir John, wi’ your straight back and round belly, your russet jacket and green hose, your falling bands o’ good Hollands, and your cock’s feather in your hat. ‘Good day, good people,’ says you, Sir John; and says I, ‘Our service to your wosshup’; and says you, ‘Do I behold a tear in yon eye, like a dewdrop in an heart’sease?’ and says I, ‘Alack, your wosshup, we have not the penny to see Adam’s eldest daughter’s hat.’ ‘Well, well,’ sayst thou, ‘that were a marvel I would fain see myself. Come hither, good people’; and we entered with thee, and, hee-hee-hee, Adam’s eldest daughter’s hat, what should it be but a monstrous great cabbage-leaf!

SIR JOHN. Ho-ho-ho! ... I like thee well, Nell. Thou warmest my veins. Prattle on. Thy brains would fill but half an egg-shell, but thy heart is right. It was on Twelfth Day the next year ensuing I removed from Hoxton . . .

DAME QUICKLY. Marry, my brains are mine own, Sir John, poor thing though they be. But I was never cozened by Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, of Windsor, to be pinched by fairies, with a stag’s horns on my forehead, and cast into the kennel in Datchet’s Lane out of a buck-basket, and pummeled like a drab, in the person o’ the Wise Woman o’ Brentford. Nay, Sir John, I ha’ brains enough to pull my hand out o’ the fire, I warrant you.

SIR JOHN. Cease thy clatter, dame. Be still. Is this the way to converse with a sick man? . . . But you have me on the hip there, I grant ye. ... I would fain forget that buck-basket. . . . But you played me a scurvy trick, acting she-Pandarus for them. Was that well done? Was that in the way of friendship? ... A knave constable set me in the stocks for a witch that day, and they of the Court whipped me with their fine wits, till I were crestfallen as a dried pear.

DAME QUICKLY. Oh, the father, ’t was all in good sport, i’ faith. And I knew thee not then, Sir John. I was housekeeper to Doctor Caius then — ’a was a French doctor of yarbs and simples, with the temper of Termigom and a sore murderer of the king’s English, that sought to fight wi’ Sir Hugh Evans, the Welsh parson, for love of sweet Anne Page, that married young Master Fenton. . . . Those were good days, Sir John.

SIR JOHN. Those were evil days, dame. I would forget them. Get thee gone. I need sleep. Thou weariest me.

DAME QUICKLY. Nay, good Sir John, be not offended. Our Windsor days be long a-gone, Sir John, and it is ten year and more since I was there. . . . But there I met William Quickly, whom I wedded; ’a was a drawer at the Garter, where mine host was Jack Rugby, a bully boy jester, a wild rampolly rogue, I warrant you. . . . Oh, the shogs and starts I had in that house! . . . William was a kind of puritan, Sir John, as thou knowest.

SIR JOHN. I grant ye, mistress. He dispensed ale and beer with groans of compunction and sighs of repentance, and listened to a merry catch as melancholy as a lugged bear. Satan made a boniface of him to snare his soul, and the parson taught him to sing pious chansons to save it. A damned Zeal-o’the-Land Sourface. I could never abide him. He had not the bowels of a bedpost.

DAME QUICKLY. Ah, well, he’s dead these five year, God rest his soul. In’s latter days ’a sat above-stairs, his nose in a book of devotions, and left me to serve at the kitchen-door and the buttery-hatch. ’A herited the Inn from’s father, who was no puritan, I warrant you. . . . What wi’ him and you, and Poins and Bardolph, and your suits and your mortgages and your debts and your affydavids, I’ve seen the inside of the Fleet and of Bridewell more than twice or thrice, I warrant you, and Doll Tearsheet, my gossip; and would be there now, had not the King been my quittance.

SIR JOHN. He has been my quittance, Nell. He has quitted me of this world. . . . But he cannot quit me of the fell arrest which all men must submit to . . . even fat Jack.

DAME QUICKLY. NOW, Sir John, where is your constaples and your tipstaves and your sherives can arrest thee now? Pluck up thy heart, Sir John, and be merry!

SIR JOHN. I speak not of tipstaves, dame. I speak of mortality. . . . Nell, I speak of . . . death.

DAME QUICKLY. Nay, nay, Sir John. Why speak of him? The time is not come to speak of him. There will be time enough for that.

SIR JOHN. The time comes on apace, Nell. I decay; the flesh wastes. I had thought there was too much of it to waste so soon.

DAME QUICKLY. Then drink up thy broth, Sir John, and make more.

SIR JOHN. Nay, Nell, this consumption or cachexy is of the spirit also.

DAME QUICKLY. Fie, Sir John, thou hast but a quotidian-tertian. Thou wilt shake it off.

SIR JOHN. It is more like to shake me off, Nell, and that soon. . . . But think we of other things. . . . Ere thou cam’st, Nell, know’st thou, I smelt water-meadows, and the gold of cowslips was in my eyes. Thou hast heard me tell how, when I was a boy, I was a page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. I, old Jack Falslaff, that have seen the sun and the moon rise over London Bridge these fifty years, I once ran the lanes of fenny Norfolkshire, bird-catching and playing at bandy-ball, last-couple-in-hell, and prison-base-and-prison-bars. Images of innocency, Nell — they come back. It is time old Jack began to patch up his old body for heaven.

DAME QUICKLY. Thou’It make me weep yet. Prithee cease such talk and be merry!

SIR JOHN. I came in the Duke’s train to London, when I was two-andtwenty. I was a roaring-boy, Nell, with Shallow and Black George Barnes and John Doit and Will Squele and Francis Pickbone. We knew all the bona robas in Southwalk and Shoreditch, and we cozened all the gulls of Blackfriars and Bankside. There were not six such swingebucklers in all the City.

DAME QUICKLY. I warrant thee, Sir John.

SIR JOHN. It was then, Nell, I learned to consume an unconscionable deal of sack, and sharpened my wits to make the worse ever appear the belter reason. And then set in that consumption of my purse which could never be cured. I owe Shallow a thousand pound, Nell. I owe thee — dost know how much I owe thee?

DAME QUICKLY (weeping in her apron). Nought, Sir John. Thou owest me nought.

SIR JOHN. ’T is very certain I can pay thee nought. But I like thee well, Nell. . . . Francis Pickbone was hanged for snatching a purse; Will Squele was killed in a brawl over a bawd; John Doit sells poultry in Scalding Alley and hath a shrewish wife and nine children; Black George is an hostler at the Bell and Lanthorn in Richmond. . . . Mutability, Nell, mutability. . . . And Shallow is now respectable, with a scutcheon and a beard, a justice of the peace in Gloucestershire, where he can eat his banket in’s orchard under the trees — his wet sucket, his dry sucket, his comfits and wafers, and a pippin of’s own grading, and canary with a dish o’ caraways to whet the tongue; and in the cool of the day can play at bowls with Silence and old Davy at the garden’s end. . . . Mutability! Shallow, lean as a hermit’s staff and no more spirit than a sucking-rabbit, o’ercrows us all. ... I never, when I was young, Nell, found the smell of hay and appleblossoms as sweet as the smell of an egg fried in butter; but I think it were better now than the smell of the eupatorium and camomile you drench me with.

DAME QUICKLY. Bodikins, Sir John, I do it for your own good.

SIR JOHN. Yea, verily; but doubtless the hangman reasons so, too. Let me die in peace, Nell. It is better to spend the time in talk. I was ever a great talker.

DAME QUICKLY. Marry, Sir John, no man never so filled me with amazement and dumbfoundment as thou, when thou wert used to put down the Prince and yet keep thy countenance. Oh, Jesu, the day thou puttest the cushion on thy head and sat’st on the jointstool and called the Prince a micher and a thief and pitch that doth defile, and I know not what else! I thought I should have died that day, Sir John, for laughing.

SIR JOHN. Enough, dame. Name him not. Let us talk of somewhat else. . . . How came you ever to marry that mechanical, fustian, saltbutter rogue, Pistol?

DAME QUICKLY. Alack, Sir John, I ne’er wedded him. ’A wedded me. ’A comes me into my parlor one day — I was rubbing the glasses I bought when I pawned my pewter vessels and my tapestries of my dining-room to lend thee twenty pound, which I never saw again, Sir John — ’a pops me into my parlor and ’a says: —

‘Have at thee now, I would thee wed, sweet queen.’
I near had a calm, Sir John; I could do nought but gape.
‘Say me not nay’ (quoth ’a), ‘or I with fell revenge
And all o’ersized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, will set to work
To mince thy tender limbs with this my sword.
How say’st thou, ha? Is thy word Yea or Nay?’

What could a body say, Sir John, when he advanced his weapon and glared at me like a Gargon or a Bisilask?

SIR JOHN. Say? Say boo, as thou wouldst to any other gander.

DAME QUICKLY. I did not say boo, Sir John, but I said bah, at the first; and I thought ’a would have gone into a cataplexy, ’a tore his hair so, Sir John, and grinded wi’ his teeth, and bawled: —

‘Out, out, thou strumpet Fortune!
Break all the spokes and fellies of thy wheel,
And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,
As low as to the fiends!’

What could I do then, Sir John? I was never called such names before, I warrant you, nor such terms and epitaphs.

SIR JOHN. You should have set the cat on him. I wonder he did not run when you said bah! You said it not loud enough. I have seen him run from a flock of sheep in full cry ere now. . . . Well, dame, thy goose is cooked. . . . And so is mine. But let us hope a French bolt gets him in the French wars. . . . Ah, the wars ... I shall not go to the wars. Bardolph and Pym and Pistol will go. Already, like Job’s warhorse, they smell the battle afar off. But bullyboy Jack will never go again.

DAME QUICKLY. Marry, Sir John, what should you be doing at the wars, at your age?

SIR JOHN. Do, dame? What should I not do? Is there not fortunes to be made? Is there not skirmishes and marches and counter-marches and palisadoes and sieges and retreats? What should I do there? What I have always done. Where there be soldiers, there must needs be recruits; and where there be recruits, there is money. Give me but ten weeks in the wars, mistress, and I should pay thee and Shallow ten times over. Perchance I should win grace once more with the King. . . . The King! He dare not see me, for fear I should make him laugh. Put me overseas in the wars, and it would go hard but I should make him see me. Let him see me, and I can make him laugh yet, Nell.

DAME QUICKLY (aside). Were he here, he were more like to weep. . . . Go to, Sir John. Thou canst make him laugh yet, I warrant thee.

SIR JOHN. Nay, Nell. Flatter me not. ’T is too late . . . too late. . . .

I thank thee, Nell. Thou’rt a good wench. Now, I would sleep a while.

DAME QUICKLY. But first, Sir John, drink thy broth. Francis shall heat it again and . . .

SIR JOHN. Peace, good pint-pot.

DAME QUICKLY. Come, come, Sir John . . .

SIR JOHN. Peace, good tickle-brain. I would sleep.