David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 4-6

— 4.4 —

Mr. and Mrs. Page, Mr. and Mrs. Ford, and Sir Hugh were talking together in a room in the Fords’ house. Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page had shown their husbands the letters that Falstaff had written to them.

“It is one of the best discretions of a ’oman as ever I did look upon,” Sir Hugh said.

He meant that Mrs. Ford was one of the most sensible and discreet women that he had ever seen.

Mr. Page asked, “And did he send you both these letters at the same time?”

Mrs. Page replied, “Within a quarter of an hour.”

“Pardon me, wife,” Mr. Ford said. “Henceforth do what you will; I will suspect the Sun of being cold before I will suspect you of being wanton and unfaithful. Now my honor stands in me as firm as faith, although recently I was a heretic.”

“This is good,” Mr. Page said. “This is good, but no more, please. Be not as extreme in apologizing for an offense as you were in committing the offense.

“But let our plot go forward. Let our wives once more, to make public entertainment for us, appoint a meeting with this old fat fellow at a place where we may find him and disgrace him for what he has wanted to do.”

“There is no better way or plan than the one they spoke of,” Mr. Ford said.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Page said. “They will send him word that they’ll meet him in the park at midnight? Nonsense! He’ll never come.”

“You say he has been thrown in the rivers and has been grievously peaten [beaten] as an old ’oman,” Sir Hugh said. “I think there should be terrors in him that he should not come; methinks that since his flesh is punished, he shall have no desires to come.”

“I think so, too,” Mr. Page said.

“Plan how you’ll treat Falstaff when he comes,” Mrs. Ford said, “and let us two devise how to bring him there.”

Mrs. Page said, “There is an old tale that Herne the Hunter, who was once a forester here in Windsor Forest, all throughout the winter, at midnight, walks round about an oak while wearing great jagged horns, and there he blights the tree and takes the cattle and makes milk cows yield blood and shakes a chain in a most hideous and dreadful manner.

“You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know the superstitious idle-headed elders of long ago learned and passed down to our times this tale of Herne the Hunter as a true tale.”

“Why, even now many people are afraid in the deep of night to walk by Herne’s Oak,” Mr. Page said. “But what about this?”

“We have a plan,” Mrs. Ford said. “We want to entice Falstaff to meet us at that oak. He will be disguised as Herne and have huge horns on his head.”

“Well, let us suppose that he shows up,” Mr. Page said. “Let us also suppose that he is disguised as Herne the Hunter with horns on his head. Once he is there, what shall be done with and to him? What is your plot?”

“We have thought about that, too,” Mrs. Page said. “Nan Page my daughter and my little son and three or four more of their age and size we’ll dress like elves, the children of elves, and fairies with rounds of waxen candles on their heads, and rattles in their hands. Suddenly, as Falstaff, Mrs. Ford, and I are newly met, let them come out of a sawpit where timber is sawed and rush at us as they sing some wild and confused song. When we see them, Mrs. Ford and I in great amazedness will run away. Then they will all encircle him round about and, fairy-like, pinch the unclean knight, and ask him why, at that hour of fairy revel, in their so sacred paths he dares to tread in such a profane shape.”

“And until he tells the truth,” Mrs. Ford said, “the pretend fairies will pinch him without stopping and burn him with their candles.”

“Once the truth is known,” Mrs. Page said, “we’ll all present ourselves, take off his horns, and laugh at him all the way back home to Windsor.”

Mr. Ford said, “The children must be taught well how to do this, and they must practice, or they won’t be able to do it.”

“I will teach the children their behaviors,” Sir Hugh said, “and I will be like a jack-an-apes — an evil spirit — also, to burn the knight with my candle.”

“That will be excellent,” Mr. Ford said. “I’ll go and buy them masks.”

Mrs. Page said, “My Nan shall be the Fairy Queen, and she will be finely attired in a robe of white.”

“I will go and buy white silk,” Mr. Page said.

He thought, I also have formed a plan. During the night, Mr. Slender will steal away with Nan, my daughter, and take her to the nearby village of Eton and marry her.

He said out loud, “Send a message to Falstaff right away.”

Mr. Ford said, “I will disguise myself again as Brook and go to him. He will tell me what he intends to do. I am sure that he will come.”

“Don’t you worry about that,” Mrs. Page said. “Go and get us everything we need for our fairies.”

“Let us get going,” Sir Hugh said. “It is admirable pleasures and fery [very] honest knaveries.”

Mr. Page, Mr. Ford, and Sir Hugh exited.

Mrs. Page said, “Go, Mrs. Ford. Send a message quickly to Sir John, so that we know what he plans to do.”

Mrs. Ford exited.

Mrs. Page said to herself, “I’ll go to Doctor Caius. He has my good will, and I want no one but him to marry my daughter, Nan Page. That Slender, although he owns lots of land, is an idiot; my husband likes Slender best of all my daughter’s suitors.

“Doctor Caius is well moneyed, and his friends are powerful at court. He, none but he, shall marry my daughter even though twenty thousand men worthier than him should want to marry her.”

— 4.5 —

In a room in the Garter Inn, the Host was talking with Simple, Slender’s servant. The Host was in a good mood and using extravagant language. He was also willing to have fun at the expense of Simple.

“What would you have, boor?” the Host asked. “What, thick-skin! Speak, breathe, discuss; brief, short, quick, snap.”

“Sir, I have come to speak with Sir John Falstaff,” Simple said. “Master Slender has sent me to speak to Sir John.”

The Host pointed upstairs and said, “There’s his chamber, his house, his castle, his standing-bed and the truckle-bed that can be stored under it. Falstaff’s room has been freshly and newly painted with the story of the Prodigal Son. Go knock and call him. May Hell speak like an Anthropophaginian to you. Knock, I say.”

An Anthropophaginian is a cannibal, aka man-eater. The Host was joking that Falstaff, if he were irritated by being interrupted, might bite Simple’s head off.

“There’s an old woman, a fat woman, gone up into Falstaff’s bedchamber,” Simple said. “I’ll be so bold as to stay, sir, until she come down; indeed, I come to speak with her, not him.”

“Ha! A fat woman!” the Host said. “The knight may be robbed — I’ll call for him.”

He shouted, “Bully knight! Bully Sir John! Speak from your lungs military. Are you there? It is your Host, your Ephesian, who is calling for you.”

By “Ephesian,” the Host meant “jolly companion.”

“How are you, my Host?” Falstaff called from upstairs.

“Here’s a Bohemian-Tartar who is waiting until the fat woman with you comes down,” the Host replied. “Let her descend, bully, let her descend; my chambers are honorable. Do not expect privacy in which to do immoral acts here.”

A Bohemian-Tartar is a Tartar from Bohemia — the Host’s humorous way of referring to Simple.

Falstaff walked down the stairs and said, “There was, my Host, an old fat woman just now with me; but she’s gone.”

“Please, sir,” Simple said, “wasn’t she the wise woman of Brentford?”

A wise woman is a woman who is skilled in occult matters.

“Suppose it was, mussel shell,” Falstaff said.

Simple’s mouth was habitually open, and his mind was habitually empty; these two characteristics also apply to one mussel shell.

Falstaff continued, “What do you want with her?”

“My master, sir, Master Slender, seeing her walking through the streets, sent me to her to learn, sir, whether one Nym, sir, who cheated him out of a necklace, still had the necklace or not.”

“I spoke with the old woman about it,” Falstaff said.

“And what did she say, please, sir?”

“She says that the very same man who cheated Master Slender of his chain cozened him of it.”

“Cozened” is a word that means “cheated.”

“I wish that I could have spoken with the woman herself,” Simple said. “I had other things that my master, Master Slender, wanted me to speak to her about.”

“What are they?” Falstaff asked. “Let us know.”

“Yes,” the Host said. “Answer quickly.”

“I may not conceal them, sir,” Simple replied. He meant “reveal,” not “conceal,” but the Host joked, “Conceal them, or you die.”

“Why, sir, they were only about Miss Anne Page,” Simple said. “My master wanted to know if it is his fortune to have her or not.”

“It is,” Falstaff said. “It is his fortune.”

“To what, sir?” Simple asked.

“To have her, or not,” Falstaff replied. “Go; tell Slender the fat woman told me that.”

“May I be so bold as to say so, sir?” Simple asked.

“Yes, sir,” Falstaff said, “as if anyone could be more bold.”

“I thank your worship,” Simple replied. “I shall make my master glad with these tidings.”

Simple exited.

“You are clerkly, you are clerkly, Sir John,” the Host replied. “You are a scholar. Was there a wise woman with you?”

“Yes, there was, my Host,” Falstaff replied. “She was one who taught me more wit than ever I learned before in my life, and I paid nothing for it neither, but was paid for my learning.”

Falstaff was saying that he had learned something from the recent escapade in which he had dressed as a woman. Mr. Ford had paid Falstaff to learn — blows were Falstaff’s payment.

Bardolph entered the room and said, “Out, alas, sir! Cozenage, mere cozenage! Cheating, and nothing but cheating!”

Bardolph had ridden with the three Germans who were supposed to be using the Host’s horses to ride to the court. He had been riding on a pillion: a cushion behind a saddle for an additional rider.

“Where are my horses?” the Host asked. “Speak well of them, varletto.”

Varlettowas the Host’s Italianized word for “varlet.” The Host did not want Bardolph to say that the thieves, aka cozeners, had run off with the horses.

“The horses have run away with the cozeners,” Bardolph replied. “As soon as we arrived beyond Eton, they threw me off from behind one of them, in a slough of mire; and they used their spurs and rode quickly away, like three German Devils, three Doctor Faustuses.”

“They have gone only to meet the Duke, villain,” the Host said. “Do not say that they have fled; Germans are honest men.”

Sir Hugh entered the room and asked, “Where is the Host?”

“What is the matter, sir?” the Host asked.

“Have a care of your entertainments,” Sir Hugh said.

By “entertainments,” he meant “those whom you entertain, aka guests in the inn.

Sir Hugh continued, “There is a friend of mine come to town tells me there is three cozen-Germans that has cozened all the hosts of Reading, of Maidenhead, of Colebrook, of horses and money. I tell you for good will, look you: You are wise and full of gibes and vlouting-stocks [flouting-stocks, aka laughing-stocks], and it is not convenient you should be cozened. Fare you well.”

“Cozen” meant both “cousin, aka kinsmen or relatives” and “cozening, aka cheating.”

Sir Hugh exited the room, and Doctor Caius entered it.

He asked, “Vere [Where] is mine [my] Host de Jarteer [Garter]?”

“Here, Mister Doctor,” the Host replied, “in perplexity and doubtful dilemma.”

“I cannot tell vat is dat,” Doctor Caius said, “but it is tell-a me dat you make grand preparation for a duke de Jamany [from Germany]. By my trot [Truly], dere is no duke dat the court is know to come. I tell you for good vill [will]. Adieu.”

He exited.

The Host ordered Bardolph, “Raise the hue and cry, villain, and we will go after the thieves! Assist me, knight. I am undone! Fly, run, hue and cry, villain! I am undone!”

The Host and Bardolph exited.

Falstaff said to himself, “I wish that all the world might be cheated because I have been cheated — and beaten, too. If it should come to the ear of the court how I have been transformed and how my transformation has been washed when I hid in the buck-basket and cudgeled when I disguised myself as a fat woman, they would melt me out of my fat drop by drop and liquor fishermen’s boots with me so that the boots would be waterproof. I bet that they would whip me with their fine wits until I were as crest-fallen as a dried pear. I have not prospered ever since I cheated at the card game primero, got caught, and lied about cheating. Well, if my wind were but long enough to say my prayers, I would repent.”

Mistress Quickly entered the room.

Falstaff asked, “From where have you come?”

“From the two parties, truly,” Mistress Quickly replied.

Of course, she meant that Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford had sent her to Falstaff.

“The Devil take one party and his dam — his mother — the other!” Falstaff said, “and so they shall be both bestowed. I have suffered more for their sakes, more than the villainous inconstancy of man’s disposition — the weakness of man — is able to bear.”

“And haven’t they suffered?” Mistress Quickly said. “Yes, indeed they have — speciously [Mistress Quickly meant “especially”] one of them. Mrs. Ford, good heart, has been beaten black and blue — you cannot see a white spot on her skin.”

“Why are telling you me about black and blue?” Falstaff asked. “I was beaten myself into all the colors of the rainbow; and I was almost arrested as the witch of Brentford. If my admirable dexterity of wit, my counterfeiting the movements of an old woman, had not saved me, the knave constable would have set me in the stocks — in the common stocks — as a witch.”

“Sir, let me speak with you in your bedchamber,” Mistress Quickly said. “You shall hear how things go; and, I promise you, you will be content. Here is a letter that will help explain things. Good hearts, what trouble it is to bring you together! Surely, one of you has not served Heaven well, or else you would not be so crossed.”

“Come up into my bedchamber,” Falstaff said.

— 4.6 —

Fenton and the Host talked together in a room of the Garter Inn.

The Host, who was normally a jovial fellow, was depressed. He said, “Mr. Fenton, don’t talk to me; my mind is heavy. I will give up trying to help you marry Anne Page.”

“Listen to me for a moment,” Fenton said. “Assist me and help me marry Anne Page, and I will give you a hundred pounds in gold more than you lost when the three Germans stole your horses.”

“I will listen to you, Mr. Fenton,” the Host said, “and I will at the least keep secret what you tell me.”

“From time to time I have acquainted you with the dear love I have for fair Anne Page, who has returned my affection as much as she has been allowed to. Her love for me makes me happy. I have a letter from her with such content as will make you wonder. It has mirth that is so intermixed with my desire to marry her that mirth and important matter cannot be separated. Fat Falstaff will take a big role in a great scene: I will reveal to you what that role and scene are — it will be a great jest.

“Listen, my good Host. Tonight at Herne’s Oak, between twelve and one o’clock, my sweet Nan is supposed to play the role of the Fairy Queen. The reason why is here in this letter. While she is in this disguise, and while other jests are abundantly going on, her father has commanded her to slip away with Slender and go with him to Eton where they shall be immediately married. She has told her father that she will obey him.

“But, sir, her mother, ever strongly against Slender marrying Miss Anne, and always strongly for Doctor Caius marrying Miss Anne, has arranged that Doctor Caius will spirit her away while other entertainments are keeping everyone busy. There at the deanery, where a priest attends, Doctor Caius is supposed to immediately marry her. Anne has pretended to consent to her mother’s plot and has told Doctor Caius that she will marry him.

“This is the way things stand now. Anne’s father intends for her to be the only one dressed in white, and at the appropriate time Slender will take her by the hand and tell her to go with him, and they shall leave to be married.

“Anne’s mother intends for her to be the only one dressed in green. The colors are important because everyone will be wearing masks and costumes. Doctor Caius will recognize her by the green gown she is wearing. She will also have ribbons hanging from her head and blowing in the wind. At the appropriate time Doctor Caius will pinch her on the hand and tell her to go with him, and they shall leave to be married. Anne has told him that she will go with him.”

The Host asked, “Whom does Anne intend to deceive: her father or her mother?”

Fenton replied, “Both, my good Host. She intends to go with me and marry me. And here is what is needed: You will talk to the vicar and have him wait for us at the church between twelve and one. There he shall marry Anne and me to give our hearts united ceremony.”

“Well, do your part in the plot properly and husband your resources,” the Host said. “I’ll go and talk to the vicar. You bring the maiden; you shall not lack a priest.”

“I shall evermore be bound to you,” Fenton said. “Right now, I will give you some monetary compensation.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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