Sir-John-Falstaff-Brian-Mani

Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States, where we remember and honor the sacrifices of our veterans. In Elizabethan times, they had veterans and conscripts too, and as poorly as veterans are treated today, it was even worse back then. Shakespeare realized this, and used the deplorable practice of forced conscription into Elizabeth’s army to highlight Falstaff’s immoral activities. In his first Henry history play, Shakespeare has his villainous and corpulent Sir John Falstaff conscript a haggard bunch of ‘pitiful rascals’, only so that he himself can collect the conscription money.

PRINCE HENRY

I think, to steal cream indeed, for thy theft hath

already made thee butter. But tell me, Jack, whose

fellows are these that come after?

FALSTAFF

Mine, Hal, mine.

PRINCE HENRY

I did never see such pitiful rascals.

FALSTAFF

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.

WESTMORELAND

Ay, but, Sir John, methinks they are exceeding poor

and bare, too beggarly.

FALSTAFF

‘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 HENRY

No I’ll be sworn; unless you call three fingers on

the ribs bare. But, sirrah, make haste: Percy is

already in the field.

FALSTAFF

What, is the king encamped?

WESTMORELAND

He is, Sir John: I fear we shall stay too long.

FALSTAFF

Well,

To the latter end of a fray and the beginning of a feast

Fits a dull fighter and a keen guest.

Exeunt 

–from Henry IV Part I, Act IV, scene ii

The image is of American Players Theatre’s Brian Mani in the role of Falstaff–dressed up, of course, in military regalia that doesn’t deserve to wear.

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