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I know thee not, old man, fall to thy prayers ;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester ! and forbids him on pain of death to come within ten miles of his person.
For a moment Falstaff believes that this is but a jest, and that he will be sent for in private; but he finds it to be sad earnest. And we are almost sorry for him, as we see him going away broken-hearted to his beggars' kingdom, from which the sun has been removed. He is allowed enough to live on; but his circle scatters, his companions drifting asunder to their natural ends in the lazar-house or on the gallows. His own end soon ensues ; and the description of it, in the mouth of Mrs. Quickly, is a triumph of Shakspeare's art: “He made a fine end, and went away, an it had been any Christom child. After I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen; and a' babbled o' green fields.” 1
Harry, being settled on the throne, shoots up as a man of the most varied and perfect genius :
Hear him but reason in divinity,
1 Was Falstaff a coward? Did King Henry treat him fairly? On both questions see BRADLEY, Oxford Lectures on Poetry, pp. 263, 267, 268.
You'd say it hath been all-in-all his study;
Familiar as his garter. The most marked strain of his new character, however, is religion :
The breath no sooner left his father's body
Henry the Fifth is the most deeply religious character in Shakspeare's works. His religion is not fanatical or obtrusive; but it completely changes the course of his life; and, ever after this date, with all his gay and manly temper there mingles, at every turn, the acknowledgment of God.
The culminating scene of his life is the Battle of Agincourt-one of Shakspeare's most wonderful performances. The English army, decimated with disease and hunger, creeps along the shore to Agincourt, while the French, with health, food and many times their numbers, prepare to sweep them into the sea. It seems a fatal moment; but the King bates not a jot of heart or hope. One of the English leaders having
involuntarily expressed the wish that they had with them ten thousand more of their countrymen, Harry cries, “No, not a man more from England": he is certain that their cause is good, and that, with God's help, they can maintain it. We see the good fruit of his old habits of mixing with all sorts and conditions of men as, the night before the battle, he goes through the camp in disguise, talking as a brother-man with everyone; and, even in this hour of extremity, he cannot refrain from passing a practical joke on a bragging fool with whom he meets. At the breaking of the day he leads his troops to one of the most remarkable victories with which the name of England is adorned ; and his own cheerfulness and valour supply the inspiration that puts hope into the hearts of his fainting
When all is done, however, he knows nothing of his own heroism :
O God, Thy arm was here,
If Prince Harry's example is understood to advocate the “wild oats” theory of life, it is false and misleading; but, if it be taken to teach how one who has fallen into error, in the heat of young blood, may retrieve himself and, by the grace of God, rise to a full sense of the dignity of life, it has close affinity with the Gospel. I can never help thinking that in Prince Henry we
have a great deal of what Shakspeare himself was, and of what he wished to be. There is no doubt that Shakspeare knew by experience the world of madness and misrule over which he depicted Falstaff as presiding ; because the life of actors and playwriters in his day bordered closely on rascaldom. Most of his brother-playwrights lived short and violent lives, and several of them perished in tavern-brawls. May we not take these dramas as indications that, though in this world, Shakspeare never liked it ? At all events he rose out of it and quitted it. By incessant labour he clarified his genius and established his fortune; and may we not hope that, when, as the fruit of his toil, he became a prosperous man and, while still in the maturity of his powers, retired to his native Stratford, to spend the rest of his days far from the revelry of London, it was with King Harry's sense of deliverance from the errors of his youth and with his thankful consciousness of owing everything to God?