February 17, 2006

The Falstaff Dialogues

The instances that second marriage move
Are base respects of thrift, but none of love.

(Hamlet 3.2.185-6)

[A previously unpublished fragment found in the rubbish pit under the London lane where Shakespeare's First Folio was printed. Scholars dispute the reasons why it was not included. The more learned point to the printer's wife.]

FALSTAFF, sitting upon the ground telling sad stories of the deaths of kings.... some poison'd by their wives.

Enter FOOL.

FOOL: Good Sir John, how fare thee.

FALSTAFF: I fare well enough but soon, I fear, must fare thee well.

FOOL: How so, Sir John? Be not downcast, and take the shadow off thyself. Do but drink this bottle down, screw thy courage to the sticking post, abide awhile, and we shall merry be.

FALSTAFF: Merry? Me? Not this old dobbin. Falstaff shall no more merry be.

FOOL: Nay, good Sir John. Bite not your thumb at me for, sooth, thou art known from Land's End to John O'Groats as the merriest of that merry band that did Prince Harry harry. I mark well the tales that Falstaff is never more merry than when a boon companion, such as myself, will ever stand you cakes and a cup or two of ale. And I stand witness from our revels past that all such tales are true.

FALSTAFF: (Aside: Like all lost fools he sees not my inner state, but only this outer self of a former shell. Stand off and scry my larger outline. Behold how it blots out my former merry stars like the moon held out before the sun. )

Oh, fine Fool, if you seek one who would be merry with you you seek not old Sir John.

FOOL: Posh and bother, good Sir John, with these sweet cakes and this good ale how can you not merry be?

FALSTAFF: I may not now make merry because I have made myself marry.

FOOL: Merry? Why certainly you merry are. The very stones echo back your merry laughter from across the years.

FALSTAFF: You hear me amiss. I am not merry because I married am.

FOOL: Ah. Now I have your measure. You say you married are? Well, there's the rub that raises up the blister on the foot of all men's souls. How say you of this married state in which you are not merry?

FALSTAFF: It is all one and of a muchness. Indeed, it is much of a muchness and on it have I meditated mightily this past fornight far beyond the chimes of midnight. Follow me, my Fool, in this:

The unmarried man, being merry, seeks to marry from merriment mainly while in his cups. For in this muddled state his merry mind reminds him that to marry may mount his present merriment in his maid to highest heaven, and hence his maid, marking he is merry at the thought of marriage, moves maidenhead to make him yet more merry still. Do you follow well my stormy petrel's seaward path, my Fool?

FOOL: Indeed I do e'en though it pricks my feet with shards of ice.

FALSTAFF: I'll dance you deeper still into those darker seas where many our merry men have drowned.

Upon his marriage the merry man's merriment thereafter doth decline until he can only be merry when apart from, or in full flight from, his unmerry married maid and marriage. Is this not the very unmerry truth?"

FOOL: 'Sooth it is. For all our sages and finer fools do of marriage make unmerry merry fun."

FALSTAFF: Then follow deeper into my unmerry depths for hidden waters flow from questions never marked by maids.

If to marry is to be unmerry, why should then the merry man marry? Has he not, while merry, laughed that to marry is to lose all merriment? How then can he not know that in marriage he places his merriment in some ceaseless servitude not to the maid he married, but to her merry nest and the ever mounting money pit the maid's married plan requires if the maid, after marriage, is to ever be made merry?

FOOL: How can he not, good Sir John, whose present wisdom would confound the waves, and send them rolling always teeter never totter?"

FALSTAFF: My meaning I draw out as this.

I find that the merry man wearies of being merry. He then marries because his merry life has become burdened by being merry, and that his deeper miseries, being mushed under his higher merriments, grows lonely for that company such misery must seek. I find that this lonely misery in the midst of merriment grows more mighty than all that has been seen and said of the miserable married state.

In short, good Fool, he wants not so much a wife -- as wives are all too seldom spied in the barren landscapes and blasted heathes of our brave new world -- as he wishes for a witness to his willful fall from merry into marriage. And in this we find that are all our maids are full willing to comply."

FOOL: "But surely, good Sir John, you slander all our modern maids. Do they not say, in whispers and in wails, that only marriage makes them merry. And if they say so, do they not also wish it true."

FALSTAFF: No slander sling I at our maids, but only seek to see them straight and as they are, not touted up with rouged ideas that our stunted scribblers in them instill.

I have known many maids and maids may, as maids, make merry with the mawkishness of marriage. But mark me well, my Fool, that they once married are no more maids but wives, and wives have but one wifely will which is, I trow, to make no merriment in marriage unless it comes limned in property. Deny them that and no merry love will then be found in married maids for they no longer maids remain."

FOOL: So if we then would merry stay, then marry not we must?

FALSTAFF: You have the nub and core of me proud Fool. Here begins our brave ascent from Fools' dark depths to the merry realms of men unmarried. Mark well this mantled moment when you first knew that to be merry you must never married be.

For our solemn state of marriage is but a starker state of fear in which an independent merry man his own misprision makes; in which he drapes himself not with the merry buds of May, but with that mouldering married shroud of bleakest February that this once merry man might now, within this life, practice solely for the grave.

'Swounds! The growling hounds of heaven sound the dawn and I must away. Mark my meaning well, my favorite Fool: If you would merry be, be you not married.

Exeunt omnes... followed by a bear.

Posted by Vanderleun at February 17, 2006 12:33 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Hmmm...one wonders if the "bear" was perhaps his wife.....or more symbolically, her divorce attorney?

Posted by: moondog at February 18, 2006 7:24 AM