Enter the EPILOGUE.
First my fear; then my curtsy, last my speech. My fear is your
displeasure my curtsy my duty; and my speech, to beg your
105pardons. If you look for a good speech now, you undo me,
for what I have to say is of mine own making, and what
indeed I should say will, I doubt, prove mine own marring.
But to the purpose, and so to the venture. Be it known to you,
as it is very well, I was lately here in the end of a displeasing
110play to pray your patience for it and to promise you a better.
I meant indeed to pay you with this, which, if like an ill
venture it come unluckily home, I break, and you, my gentle
creditors, lose. Here I promised you I would be, and here I
commit my body to your mercies. Bate me some, and I will
115pay you some, and, as most debtors do, promise you
infinitely. And so I kneel down before you, but, indeed, to
pray for the Queen.
If my tongue cannot entreat you to acquit me, will you
command me to use my legs? And yet that were but light
120payment, to dance out of your debt. But a good conscience
will make any possible satisfaction, and so would I. All the
gentlewomen here have forgiven me; if the gentlemen will
not, then the gentlemen do not agree with the gentlewomen,
which was never seen before in such an assembly.
125One word more, I beseech you: if you be not too much
cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the
story, with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair
Katherine of France, where, for anything I know, Falstaff
shall die of a sweat, unless already he be killed with your
130hard opinions; for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not
the man. My tongue is weary; when my legs are too, I will
bid you good night.
First, I’ll tell you what I’m afraid of. Then, I’ll bow, and finally, I’ll make a speech. I fear that this play displeased you; I bow to you out of duty; and finally, I make this speech to ask you for forgiveness. If you’re expecting a good speech now, then I’m in trouble. For I wrote the words I’m about to say, and I’m sure that what I’m about to say will end up getting me in trouble. But I’ll get to the point, and thus I’ll get to the danger. You should know—as you seem to—that I recently came on this stage at the end of some other lousy play, to ask you to be patient and to promise you a better play the next time. I had intended to pay you back for that play with this one. If you didn’t like this play, then—like a businessman who has gambled on a risky venture—I am bankrupt; and you, my sweet creditors, are out of luck. I promised you I would be here, and here I stand to submit myself to your mercy. Give me some mercy and I’ll promise to pay you back again another time. That’s how debtors do it: they always promise to repay.
If my talking can’t convince you to let me off the hook, then would you like me to dance? And yet, that would be a cheap payment, to dance myself out of debt. But a person with a good conscience will always seek to pay his debts, and I would do the same. All the women here have forgiven me: if the men won’t, then the men don’t agree with the women, which has never happened in a theater audience before.
Just one more thing, if you don’t mind. If fatty meat hasn’t clogged you up yet, our playwright will continue the story with Sir John in it, and entertain you with the beautiful Princess Katharine of France. And speaking of France, as far as I know, Falstaff will die there of the sweating disease—unless, that is, he’s already been killed by your low opinions of him.
In an early version of 1 Henry IV, the character of Falstaff was called Sir John Oldcastle. The name was changed upon the insistence of the historical Sir John Oldcastle’s descendants, who were highly influential in England at the time.Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not him. My mouth is tired; when my legs are, too, I’ll say goodnight and take a bow.