King Henry The Fourth: Part One "A Plague Of All Cowards I Say"

William Shakespeare

"A Plague Of All Cowards I Say"

Context: In one of the chief comic intrigues of the play, Prince Hal and Poins have foiled the robbery of the king's retainers at Gads Hill. Disguised, the two fell upon Falstaff and his cronies–Bardolph, Peto, and Gadshill–and counter-robbed them after they had successfully secured the money from the carriers. Hal and Poins now return to the Boar's Head Tavern where they await Falstaff's return with comic anticipation, anxious to see how the braggadocio will attempt to cover his cowardice. Meanwhile, Falstaff–down but not defeated–has instructed his companions to hack their swords and to tickle their nose with spear-grass so that the bloody shirts and beaten blades will suggest a furious battle. Further, since Hal, to Falstaff's knowledge, did not participate in the robbery as agreed, the "huge bombard of sack" determines that the best defense is a good offense. Consequently, when he and his men stagger into the tavern bloody and beaten, he immediately begins to berate the prince for his cowardice before anyone has an opportunity to question him concerning his Gads Hill activities:

Welcome Jack, Where hast thou been?
A plague of all cowards, I say, and a vengeance too, marry and amen! Give me a cup of sack boy. Ere I lead this life long, I'll sew nether stocks and mend them, and foot them too. A plague of all cowards! Give me a cup of sack rogue. Is there no virtue extant?
Didst thou never see Titan kiss a dish of butter–pitiful-hearted Titan–that melted at the sweet tale of the sun's? If thou didst, then behold that compound.
You rogue, here's lime in this sack too; there is nothing but roguery to be found in villainous man, yet a coward is worse than a cup of sack with lime in it. A villainous coward! . . . There lives not three good men unhanged in England, and one of them is fat, and grows old, . . .
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