King Henry The Fourth: Part Two "Under Which King, Besonian? Speak, Or Die"

William Shakespeare

"Under Which King, Besonian? Speak, Or Die"

Context: Falstaff, having survived both the Battle of Shrewsbury against Hotspur and the Battle of Gaultree Forest against the Archbishop of York, has returned to Gloucestershire to renew his acquaintance with his old friend Justice Shallow. Actually, as a soldier this braggadocio has been more of a hindrance than an asset to the forces of King Henry. Before each battle he was granted a sum of money to be used for the impressment of his force; and in both cases he spent the funds on sack rather than on ablebodied men. Consequently, he led into battle the motliest bunch of ragamuffins and released prisoners who ever bore arms in the name of England. Nor are Falstaff's intentions honorable concerning his visit to Shallow. He sees in the old justice, living in his senility on his memories of the past when he attended the Inns of Court in London, yet another opportunity to increase his fortune. Certainly Falstaff's crass willingness to fleece his old companion tends to darken his character and to prepare the audience for the moment when Hal, as Henry V, will banish his erst-while crony. But, when Henry IV dies, the "bombard of sack" assumes that his rise to power is complete. Pistol, his rowdy associate, brings him news of the old king's death and gives a sharp retort to Justice Shallow's remonstrances to speak more directly to the point:

Give me pardon sir; if sir you come with news from the Court, I
take it there's but two ways, either to utter them, or to conceal
them. I am sir under the King in some authority.
Under which king, Besonian? Speak or die.
Under King Harry.
Harry the Fourth or, Fifth?
Harry the Fourth.
A foutra for thine office!
Sir John, thy tender lambkin now is King.
Harry the Fifth's the man. I speak the truth.
When Pistol lies, do this, and fig me, like
The bragging Spaniard.