King Henry The Fourth: Part Two "We Have Heard The Chimes At Midnight"

William Shakespeare

"We Have Heard The Chimes At Midnight"

Context: As a soldier with the forces of Henry IV, Falstaff, by cowardice which he chooses to call discretion, has managed to survive the first phase of the rebellion at Shrewsbury. So successfully has he carried off his false claim to have defeated Hotspur in single combat that he has been dispatched for further martial service at Gaultree Forest. Given a sum of money–which he has every intention of using for himself–for the impressment of foot soldiers, he travels through Gloucestershire where his old acquaintance Justice Shallow has summoned a group of men to be examined for possible service. Shallow, with his cousin Silence, is living out the senile dregs of his life in the memories of youth. Consequently, he is delighted at the opportunity of conversing with his old crony about activities–both fictional and actual–which recall his London days at the Inns of Court fifty-five years ago. With the dry rattle of old age he lecherously recounts the night when he and Sir John "lay all night in the windmill in St. George's field." And, with fond memory he recalls their old acquaintance in fun, Jane Nightwork, who has fallen victim to age if not the grave:

Nay she must be old, she cannot choose but be old, certain she's old, and had Robin Nightwork by old Nightwork before I came to Clement's Inn.
That's fifty-five year ago.
Ha cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen that that this knight and I have seen. Ha Sir John, said I well?
We have heard the chimes at midnight Master Shallow.
That we have, that we have, that we have, in faith Sir John we have; our watchword was hem, boys! Come let's to dimmer, come let's to dinner. Jesu, the days that we have seen. Come, come.