Henry VI, Part 2 "I Will Make It Felony To Drink Small Beer"
by William Shakespeare

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"I Will Make It Felony To Drink Small Beer"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: Jack Cade is leading a group of rebellious common people. He is talking with some of these men–with Dick the butcher and Smith the weaver, for example. They are discussing the kind of place England will be when their rebellion is successful and Cade has become king. The "small beer" that Cade refers to is weak, watery beer, which is the drink of the poor. In King Henry The Fourth: Part II (Act II, sc. 2, l. 7) it is said that desiring small beer reflects "vilely" upon you. The term is also used in this sense in Othello (Act II, sc.i, 1.158).

CADEBe brave then, for your captain is brave and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. . . .