Introduction 1

[A country inn. Enter Christopher Sly, a drunkard, and the inn’s hostess, the owner’s wife.]

Sly

I'll feeze you, in faith.     

Hostess

A pair of stocks, you rogue!    

Sly

You’re a baggage, the Slys are no rogues. Look in the     
chronicles, we came in with Richard Conqueror.     
Therefore, paucas pallabris, let the world slide. Sessa!     

Hostess    

You will not pay for the glasses you have burst?     

Sly

No, not a denier. Go by, Saint Jeronimy. Go to thy cold    
bed and warm thee.        

Hostess

I know my remedy, I must go fetch the headborough.     
[Exit]

Sly

Third, or fourth, or fifth borough – I'll answer him by     
law. I'll not budge an inch, boy. Let him come, and kindly.     
[He falls asleep. The sound of hunting horns. Enter the Lord of the local manor and his entourage
who have been out hunting.]

Lord

Huntsman, I charge thee tender well my hounds.     
Breathe Merriman, the poor cur is embossed;     
And couple Clowder with the deep-mouthed brach.     
Saw'st thou not, boy, how Silver made it good    
At the hedge-corner, in the coldest fault?    
I would not lose the dog for twenty pound.

First Huntsman

Why, Belman is as good as he, my lord;
He cried upon it at the merest loss,    
And twice today picked out the dullest scent.    
Trust me, I take him for the better dog.

Lord

Thou art a fool. If Echo were as fleet,    
I would esteem him worth a dozen such.    
But sup them well and look unto them all,    
Tomorrow I intend to hunt again.

First Huntsman

I will, my lord.
[Viewing Sly passed out on the floor.]

Lord

What's here? One dead, or drunk? See, doth he breathe?    

Second Huntsman

He breathes, my lord. Were he not warmed with ale,
This were a bed but cold to sleep so soundly.    

Lord

O monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies!
Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!    
Sirs, I will practice on this drunken man.    
What think you, if he were conveyed to bed,
Wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,    
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes,    
Would not the beggar then forget himself?    

First Huntsman

Believe me, lord, I think he cannot choose.    

Second Huntsman

It would seem strange unto him when he waked.

Lord

Even as a flattering dream or worthless fancy.    
Then take him up and manage well the jest.    
Carry him gently to my fairest chamber,    
And hang it round with all my wanton pictures.    
Balm his foul head in warm distilled waters,    
And burn sweet wood to make the lodging sweet.
Procure me music ready when he wakes,
To make a dulcet and a heavenly sound.    
And if he chance to speak, be ready straight    
And, with a low submissive reverence,    
Say 'What is it your honor will command?'
Let one attend him with a silver basin
Full of rose-water and bestrewed with flowers;
Another bear the ewer, the third a diaper,    
And say 'Will't please your lordship cool your hands?'
Someone be ready with a costly suit,
And ask him what apparel he will wear.
Another tell him of his hounds and horse,
And that his lady mourns at his disease.
Persuade him that he hath been lunatic,    
And when he says he is, say that he dreams,    
For he is nothing but a mighty lord.    
This do, and do it kindly, gentle sirs.    
It will be pastime passing excellent,    
If it be husbanded with modesty.    

First Huntsman

My lord, I warrant you we will play our part,    
As he shall think by our true diligence
He is no less than what we say he is.

Lord

Take him up gently and to bed with him,
And each one to his office when he wakes.    
[Sly is carried out. Trumpets sound.]
Sirrah, go see what trumpet 'tis that sounds.
[Exit Servant]
Belike some noble gentleman that means,    
Travelling some journey, to repose him here.    
[Re-enter Servant]
How now? Who is it?

Servant

                                     An't please your honor, players    
That offer service to your lordship.

Lord

Bid them come near.
[Enter Players (professional actors)]
Now, fellows, you are welcome.

Players

We thank your honor.

Lord

Do you intend to stay with me tonight?    

First Player

So please your lordship to accept our duty.    

Lord

With all my heart. This fellow I remember,
Since once he played a farmer's eldest son;
'Twas where you wooed the gentlewoman so well.
I have forgot your name; but sure that part    
Was aptly fitted and naturally performed.    

Second Player

I think 'twas Soto that your honor means.

Lord

'Tis very true. Thou didst it excellent.
Well, you are come to me in a happy time,
The rather for I have some sport in hand    
Wherein your cunning can assist me much.    
There is a lord will hear you play tonight;    
But I am doubtful of your modesties,    
Lest over-eyeing of his odd behavior –    
For yet his honor never heard a play —    
You break into some merry passion    
And so offend him; for I tell you, sirs,
If you should smile he grows impatient.    

First Player

Fear not, my lord. We can contain ourselves,
Were he the veriest antic in the world.    

Lord

[To a Servant] Go, sirrah, take them to the buttery,    
And give them friendly welcome everyone.
Let them want nothing that my house affords.    
    [Exit Servant with the Players]
Sirrah, go you to Barthol'mew, my page,    
And see him dressed in all suits like a lady.
That done, conduct him to the drunkard's chamber,
And call him 'madam,' do him obeisance.    
Tell him from me, as he will win my love,    
He bear himself with honorable action,    
Such as he hath observed in noble ladies,
Unto their lords by them accomplishèd.    
Such duty to the drunkard let him do,
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say 'What is't your honor will command
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?'
And then with kind embracements, tempting kisses,
And with declining head into his bosom,
Bid him shed tears, as being overjoyed    
To see her noble lord restored to health,
Who for this seven years hath esteemed him    
No better than a poor and loathsome beggar;
And if the boy have not a woman's gift
To rain a shower of commanded tears,    
An onion will do well for such a shift,    
Which, in a napkin, being close conveyed,    
Shall, in despite, enforce a watery eye.    
See this dispatched with all the haste thou canst.    
Anon I'll give thee more instructions.    
[Exit Second Servant]
I know the boy will well usurp the grace,    
Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman.    
I long to hear him call the drunkard ‘husband,’
And how my men will stay themselves from laughter    
When they do homage to this simple peasant.    
I'll in to counsel them; haply my presence    
May well abate the over-merry spleen    
Which otherwise would grow into extremes.
[Exeunt]