Act III Scene 2
In Gloucestershire, Justice Shallow and his fellow justice, Silence, are discussing the lives of some relatives. Shallow, who is old, then sentimentally recalls the times he had as a young law student at the Inns of Court in London. He even knew Falstaff there, when he was a boy page to the Duke of Norfolk. Shallow had some wild times in his youth, he says, also commenting that many of his old acquaintances are now dead.
Bardolph enters, followed shortly by Falstaff. He asks whether Shallow has rounded up some men suitable for military service. Shallow says they have, and the men are brought to Falstaff for his inspection. First is Mouldy, who complains that there are other men fitter than he who could be recruited. Falstaff takes no notice of his complaint. Next is Shadow, followed by Thomas Wart, Feeble, and then Peter Bullcalf, who protests that he is ill with a cold. But this does not cut any ice with Falstaff.
Falstaff and Shallow then reminisce about a woman called Jane Nightwork, whom they both knew in their youth, and talk about the great days they had when they were young.
After Falstaff, Shallow and Silence exit, Bullcalf and Mouldy bribe Bardolph to let them off military service, but Feeble says he is willing to go.
Falstaff and Shallow return, and Bardolph tells Falstaff of the money he has received from Bullcalf and Mouldy. Falstaff lets them off, over the protests of Shallow, who thinks Bullcalf and Mouldy are the best men he has. Falstaff then selects Wart, Shadow and Feeble. Wart is given a musket and told to march up and down. Shallow grumbles that he is not doing it right, but Falstaff says that his recruits will do fine.
After Shallow and Silence exit, followed by Bardolph and the new recruits, Falstaff soliloquizes about how Shallow lies about his so-called wild youth. In truth he was skinny and lecherous, and he did not really know the important people he claims that he did. Falstaff resolves to cheat Shallow out of his wealth when he returns from the war.
This country scene conveys a sense of the transience of things. There is much talk of times that are long gone, and of death. Everything passes.
The scene also gives insight into the lot of the fifteenth century common soldier. The likes of Mouldy and Feeble are recruited for wars the rights and wrongs of which they do not understand, and for which they are only cannon fodder. Bullcalf and Mouldy can hardly be blamed for bribing their way to a quiet life. But the simple courage of Feeble, who is a lot less feeble than his name, should also be appreciated. He is quite ready to do his duty and serve in the Kings army: “A man can die but / once, we owe God a death.”
As for Falstaff, he behaves as outrageously in this scene as he did before the battle of Shrewsbury, when he also made money by allowing his recruits to buy themselves out of military service.
Act III Scene 2