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Act III, Scene 2
The place is a court before Justice Shallow’s house in Gloucestershire. Shallow greets Silence, his fellow-justice and kinsman. He inquires about the health of Silent’s wife and daughter and about the progress of William, his son at Oxford. He says William should go to the Inns of Court (law schools in London). Shallow is confident that his reputation as a wild young fellow still survives there. He recalls Falstaff as a boy to Mowbray. He recalls how both of them had the habit of brawling when they were young. He then talks about the certainty of death that they all have to face.
Then Bardolph and one of Falstaff’s men enter. Shallow introduces himself as a poor country squire and one of the King’s justices of the peace. Bardolph conveys him master’s greetings whereupon the delighted Justice admits that Falstaff was indeed a good man and inquires about his wife. Bardolph says that a soldier is better accommodated than with a wife. Shallow is enchanted by the expression “better accommodated.” When Falstaff makes his appearance, Shallow tells him that he has a dozen men among whom good recruits may be found. Despite the first recruit Mouldy’s protests that his wife will object, he is chosen by Falstaff because he is of the opinion that Mouldy, being a good limbed fellow, young and strong and of good family, must be put to use. Falstaff approves of Simon Shadow as the second recruit--he being the natural son of some unknown male. Francis Feeble, whom Falstaff ironically observes to be a valiant as the wrathful dove or most magnanimous mouse, is taken as the third recruit. Next, Peter Bullcalf is selected, despite his protests that he has a cold.
Bullcalf and Mouldy offer money to Bardolph to secure their release from duty. Bullacalf says he would rather be hanged than go to war. Mouldy says that his wife is old and needs help. Feeble says that he doesn’t mind dying for the country: “A man can die but once.” Falstaff congratulates Bardolph for accepting money form the recruits for their release. Falstaff selects Wart, a man of spirit; Shadow; and Feeble, who can run swiftly.
Shallow appears to be very enchanted with the word “accommodated.” Here it is not Shallow’s fascination for that particular word that is what is significant. The increased interest of the people at that time in word-making and language building is pointed out here. A country Justice like Shallow is very much enchanted by this word and his questioning of its etymology is not surprising. A city-bred man like Bardolph says it is a phrase and a soldier-like word. It was the usual habit of soldiers to take pride in themselves by boasting of their position and status.
The recruitment scene is very important because it exposes Falstaff’s capabilities as a recruiting officer and the malpractices prevalent in England at that time. One of the recruits, Wart, is ridiculed by Falstaff saying that he is full of rough and tough projections. Then again, Shallow refers to the olden days when he and Falstaff had laid all night in the Windmill in Saint George’s Field. Here Shakespeare is actually referring to the brothels which were famous in Southwark which was near Saint George’s Field. When Bardolph accepts bribes from the recruits for their release, Falstaff congratulates him.