that "this obscure reference to an equally obscure passage in II Samuel 21:19-20 turns out to be
underlined (albeit faintly
) in the Earl of Oxford's Bible (60).
As Kirsten Poole has more recently observed (1995), Falstaffs allusion to I Samuel 21.19 is
not an isolated literary coincidence but part of a larger pattern of Biblical allusion and wit.
Falstaff is in fact an enthusiastic quoter of scripture who happily ridicules his own non-conformist
inclinations. He cites from Genesis, Exodus, 2 Samuel, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Matthew, Mark,
Luke, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and I Thessalonians, among other books. He mocks, while
precepts of Puritan theology. Of the fifty-four biblical references identified
by Shaheen in 1 Henry IV, almost half -- twenty-six in all -- issue from Falstaff's mouth (Shaheen
In the "weaver's beam" passage from Merry Wives, Falstaff actually amalgamates two distinct
I Samuel 21.19 and Job 7.6
. In an illuminating instance of Falstaff's self-
reflexive parody of Puritan religiosity, the fat knight apparently associates these two verses by
virtue of their common reference to the Puritan vocation of weaving. As one who himself wishes
he "were a weaver" so that he could "sing psalms" (I Henry IV
2.4.130), Falstaff pursues this
popular Puritan trade. His likening of Goliath's spear to a "weaver's beam" therefore represents a
transference of scriptural image perfectly suited to his persona as a self-parodying follower of late
Falstaff is no David the shepherd-warrior; indeed he was associated in the popular
imagination with the cowardly Sir John Fastolfe, whose unmanly retreat from battle and
abandonment of Talbot is parodied in 1 Henry VI
(3.2; 4.1). Could we imagine a more apt
example of those "immortal jests" with which Tom Nashe assured Gabriel Harvey Oxford would
maul him, if he should resume his theatrical writing?
Surprising as it might seem, Harvey seems to have viewed Falstaff as a parody of himself
and his own Puritan sympathies. The son of a Saffron Walden rope maker, Harvey and his
, were both known sympathizers of the radical Puritan pamphleteer Martin
Marprelate. Marprelate's rambunctious, polyvocal, libellous 1588-89 diatribes against the
Anglican Bishops are identified by Poole, among other critics, as the local staging ground for
Falstaff's wit: "The Henriad reenacts issues of discursive and political control presented by the
Marprelate controversy. Within the plays themselves, Falstaff assumes a voice and a role similar
What Smith means by "albeit faintly remains a mystery. Evidently, according to orthodox Shakespeareans, 400 hundred year old
ink is not supposed to fade.
An instance, in other words, of the principle of convergence discussed above in the chapter "Five Levels of Evidence, except that in
this case only one of the two relevant verses is marked in the de Vere Bible.
My dayes are swifter than a weaver's shittle, and they are spent without hope (G). Not marked in the de Vere Bible.
Richard authored almanacs and attempted to intervene in the Marprelate pamphlet wars in his piously neutral tract, The Theological
Discourse of the Lamb of God (1590) and, anonymously, Plain Perceval.