The Eastcheap Three, Pistol, Nym and Bardolph, are old drinking friends of Henry and represent his wilder, less responsible days from before he was King. Henry has now changed his ways but they haven’t and are quick to quarrel, even when their friend, Falstaff, lies dying. The three men go to France full of fighting talk but spend their time trying to make money and avoiding battle. During the play, their fortunes take a turn for the worst.
Facts we learn about these three men at the start of the play:
- Pistol has married Nym’s fiancé, Mistress Nell Quickly.
- Pistol and Nym have fallen out with each other.
- Their great friend, Falstaff, is dying and they all blame Henry.
- The three men are off to France to fight for Henry.
Things they say:
‘Come, shall I make you two friends? We must to France together. Why the devil should we keep knives to cut one another’s throats?’ (Bardolph, 2:1)
They argue a lot, but Bardolph wants them to think about the war instead of their fights.
‘You cannot conjure me. I have an humour to knock you indifferently well. If you grow foul with me, Pistol, I will scour you with my rapier, as I may, in fair terms. If you would walk off, I would prick your guts a little, in good terms.’ (Nym, 2:1)
Nym has been hurt by Pistol and is ready for revenge.
‘Well, bawd I’ll turn, / And something lean to cutpurse of quick hand.
/ To England will I steal, and there I’ll steal, / And patches will I get unto these cudgelled scars, / And swear I got them in the Gallia wars.’ (Pistol, 5:1)
Pistol has reached rock bottom. He intends to make a living as a thief and a pimp and to lie about his involvement in the war when he gets back.
Things others say about them:
‘For Bardolph, he is white-livered and red-faced; by the means whereof a faces it out, but fights not. For Pistol, he hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword; by the means whereof a breaks words, and keeps whole weapons. For Nym, he hath heard that men of few words are the best men, and therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest a should be thought a coward.’ (The Boy, 3:2)
Bardolph is a drunk, full of fighting talk that he is too cowardly to act on; Pistol prefers to use his sharp tongue rather than draw his sword; Nym is so desperate not to be thought a coward that he says nothing at all.
‘Why, ’tis a gull a fool, a rogue, that now and then goes to the wars to grace himself at his return into London under the form of a soldier.’ (Gower, 3:6)
Pistol is so well known for being a thief and a pimp that Gower recognises him. He is also likely to lie about his own actions in war to gain glory.
‘I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart. But the saying is true, ‘The empty vessel makes the greatest sound’. Bardolph and Nym had ten times more valour than this roaring devil i’th’old play, that everyone may pare his nails with a wooden dagger, and they are both hanged, and so would this be, if he durst steal anything adventurously.’ (The Boy, 4:4)
Pistol is even worse than regular thieves such as Nym and Bardolph because he gets money through sly and underhand ways such as lying and bragging.