Internet Shakespeare Editions


Tapsters and drawers

Beer and wine were more than luxuries, since the water was generally unsafe to drink. And there were always taverns to provide drink to the thirsty. In Henry IV, Part One, Prince Hal chooses to drink with the tapsters and drawers--those who tapped the kegs of beer, drew it, and brought it to the customers.

Poins: Where hast been, Hal?
Prince: With three or four loggerheads among three or fourscore hogsheads [barrels]. I have sounded the very bass-string of humility. Sirrah, I am sworn brother to a leash of drawers and can call them all by their christen names, as Tom, Dick and Francis

Less savoury activities also occurred in taverns; Pompey Bum in Measure for Measure uses his trade as a tapster as a cover for his activities as a bawd.

Why does Prince Hal tease Francis, a tapster?

Hal and Poins set up a situation where Francis, the tapster, is unable to answer any of Hal's questions, because Poins, calling from the other room makes Francis call back "Anon, anon, sir [just a minute, sir]" (4.1.45).

Perhaps Hal is staging a small drama that echoes his own, pulled as he is between the demands of the Court and the attraction of the life of the tavern.