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Of this play there is a tradition preserved by Mr. Rowe, that it was written at the coinmand of queen Elizabeth, who was so delighted with the character of Falstaff, that she wished it to be diftured through more plays; but suspecting that it might pall by continued uniformity, directed the poet to diversify his manner, by Thewing him in love. No talk is harder than that of writing to the ideas of another. Shakespeare knew what the queen, if the 1tory be true, seems not to have known, that by any real passion of tenderness, the selfish craft, the careless jollity, and the lazy lurury of Falstaff must have suffered so much abatement, that little of his former cast would have remained. Falstaff could not love, but by ceasing to be Falstaff. He could only counterfeit love, and his professions could be prompted, not by the hope of pleasure, but of money. Thus the poet approached as near as he could to the work enjoined him ; yet having perhaps in the former plays completed his own idea, seems not to have been able to give Falstaff all his former power of entertainment.
This comedy is remarkable for the variety and number of the personages, who exhibit more characters appropriated and discri. minated, than perhaps can be found in any other play.
Whether Shakespeare was the first that produced upon the English stage the effect of language distorted and depraved by provin. cial or foreign pronunciation, I cannot certainly decide *. This mode of forming ridiculous characters can confer praise only on him, who originally discovered it, for it requires not much of either wit or judgment : its success must be derived almost wholly from the player, but its power in a skilful mouth, even he that despises it, is unable to refilt.
The conduct of this drama is deficient; the action begins and ends often before the conclusion, and the different parts might change places without inconvenience; but its general power, that power by which all works of genius shall finally be tried, is such, that perhaps it never yet had reader or spectator, who did not think it too soon at an end. JOHNSON.
* In the Three Ladies of London, 1584, is the character of an Italian merchant, very strongly marked by foreign pronunciation. Dr. Dodypoll, in the comedy which bears his name, is, like Caius, a French phylician. This piece appeared at least a year before the Merry Wives of Windsor. The hero of it speaks such another jargon as the ants. gonilt of Sir Hugh, and like him is cheated of his mistress. In several other pieces, more ancient than the earliest of Shakespeare's, provincial characters are introduced. STEEVENS.
END OF VOLUME THE FIRST.