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for which it was written, but that it was fraudulently made up by some person or persons who attended at the theatre for the purpose. It will be found that there is no variation in the progress of the plot, and that although one or two transpositions may be pointed out, of most of the speeches, necessary to the conduct and development of the story, there is some germ or fragment: all are made to look like prose or verse, apparently at the mere caprice of the writer, and the edition is wretchedly printed in a large type, as if the object had been to bring it out with speed, in order to take advantage of a temporary interest.
That temporary interest perhaps arose more immediately out of the representation of the comedy before Queen Elizabeth, during the Christmas holidays preceding the date of the entry in the Stationers' Registers : the title-page states, that it had been acted "by the Lord Chamberlain's servants" before the Queen “and elsewhere :" “elsewhere," was perhaps at the Globe on the Bankside, and we may suppose, that it had been brought out in the commencement of the summer season of 1600, before the death of Sir Thomas Lucy. If the “dozen white luces" in the first scene were meant to ridicule him, Shakespeare would certainly not have introduced the allusion after the death of the object of it. That it continued a favourite play we can readily believe, and we learn that it was acted before James I., not long after he came to the throne: the following memorandum is contained in the accounts of the “ Revels at Court" in the latter end of 1604. “By his Majesties plaiers. The Sunday followinge A Play of
the Merry Wiues of Winsor'." This representation occurred on “the Sunday following” Nov. 1st., 1604.
What has led some to imagine that the surreptitious impression of 1602 was the comedy as it first came from the hands of Shakespeare, is a tradition respecting the rapidity with which it was composed. This tradition, when traced to its source, can be carried back no farther than 1702: John Dennis in that year printed his “Comical Gallant,” founded upon “ The Merry Wives of Windsor," and in the dedication he states, that “the comedy was written at the command of Queen Elizabeth, and by her direction, and she was so eager to see it acted, that she commanded it to be finished in fourteen days.” Dennis gives no authority for any part of this assertion, but because he knew Dryden, it is supposed to have come from him; and because Dryden was acquainted with Davenant, it has been conjectured that the latter might have communicated it to the former. We own that
i See Mr. Peter Cunningham's “ Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court,” (printed for the Shakesp. Society) p. 203. We had no previous extrinsic knowledge of any early performance of “ The Merry Wires of Windsor.”
we place little or no reliance on the story, especially recollecting that Dennis had to make out a case in favour of his alterations, by shewing that Shakespeare had composed the comedy in an incredibly short period, and consequently that it was capable of improvement. The assertion by Dennis was repeated by Gildon, Pope, Theobald, &c., and hence it has obtained a degree of currency and credit to which it seems by no means entitled.
It has been a disputed question in what part of the series of dramas, in which Falstaff is introduced, “The Merry Wives of Windsor" ought to be read: Johnson thought it came in between “Henry IV.” part ï. and “Henry V.:" Malone, on the other hand, argued that it should be placed between the two parts of “Henry IV.;" but the truth is, that almost insuperable difficulties present themselves to either hypothesis, and we doubt much whether the one or the other is well founded. Shakespeare, having for some reason been induced to represent Falstaff in love, considered by what persons he might be immediately surrounded, and Bardolph, Pistol, Nym, and Mrs. Quickly, naturally presented themselves to his mind : he was aware that the audience, with whom they had been favourite characters, would expect them still to be Falstaff's companions; and though Shakespeare had in fact hanged two of them in “Henry V.," and Mrs. Quickly had died, he might trust to the forgetfulness of those before whom the comedy was to be represented, and care little for the consideration, since so eagerly debated, in what part of the series “ The Merry Wives of Windsor" ought to be read: Shakespeare might sit down to write the comedy without reflecting upon the manner in which he had previously disposed of some of the characters he was about to introduce. Any other mode of solving the modern difficulty seems unsatisfactory, and we do not believe that it ever presented itself to the mind of our great dramatist.
The earliest notice of any of the persons in “ The Merry Wives of Windsor" is contained in Dekker's play called “Satiromastix," 1602, where one of the characters observes, “ We must have false fires to amaze these spangle-babies, these true heirs of master Justice Shallow.” This allusion must have been made soon after Shakespeare's comedy had appeared, unless, indeed, it were to the Justice Shallow of “Henry IV." part ii.
With regard to the supposed sources of the plot, they have all been collected by Mr. Halliwell in the appendix to his reprint of the imperfect edition of “The Merry Wives of Windsor," in 1602: the tale of “The Two Lovers of Pisa," the only known English version of the time, is also contained in “Shakespeare's Library," Vol. ii.; but our opinion is, that the true original of the story (if Shakespeare did not himself invent the incidents) has not come down to us.
Sir JOHN FALSTAFF.
Two Gentlemen dwelling at Windsor.
Servants to Page, Ford, &c.
SCENE, Windsor; and the Parts adjacent. MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
1 A list of characters was first printed by Rowe.
ACT I. SCENE I.
Windsor. Before Page's House.
Enter Justice Shallow', SLENDER, and Sir Hugh
EVANS. Shal. Sir Hugh?, persuade me not; I will make a Star-chamber matter of it: if he were twenty sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, esquire.
Slen. In the county of Gloster, justice of peace, and coram.
Shal. Ay, cousin Slender, and cust-alorum.
Slen. Ay, and ratolorum too; and a gentleman born, master parson; who writes himself armigero; in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, armigero.
Shal. Ay, that I do; and have done any time these three hundred years.
Slen. All his successors, gone before him, hath don't; and all his ancestors, that come after him, may: they may give the dozen white luces in their coat.
Shal. It is an old coat.
1- Enter Justice Shallow, &c.] In the folio, 1623, here, as was not unusual elsewhere, all the persons engaged at any time in the scene are named, as entering with the three characters that in fact commence it : “ Enter Justice Shallow, Slender, Sir Hugh Evans, Master Page, Falstaff, Bardolf, Nym, Pistol, Anne Page, Mistress Ford, Mistress Page, Simple.”
Sir Hugh,] “Sir” was of old almost indifferently applied to knights and churchmen. See Vol. iii. p. 393; Vol. v. pp. 119. 415. 472.
Era. The dozen white louses do become an old coat well; it agrees well, passant: it is a familiar beast to man, and signifies love.
Shal. The luce is the fresh fish; the salt fish is an old coat.
Slen. I may quarter, coz?
Era. Yes, per-lady: if he has a quarter of your coat, there is but three skirts for yourself, in my simple conjectures. But that is all one: if sir John Falstaff have committed disparagements unto you, I am of the church, and will be glad to do my benevolence, to make atonements and compremises between you.
Shal. The council shall hear it: it is a riot.
Era. It is not meet the council hear a riot; there is no fear of Got in a riot. The council, look you, shall desire to hear the fear of Got, and not to hear a riot: take your vizaments in that.
Shal. Ha! o'my life, if I were young again the sword should end it.
Era. It is petter that friends is the sword, and end it: and there is also another device in my prain, which, peradventure, prings goot discretions with it. There is Anne Page, which is daughter to master George Page', which is pretty virginity.
3 The LUCE is the fresh fish; the salt FISH is an old coat.) A "luce” was the old name for a pike ; and it is to be observed, that Sir Thomas Lucy, whom Shakespeare is supposed to have intended to ridicule in this passage, bore three “luces” in his coat-of-arms. According to Leland's Collectanea (as quoted by Tollet) they were not " white luces,” excepting as “ white" might be meant to indicate that they were fresh, (as fresh herrings were called “ white," and salt herrings rel) for he tells us that the arms of Sir Geffrey de Lucy were trois luz d'or ; but in Ferne's “ Blazon of Gentry," 1586, it appears that they were “ lucies hariant, argent.” When Shallow adds that “the salt fish is an old coat,” a joke seems intended upon the manner in which salt fish was, or was capable of being, kept.
+ -- master George Page,] In the folios it stands “ Thomas Page :” the quarto editions have nothing like the passage.