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Falstaff. And you, sir: Would you speak with me?

ACT ii. SC. 2.

MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

PRELIMINARY REMARKS.

FEW of the incidents of this Comedy might have been taken from an old translation of Il Pecorone di Giovanni Fiorentino. The same story is to be met with in The Fortunate, the Deceived, and the Unfortunate Lovers, 1632. A somewhat similar one occurs in the Piacevoli Notti di Straparola. Notte iv. Favola iv.

The adventures of Falstaff seem to have been taken from the story of the lovers of Pisa in Tarleton's Newes out of Purgatorie, bl. 1. no date, but entered on the Stationers' books in 1590. The fishwife's tale, in Westward for Smelts, a book from which Shakspeare borrowed part of the fable of Cymbeline, probably led him to lay the Scene at Windsor.

Mr. Malone suggests that the following line in the earliest edition of this Comedy, "Sail like my pinnace to those golden shores," shows that it was written after Sir Walter Raleigh's return from Guiana in 1596.

The first edition of the Merry Wives of Windsor was printed in 1602, and a reprint of it was made by Mr. Halliwell for the Shakspeare Society in 1842. In the appendix to it will be found the materials from which some of the incidents have been supposed to be derived, but it seems doubtful whether these may not have been the poet's own invention. It was probably written in 1601, after the two parts of King Henry IV. being, as it is said, composed at the desire of Queen Elizabeth,' in order to

This was first mentioned by Dennis in the Dedication to his alteration of this play, under the title of The Comical Gallant. "This Comedy," says he, "was written at Queen Elizabeth's command, and by her direction, and she was so eager to see it acted that she commanded it to be finished in fourteen days; and was afterwards, as tradition tells us, very well pleased at the representation." The information, it has been supposed, came originally from Dryden, who, from his intimacy with Sir W

exhibit Falstaff in love, when all the pleasantry which he could afford in any other situation was exhausted. We learn from the account of the Revels at Court that it was acted before James I. on the Sunday following the 1st November, 1604. The earliest notice of any of the characters in the play is in Dekker's Satiromaster, printed in 1602, where one of the personages observes, "We must have false fires to amaze these spanglebabies, these true heirs of master Justice Shallow."

It may not be thought so clear that it was written after King Henry V. Nym and Bardolph are both hanged in that play, yet appear in the Merry Wives of Windsor. Falstaff is disgraced in King Henry IV. Part ii. and dies in King Henry V Yet in the Merry Wives of Windsor he talks as if he were still in favour at Court. "If it should come to the ear of the Court how I have been transformed, &c." and Page discountenances Fenton's addresses to his daughter, because he kept company with the wild Prince and with Poins. These circumstances seem to favour the supposition that this play was written between the first and second parts of King Henry IV. Dr. Johnson was of opinion that it was written after King Henry V. in which Shakspeare had killed Falstaff; and that in obedience to the royal commands, having revived him, he found it necessary at the same time to revive all those persons with whom he was wont to be exhibited; Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the Page: and disposed of them as he found it convenient without a strict regard to their situations or catastrophes in former plays.

Mr. Malone thought that The Merry Wives of Windsor was revised and enlarged by the author after its first production. The old edition in 1602, like that of Romeo and Juliet, he says, is apparently a rough draught and not a mutilated or imperfect copy. The precise time when the alterations and additior.s were made has not been ascertained: some passages in the enlarged copy may assist conjecture on the subject, but nothing decisive can be concluded from such evidence.

This Comedy was not printed in its present form till 1623, when it was published with the rest of Shakspeare's plays in folio. The imperfect copy of 1602 was again printed in 1619.

The bustle and variety of the incidents, the rich assemblage of characters, and the skilful conduct of the plot of this delightful Comedy, are unrivalled in any drama ancient or modern.

Davenant, had opportunities of learning many particulars concerning Shakspeare. This story has been repeated by Gildon, Pope, and Theobald.

↑ Mr. Boaden thinks that the chasms which occur in the story of the drama in this old copy afford evidence that it was imperfectly taken down during the representation, like that of Hamlet, printed in 1603.

Falstaff, the inimitable Falstaff, here again lards the lean earth'a butt and a wit, a humorist, and a man of humour, a touchstone and a laughing-stock, a jester and a jest—the most perfect comic character that ever was exhibited.' The jealous Ford, the uxorious Page, and their two joyous wives are admirably drawn.-Sir Hugh Evans and Doctor Caius no less so, and the duel scene between them irresistibly comic. The swaggering jolly Boniface mine host of the Garter; and last, though not least, Master Slender and his cousin Shallow, are such a group as were never yet equalled by the pen or pencil of genius.

S. W. S.

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