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Why, then the world's mine oyster” is with the manners of his own days, he made essentially higher than the obscure bombast them speak like ordinary human beings, of the real Pistol. Of Mistress Quickly we showing have already spoken as to the circumstances
- deeds and language such as men do use, in which she is placed; and these circum
And persons such as Comedy would choose, stances are so essentially different that we When she would show an image of the times, can scarcely recognise any marked similarity And sport with human follies, not with of character in the original sketch.
crimes."* Having, then, seen the great and insuperable difficulties which belong to the theory that we may believe, therefore, the tradition “The Merry Wives of Windsor' was written (without adopting the circumstances which after the histories, let us consider what make it difficult of belief), and accept the difficulties, both of situation and character, theory that “The Merry Wives of Windsor' present themselves under the other theory,
was written before the “Henry IV.' that the comedy was produced before the
Secondly, is the theory that the comedy was histories.
produced before the histories, irreconcileable First, is it irreconcileable with the tradition with the contradictory circumstances which referring to Queen Elizabeth? It is not so, render the other theory so difficult of if we adopt the tradition as related by Dennis admission ? Assuming that the comedy was -this comedy was written by Queen written before the histories, it can be read Elizabeth's command, and finished in fourteen without any violence to our indelible recoldays. This statement of the matter is plain lections of the situations of the characters in and simple; because it is disembarrassed of the 'Henry IV.' and 'Henry V.' It must be those explanations and inferences which read with a conviction that, if there be any never belong to any popular tradition, but connection of the action at all, it is a very are superadded by ingenious persons who slight one—and that this action precedes the bave a theory to establish. We can perfectly Henry IV.? by some indefinite period. Then, understand how 'The Merry Wives of Windsor," the Falstaff who in the quiet shades of as we have it in the first sketch, might have Windsor did begin to perceive he was “made been produced by Shakspere in a fortnight;
an ass” had not acquired the experience of and how such a slight and lively piece, the city, for before he knew Hal he “knew containing many local allusions, and perhaps nothing;"—then the fair maid Quickly, who some delineations of real characters, might afterwards contrived to have a husband and have furnished the greatest solace to Elizabeth be a poor widow without changing her name, some seven or eight years before the end of knew no higher sphere than the charge of the sixteenth century, after mor nings busily
Dr. Caius's laundry and kitchen ;-then Pistol employed in talking politics with Leicester,
was not an ancient, certainly had not married or in translating Boetius in her own private the quondam Quickly, had not made the chamber. v The manners throughout, and dangerous experiment of jesting with Fluellen, without any disguise, are those of Elizabeth's and occasionally talked like a reasonable own time. Leave out the line in the amended being ;-then Shallow had some unexplained play of “the mad Prince and Poins,”—and business which took him from Glostershire the line in the sketch about “the wild Prince
to Windsor, travelled without his man Davy, killing his father's deer,”—and the whole had not lent a thousand pounds to Sir John play (taken apart from the histories) might Falstaff
, and was not quite so silly and so with much greater propriety be acted with delightful as when he had drunk “too much the costume of the age of Elizabeth. It is sack at supper” toasting “all the cavaleroes for this reason, most probably, that we find about London ;"—then, lastly, Bardolph was so little of pure poetry either in the sketch not “master corporate Bardolph," and ceror the finished performance. As Shakspere tainly Nym and he had not been hanged. placed his characters in his own country, * Ben Jonson, Prologue to. Every Man in his Humour.'
Thirdly, does the theory of the production | common to the 'First Part of Henry IV.? of 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' before and “The Merry Wives of Windsor;' for in 'Henry IV.' and 'Henry V' furnish a proper the original copy of Henry IV., Part I.,' the solution of the remarkable inferiority in the person who stands amongst the modern list comedy of several of the characters which are of characters as Quickly is invariably called common to both? If we accept the opinion the Hostess. If the Falstaff, then, of 'Henry that the Falstaff, the Shallow, the Quickly, IV.' were originally Oldcastle, we have only the Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym, of The Bardolph left in common to the two dramas. Merry Wives,' were all originally con- Was Bardolph originally called so in ‘Henry ceived by the poet before the characters IV., Part I.'? When Poins proposes to the with similar names in the 'Henry IV.' and Prince to go to Gadshill, he says, in the 'Henry V.;' and that, after they had been in original copy, “I have a jest to execute that some degree adopted in the historical plays, I cannot manage alone,-Falstaff, Harvey, Shakspere remodelled The Merry Wives,' Rossil, and Gadshill shall rob these men,” &c. and heightened the resemblances of character We now read, “Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto, and which the resemblances of name implied, — Gadshill,” &c. It has been conjectured that the inferiority in several of these characters, Harvey and Rossil were the names of actors; especially in the sketch, will be accounted but, as Oldcastle remains where we now read for, without assuming, with Johnson, that Falstaff in one place of the original copy, “the poet approached as near as he could to might not in the same way Bardolph have the work enjoined him; yet, having perhaps been originally Harvey or Rossil ? This in the former play completed his own idea, point, however, is not material. If Shakspere seems not to have been able to give Falstaff were compelled, by a strong expression of all his former powers of entertainment.” | public opinion, to remove the name of Johnson's opinion proceeds upon the very Oldcastle from the ‘First Part of Henry IV.,' just assumption that continuations are, for the name of Falstaff was ready to his hand the most part, inferior to original conceptions. as a substitute. He had drawn a knight, fat But “The Merry Wives' could not have been and unscrupulous, as he had represented proposed as a continuation of the 'Henry Oldcastle, but far his inferior in wit, humour, IV.' and the 'Henry V.,' even if it had been inexhaustible merriment, presence of mind, written after those plays. If it were written and intellectual activity. The transition was after the histories, the author certainly not inconsistent from the Falstaff of “The mystified all the new circumstances as Merry Wives' to the Falstaff of 'Henry IV.' compared with those which had preceded The character, when Shakspere remodelled them, for the purpose of destroying the idea the first sketch of the comedy, required some of continuation. This appears to us too elevation ;—but it still might stand at a long violent an assumption. But no other can be distance, without offence to an audience who maintained. To attribute such interminable knew that the inferior creation was first contradictions to negligence is to assume produced. With Falstaff Shakspere might that Shakspere was not only the greatest have transferred Bardolph to the 'First Part of poets, but of blunderers.
of Henry IV.,' but materially altered. The And now we must hazard a conjecture. It base Hungarian wight who would “the spigot has been attempted to show that the Falstaff wield” had, as a tapster, made his nose a of the First Part of Henry IV.’was originally “fiery kitchen” to roast malt-worms; and he called Oldcastle*. If that were the
was fit to save him "a thousand marks in the balance of evidence is in favour of that links and torches.” When, further, Falstaff opinion, the whole matter seems to us clearer. had completely superseded Oldcastle in the Let it be remembered that Falstaff and First Part of Henry IV.,' Shakspere might Bardolph are the only characters that are have adopted Pistol, and Shallow,and Quickly * See Notice of Sir John Oldcastle,' a play by some
in the Second Part-but greatly changed ;attributed to Shakspere, Book vi, chap. 2.
and, lastly, have introduced Nym to the
'Henry V. unchanged. All this being the belief in the progression of that extraaccomplished, he would naturally have ordinary intellect, which acquired greater remodelled the first sketch of 'The Merry vigour the more its power was exercised. Wives,'—making the relations between the Rightly to appreciate this comedy, it is, characters of the comedy and of the histories we conceive, absolutely necessary to dissociate closer, but still of purpose keeping the it from the historical plays of 'Henry IV.' situations sufficiently distinct. He thus for and Henry V.' Whether Shakspere produced ever cunnected 'The Merry Wives' with the the original sketch of The Merry Wives of historical plays. The Falstaff of the comedy Windsor' before those plays, and remodelled must now belong to the age of Henry IV.; it after their appearance,—or whether he but to be understood he must, we venture to produced both the original sketch and the think, be regarded as the embryo Falstaff. finished performance when his audiences were
We request that it may be borne in mind perfectly familiar with the Falstaff, Shallow, that the entire argument which we have Pistol, Nym, Bardolph, and Mistress Quickly thus advanced is founded upon a conviction of Henry IV.' and 'Henry V.—it is perfectly that the original sketch, as published in the certain that he did not intend 'The Merry quarto of 1602, is an authentic production of Wives' as a continuation. It is impossible, our poet. Had no such sketch existed, we however, not to associate the period of the must have reconciled the difficulties of comedy with the period of the histories. For believing The Merry Wives of Windsor' to although the characters which are common have been produced after “Henry IV.' and to all the dramas act in the comedy under 'Henry V.' as we best might have done. very different circumstances, and are, to our Then we must have acknowledged that the minds, not only different in their moods but characters of Falstaff and Shallow and Quickly in some of their distinctive features, they were the same in the comedy and the 'Henry must each be received as identical-alter et IV.,' though represented under different idem. Still the connexion must be as far circumstances. Then we must have believed as possible removed from our view, that we that the contradictory situations were to be may avoid comparisons which the author explained by the determination of Shakspere certainly was desirous to avoid, when in boldly to disregard the circumstances which remodelling the comedy he introduced no resulted from his compliance with the circumstances which could connect it with commands of Elizabeth—“to show Falstaff the histories; and when he not only did not in love." But that sketch being preserved reject what would be called the anachronisms to us, it is much easier, we think, to believe of the first sketch, but in the perfect play that it was produced before the histories; heaped on such anachronisms with a profuse and that the characters were subsequently ness that is not exhibited in any other of his heightened, and more strikingly delineated, dramas. We must, therefore, not only to assimilate them to the characters of the dissociate the characters of "The Merry Wives' histories. After all, we have endeavoured, from the similar characters of the histories, whilst we have expressed our own belief, but suffer our minds to slide into the belief fairly to present both sides of the question. that the manners of the times of Henry IV. The point, we think, is of interest to the had sufficient points in common with those lovers of Shakspere; for, inferring that the of the times of Elizabeth to justify the poet comedy is a continuation of the history, the in taking no great pains to distinguish inferiority of the Falstaff of "The Merry between them. We must suffer ourselves to Wives' to the Falstaff of Henry IV.' implies be carried away with the nature and fun of a considerable abatement of the poet's skill. this comedy, without encumbering our minds On the other hand, the conviction that the with any precise idea of the social circumsketch of the comedy preceded the history, stances under which the characters lived. that it was an early play, and that it was We must not startle, therefore, at the mention subsequently remodelled, is consistent with of Star-chambers, and Edward shovel-boards,
and Sackerson, and Guiana, and rapiers, and with those that have the fear of God, and Flemish drunkards, and coaches, and pen- not with drunken knaves,”—which resolve, sioners. The characters speak in the language as Evans says, shows his “virtuous mind.” of truth and nature, which belongs to all In the remodelled play, too, we find the most time; and we must forget that they sometimes peculiar traces of the master-hand in Quickly, use the expressions of a particular time to such as, “His worst fault is that he is which they do not in strict propriety belong. given to prayer; he is something peevish
The critics have been singularly laudatory that way;” and “The boy never need to of this comedy. Warton calls it “the most understand anything, for 't is not good tha complete specimen of Shakspere's comic children should know any wickedness. Ole powers.” Johnson says, “This comedy is folks, you know, have discretion, as they say. remarkable for the variety and number of and know the world;" and again, “Good the personages, who exhibit more characters hearts, what ado here is to bring you appropriated and discriminated than perhaps together! Sure, one of you does not serve can be found in any other play.... Its heaven well that you are so crossed.” Johnson general power, that power by which all works objects to this latter passage as profane; but of genius shall finally be tried, is such, that he overlooks the extraordinary depth of the perhaps it never yet had reader or spectator satire. Shakspere's profound knowledge of who did not think it too soon at the end." the human heart is as much displayed in We agree with much of this; but we certainly these three little sentences as in his Hamlet cannot agree with Warton that it is “the and his Iago. most complete specimen of Shakspere's comic The principal action of this comedy-the powers.” We cannot forget 'As You Like It,' adventures of Falstaff with the Merry Wives and "Twelfth Night,' and 'Much Ado about_sweeps on with a rapidity of movement Nothing.' We cannot forget those exquisite which hurries us forward to the dénouement combinations of the highest wit with the as irresistibly as if the actors were under the purest poetry, in which the wit flows from influence of that destiny which belongs to the same everlasting fountain as the poetry, the empire of tragedy. No reverses, no -both revealing all that is most intense and disgraces, can save Falstaff from his final profound and beautiful and graceful in humiliation. The net is around him, but he humanity. Of those qualities which put does not see the meshes ;—he fancies himself Shakspere above all other men that ever the deceiver, but he is the deceived. He will existed, "The Merry Wives of Windsor' stare Ford “out of his wits,” he will“awe him exhibits few traces. Some of the touches, with his cudgel,” yet he lives“ to be carried however, which no other hand could give, in a basket, like a barrow of butcher's offal; are to be found in Slender, and we think in and to be thrown in the Thames.” But his Quickly. Slender, little as he has to do, is confidence is undaunted: “I will be thrown the character that most frequently floats into Etna, as I have been thrown into before our fancy when we think of “The Thames, ere I will leave her;" yet, “since I Merry Wives of Windsor.' Slender and plucked geese, played truant, and whipped Anne Page are the favourites of our modern top, I knew not what it was to be beaten, till school of English painting, which has lately.” Lastly, he will rush upon a third attempted, and successfully, to carry the adventure: “This is the third time; I hope truth of the Dutch school into a more refined good luck lies in odd numbers;" yet his good region of domestic art. We do not wish luck ends in "I do begin to perceive that I Anne Page to have been married to Slender, am made an ass." The real jealousy of but in their poetical alliance they are Ford most skilfully helps on the merry inseparable. It is in the remodelled play devices of his wife; and with equal skill does that we find, for the most part, such the poet make him throw away his jealousy, Shaksperean passages in the character of and assist in the last plot against the “unclean Slender as, “If I be drunk, I'll be drunk knight.” The misadventures of Falstaff are most agreeably varied. The disguise of the make them pay, I'll sauce them.” When old woman of Brentford puts him altogether he loses his horses, and his “mind is heavy,” in a different situation to his suffocation in we rejoice that Fenton will give him “a the buck-basket; and the fairy machinery hundred pound in gold” more than his loss. of Herne's Oak carries the catastrophe out of His contrivances to manage the fray between the region of comedy into that of romance. the furious French doctor and the honest
The movement of the principal action is Welsh parson are productive of the happiest beautifully contrasted with the occasional situations. Caius waiting for his adversary repose of the other scenes. The Windsor of —“De herring is no dead so as I vill kill the time of Elizabeth is presented to us, as him"—is capital. But Sir Hugh, with histhe quiet country town, sleeping under the
« There will we make our peds of roses, shadow of its neighbour the castle. Amidst
And a thousand fragrant posies, its gabled houses, separated by pretty gar
To shallowdens, from which the elm and the chestnut and the lime throw their branches across | Mercy on me! I have a great dispositions the unpaved road, we find a goodly company, to cry,"—is inimitable. with little to do but gossip and laugh, and With regard to the underplot of Fenton make sport out of each other's cholers and and Anne Page--the scheme of Page to weaknesses. We see Master Page training marry her to Slender—the counterplot of his “fallow greyhound:” and we go with her mother, “firm for Dr. Caius”—and the Master Ford“ a-birding.” We listen to the management of the lovers to obtain a triumph "pribbles and prabbles” of Sir Hugh Evans out of the devices against them—it may be and Justice Shallow, with a quiet satisfac- sufficient to point out how skilfully it is tion: for they talk as unartificial men ordi- interwoven with the Herne's Oak adventure narily talk, without much wisdom, but with of Falstaff. Though Slender “ went to her good temper and sincerity. We find our in white, and cried 'mum,' and she cried selves in the days of ancient hospitality, budget,'... yet it was not Anne, but a when men could make their fellows welcome postmaster's boy;"—though Caius did “take without ostentatious display, and half a her in green,” he “ha' married un garçon, a dozen neighbours “could drink down all boy, un paisan ;”—but Apne and Fenton,unkindness" over "a hot venison pasty." The more busy inhabitants of the town have
“ long since contracted, time to tattle, and to laugh, and be laughed
Are now so sure, that nothing can dissolve
them." at. Mine Host of the Garter is the prince of hosts ; he is the very soul of fun and good Over all the misadventures of that night, temper :-he is not solicitous whether Fal- when “all sorts of deer were chas’d,” Shakstaff sit “ at ten pounds a week” or at two ; spere throws his own tolerant spirit of for-he readily takes “the withered servingman
giveness and content : for a fresh tapster ;"_his confidence in his own cleverness is delicious:-“ Am I politic? “Good husband, let us every one go home, am I subtle ? am I a Machiavel ?"_the And laugh this sport o'er by a country fire; Germans “shall have my horses, but I'll Sir John and all.”