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OF this play there is a tradition, preserved
by Mr. Rowe, that it was written at the command of Queen Elizabeth, who was so delighted with the character of Falstaff, that she wished it to be diffused througb more plays ; but suspecting that it might pall by continued uniformity, directed the poet to diver. sify his manner, by shewing him in love. No task is harder than that of writing to the ideas of another. Shakspeare knew what the queen, if the story be true, seems not to have known, that by any real passion of tenderness, the selfish craft, the careless jollity, and the lazy luxury 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 bis professions could be prompted, not by the love 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 Fal. staff all his former power of entertainment.
This comedy is remarkable for the variety and number of the personages, who exhibit more characters appropriated and dis. criminated, than perhaps can be found in any other play.
Whether Shakspeare was the first that produced upon the English stage the effect of language distorted and depraved by provincial 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 resist,
The conduct of this drama is deficient ; the action begins and ends often before the conclusion, and the different parts might change place 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 the end. JOHNSON.
A few of the incidents in this comedy might have been taken from an old translation of Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino. I have lately met with the same story in a very contemptible performance, intitled, The fortunate, the deceived, und the unfortunate Lovers. Of this book, as I am told, there are several impressions ; but that in which I read it was published in 1632, quarto. A somewhat similar story occurs in Piacevoli Notti di Straparola, Nott. 4a. Fav. 4a. STEEVENS.
Servants to Page, Ford, &c.
SCENE, Windsor ; and the parts adjacent.
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
SCENE I.-- Windsor. Before PAGE's house. En.
ter Justice SHALLOW, SLENDER, and Sir HUGH EVANS.
Shallow. 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
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 we do ; and have done any time these three hundred years.
Slen. All his successors, gone before him, have done'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.
Eva. The dozen white louses do be ome 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
Slen. I may quarter, coz? Shal. You may, by marrying. [!] Our author here alludes to the arms of Sir Thomas Lucy, who is said to have prosecuted him in the younger part of his life for a misdemeanour, and who is supposed to be pointed at under the character of Justice Shallow. The text, however, by some carelessness of the printer or transcriber, has been so corrupted, that the passage, as it stands at present, seems inexplicable. MALONE.
Mr. William Oldys (Norroy King at Arms, and well known from the share he had in compiling the Bingraphia Britannica, among the collections which he left for a Life of Shakspeare) observes that " there was a very aged gentleman living in the neighbourhood of Stiatford, (where he died fifty years since) who had not only heard, from several old people in that town, of Shakspeare's transgression, but could remember the first stanza of
Éva. It is marring, indeed, if he quarter it.
Eva. Yes, py'r-lady ; if he has a quarter of your coat, there is but three skirts for yourself, in my simple conjectures : but this 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 compromises between you.
Shal. The council shall hear it; it is a riot.
Eva. 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.
Eva. 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.
Slen. Mistress Anne Page ? she has brown hair, and speaks small like a woman.
Eva. It is that fery person, for all the 'orld, as just as you will desire ; and seven hundred pounds of monies, and gold, and silver, is her grandsire, upon his death's bed (Got deliver to a joyful resurrections !) give, when she is able to overtake seventeen years old : it were a goot motion, if we leave our pribbles and prabbles, and
the bitter ballad, which, repeating to one of his acquaintance, he preserved it in writing ; and here it is, neither better nor worse, but faithfully transcri. red from the copy which his relation very courteously communicated to me:
“ A parliement member, a justice of peace,
“ He thinks himselfe greate,
" Yet an asse in his state,
"If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it,
. Sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befall it." “Contemptible as this performance must now appear, at the time when it was written it might have had sufficient power to irritate a vain, weak, and vindictive magistrate; especially as it was affixed to several of his parkgates, and consequently published among his neighbours. It may be remark. ed likewise, that the jingle on which it turns, occurs in the first scene of the Merry Wives of Windsor."
I may add, that the veracity of the late Mr. Oldys has never been impeached; and it is not very probable that a ballad should be forged, from which an undiscovered wag could derive no triomph over antiquarian credulity. STEE,