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The Comedy of the “Merry Wives of Windsor" has been generally accepted as “the most finished specimen of the author's comic powers.' Its purport is to show—that virtuous women may laugh at the advances of an objectionable wooer, and punish by mockery, quite as effectually as by carrying him before a magistrate, or indicting him as a trespasser on “conjugal rights.”

Then we have an underplot ; in which a young lady, with many personal and purse attractions, is surrounded by a corresponding number of lovers. From these, the father selects one-for social considerations of rank and patrimony; the mother selects another —for personal merits accordi to her standard; and the young lady selects another—for the best of all reasons (involving the principle on which matrimonial partnerships ought to be regulated)because she likes him best.

The two stories are so connected that, as the first plot advances, it carries on the second, and both culminate at the same time. In the end, we have lessons to all parties in similar circumstances :the forgiveness of the bride by her defeated parents; and the determination to make the rake's punishment a topic for laughter by the fireside—the victim himself making one among the laughers.

A tradition exists that Shakespeare wrote this Comedy at the express desire of Queen Elizabeth, for the purpose of exhibiting the fat Falstaff“ in love," as a contrast to Falstaff “in armour;" but the absence of any allusion to the incidents in which the “greater" Falstaff figures in the Historical Plays, may be held to prove that, in the " Merry Wives of Windsor," we have the first draft of this great Shakespearian creation. Besides, the play neither shows, nor pretends to show, Falstaff in 'love: he is merely a fat, dissipated, pleasant rascal, endeavouring in any way to raise money, but with such humour as to cover his faults by their accompanying absurdities; thus becoming a corpulent butt for the practical jokes of the “Merry Wives.”

Stories of jealous husbands and deceitful wives are so numerous that we may easily surmise the sources whence Shakespeare gathered his material; but the incident of the cicisbeo's making a confidant of the husband, is founded on a tale entitled, “ The Two Lovers of Pisa," published in Tarleton's “News out of Purgatory," in 1590; but, in that narrative, the husband's jealousy is not without foundation; whereas Shakespeare conveys a moral by his treatment, and conducts the play merrily chroughout, and to an amusing end.

This Comedy was probably written in 1598; but its printed form, like “Hamlet,” and * Romeo and Juliet”-has two versions; the


first was published—no doubt piratically,—in 1602,' and again in 1619. The second, or extended version, was not printed till in the folio collection of 1623. It was then the policy of the Theatres to withhold popular plays from the hands of readers, that the public might be compelled to see them performed. The literary reputation of the Author was less thought of than the immediate profit of the Manager.

This Comedy is remarkable for being one of the earliest to introduce dialectic and individual characteristics. We have "Sir" Hugh Evans, a Welsh parson: (by the way, “Sir" Hugh is not socalled because he is a Knight, but because he has the University degree of Bachelor of Arts—“Sir" being the college translation of “Dominus" and often applied to Priests and Curates :) Dr. Caius, a French physician ; a Country Justice of proverbially "shallow" brain, and his “slender” witted kinsman; the great Sir John Falstaff, and his well-matched followers ; the jovial Host of the “ Garter"; two sober Citizens of Windsor, and their “merry wives ’: a pair of lovers; a loquacious go-between, who serves any number of masters; and other minor characters--forming a large portrait gallery with practical illustrations.

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The Dramatis Personæ retained in this Condensation are ; SIR JOHN FALSTAFF.

ROBIN, Page to Falstaf.
FENTON, a Young Gentleman.

SIMPLE, Servant to Slender.
SHALLOW, a Country Justice.
SLENDER, Cousin to Shallow. RUGBY, Servant to Catus.
FORD, Two Gentlemen dwelling
PAGE, at Windsor.

MISTRESS FORD. “SIR" Hugh Evans, a Welsh

Doctor Caius,a French Physician.

ANNE PAGE, her Daughter.
Host of the Garter Inn.

MISTRESS QUICKLY, Servant to BARDOLPH,) Followers of Fal

Dr. Caius. PISTOL,

staf'. Nym,

Servants to Page, Ford, &c.
The Scene is at or near Windsor, and in Windsor Park.

a The following are copies of the first entries in the Register of the Stationers' Company, dated January 18, 1601 (1602, new style):

"John Busby. Entred for his copie vnder the hand of master Seton A booke called An excellent and pleasaunt conceited Comedie of Sir John Ffaulstoff and the merry wyves of Windsore.This entry is followed by another, being an assignment from John Busby :

“Arthur Johnson. Entred for his Copye by assignement from John Busbye, A booke called an excellent and pleasaunt conceyted Comedie of Sir John Ffaulstafe and the merye wyves of Windsor."

b The following is the title-page of the First Quarto :

“A most pleasaunt and excellent conceited comedie of Syr John Falstaffe and the Merrie Wiues of Windsor, intermixed with sundrie variable and pleasing Humors of Syr Hugh the Welsh Knight, Justice Shallow and his wise Cousin M. Slender : with the swaggering vaine of Auncient Pistoll and Corporall Nym. By William Shake. speare.

As it hath been diuers times acted by the Right Honorable the Lord Chamberlaines Seruants both before her Majestie and elsewhere. ... London, 1602."

A Second Quarto appeared, (1619) before the publication of the Folio, entitled :

*“A most pleasant and excellent Comedy, of Sir John Falstaffe and the Merry Wiues of Windsor, with the swaggering vaine of Ancient Pistoll and Corporall Nym.


The Comedy opens on a Street in Windsor, before Master Page's house. Justice Shallow is wroth concerning his treatment by Sir John Falstaff : his cousin, Master Abraham Slender, takes his kinsman's part in upholding the family dignity: while “Sir" Hugh Evans, the Welsh parson, is endeavouring to pacify their irate worships. Shal. Sir Hugh, persuade me 'not! I'will make a Star

Chambera matter of it: If he were 'twenty Sir John
Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, 'esquire.

Master Slender adds:
Slen. In the county of Gloster, Justice of the Peace, and

coram." Shal. Ay, cousin Slender, and Cust-alorum. Slen. Aye, and Ratoloruma 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 done 't; and all his 'ancestors, that come after him, 'may

Parson Evans mildly says: Eva. '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

compromises between you. Shal. Hal 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; and seven hundred pounds of moneys, and gold and silver, is her grandsire, upon his death's-bed give, when she is able to overtake seventeen years old. It were a goot motion if we leave our pribbles and prabbles, and desire a marriage between Master Abraham Slender here, and Mistress Anne Page.

* an old English court, having jurisdiction over misdemeanours, &c., (abolished in the reign of Charles I.) b deputy judge. custui rotulorum, Keeper of the Records. dan ignorant repetition for rotulorum.

e one having a coat-of-arms. 10. R. Thomas; (but Mrs. Page elsewhere calls her husband George).

8two inserted words,


Shal. Did her grandsire leave her 'seven hundred pound?
Eva. Ay, and her father is make her a 'petter penny.
Shal. I know the young gentlewoman; she has good

gifts. Eva. Seven hundred pounds, and possibilities, 'is good

gifts. Shal. Well, let us see honest 'Master Page. Eva. I will peat the door for Master Page. (Knocks.) What, hoa! Pless your house here!— [.com

[Mosters Page] Here is your friend, and Justice Shallow; and here young Master Slender,—that, peradventures, shall tell you

'another tale, if matters grow to your likings. Page. I am glad to see your worships well. Shal. Master Page, I am glad to see 'you. Is Sir John

Falstaff here? Page. Sir, he is 'within; and I would I could do a good

office between you. Eva. It is spoke as a Christians ought to speak. Shal. He hath 'wronged me, Master Page. Page. Sir, he doth in some sort 'confess it. Shal. If it be 'confessed, it is not 'redressed: is not that

so, Master Page? He 'hath wronged me.—Robert

Shallow, esquire, saith he is 'wronged. Page. Here 'comes Sir John.

Sir John Falstaff and his followers, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol, enter from the house. Fal. Now, Master Shallow!... You 'll complain of me to

the 'King ? Shal. Knight, you have beaten my men, killed my deer,

and broke open my lodge. Fal. But not kissed your keeper's daughter? Shal. Tut, a pin! This shall be 'answered. Fal. I will answer it 'straight:-I 'have done all this.

That 'is now answered. Shal. The 'Council shall know this. Fal. 'T were better for you, if it were not known in coun

'sel;' you 'll be 'laughed at. Eva. Pauca verba,o Sir John ; 'goot worts. Fal. Good 'worts ? good 'cabbage.'—Slender, I broke your

head: what matter have 'you against me ?

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a abilities.
• few words,

b the town council. cinserted word d among your friends.
f worts and cabbage are nearly synonymous, because all cabbage-

plants are called worts,

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Slen. Marry, sir, I have matter in my 'head against you ;

and against your cony-catching rascals, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol. [They carried me to the tavern, and made

me drunk, and afterwards 'he picked my pocket.] [koplietos. Fal. Pistol, 'did you pick Master Slender's purse ? Pist. Ha, thou mountain-foreigner !—Sir John and master

I combat 'challenge of this latten bilbo. —
Word of 'denial in thy labraso here!

Word of deniall-Froth and scum, thou 'liest !
Slender now changes his accusation : he had evidently been too
drunk to remember distinctly.
Slen. By these gloves, then, 't was this fellow, Nym.'
Nym. Be avised, sir, and pass 'good humours: that is the

very note of it. Slen. By this hat, then, he in the red faces had it, for though I cannot remember what I did when


made me drunk, yet I am not altogether an 'ass. Fal. What say 'you, Scarlets and John ? Speak, Bardolph.' Bard. Why, sir, for 'my part, I say, the gentleman had

drunk himself out of his five sentences, Eva. It is his five 'senses: fie, what the ignorance is ! Burd. And being fap, sir, was, as they say, cashiered;' and

so conclusions passed the careers. Slen. Ay, you spake in Latin 'then too; but 't is no matter.

I'll ne'er be drunk, whilst I live, again, but in honest, civil, godly company, for this trick ; if I 'be drunk, I'll be drunk with those that have the fear of heaven,

and not with drunken 'knaves. Eva. So! that is a 'virtuous mind. Fal. You hear all these matters 'denied, gentlemen ; you

hear it.

Mistress Ford comes-in to visit her friends, just as Mistress Page and her daughter Anne enter, with wine for the strangers. Falstaff gallantly salutes the new arrivals.

Mistress Ford, by my troth, you are very well met: by your leave, good mistress.



a thievish (fleecing their victims), scheming to skin simpletons. b This bracketed sentence is introduced from the quarto. • a lanky (lathlike) soldier : latten was a kind of lath made of sheet iron. da sword made at Bilboa, in Spain, long noted for its superior manuiacture of sword-blades.

e lips (to thy very face). linserted words. Balluding to Bardolph's red nose and John Bull head.

h drunk. put out of the way. j the consequences passed the bounds of propriety (to pass

the cariéres, a French military phrase).

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