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THE COMEDIES OF SHAKESPEARE. WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY E. A. ABBEY, AND COMMENTS BY ANDREW LANG.
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. "N EVER was theatrical enterprise to think of Shakespeare's quandary,
W so hurried as this, and it is a if the Baconian theory of the aunew thing, perhaps, to invent, write, thorship were correct, to fancy Shakelearn, and play a comedy in a fort- speare rushing to Bacon with the news night.” So says Molière in the pref- that the Queen wanted a comedy in ace to Les Fâcheux, which was acted a fortnight, and that comedy on Falat Vaux, in Fouquet's great and final staff in love! Verulam must have fête, the cause and scene of his fall, been hardly put to it in that active on August 17, 1661. In bragging of fortnight, between his legal duties, his his speed, or rather in excusing the writing, and the rehearsals. faults of his play by reason of its too Guess and tradition fill most of the prompt execution, Poquelin reckoned vacant spaces in our knowledge of without his Shakespeare. The Merry Shakespeare. As to the traditions Wives of Windsor, if tradition speak about the Merry Wives, we may adtruth, was invented, written, commit- mit that the nature of the play justited to memory, rehearsed, and acted fies them, and therefore, perhaps, it in a fortnight. Shakespeare is not originally suggested them. About Les easy to beat in any department of Fâcheux, M. Jules Lemaitre observes his art, and he who “never blotted that, whether it were written in a a line” could work as quickly as Mo- fortnight or not, it reads as if it had lière, with all the tags and chevilles been. The same criticism holds true which M. Scherer used to deplore. about the Merry Wives. It is a hasBoth men—both Molière and Shake- ty work, and looks basty. Again, if speare — were managers and actors Elizabeth did not command the play, first, authors afterwards. They were and give the hint about Falstaff in obliged to supply the wants of their love, she well might have done so. companies, and to meet the demands That her victorious and virginal Majof the people, the monarch, or the esty admired Sir John is very much to great nobles, without dreaming much her credit. It shows that as she had about immortal fame. It is amusing a more than womanly courage, and,
Copyright, 1889, by Harper and Brothers. All rights reserved.
like her father King Harry, “loved old knave. But sweet Jack Falstaff, to look on a man," so she had a more kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, than womanly humor. The fat knight valiant Jack Falstaff, old Jack Falis one of the characters who make staff! we do not look for ladies' love women like Mrs. Pendennis regard for thee, and all the more honor to Shakespeare with that lady's unfriend- Elizabeth, if, indeed, she loved thee ly eyes, Shakespeare, “whom she pre- well! Nor do we expect the fat tended to like, but didn't.” Falstaff knight, who was “as virtuously given is the character that Rabelais would as a gentleman need to be," to sigh have drawn if he could : compare him much after ladies. “Falstaff in love" with Father John of the Funnels and is a paradox; he pretends an affection with Panurge; how much more god- for Mistress Ursula, “ whom I have like jovial is the knight! All his days weekly sworn to marry since I perRabelais was unconsciously striving ceived the first white hair of my to invent Falstaff, feeling after him, chin.” Who was Mistress Ursulaand never finding him! M. Darme- does Dr. Furnivall know?—the lady steter says that Falstaff is a type of of penetration that sighed for Sir the lower form of British gayety, ever John? She cannot be the hostess to coarse when not bitter. In coarseness whom he swore upon Wednesday in Rabelais can give many points to Sir Whitsun week, she to whom, if he John, who, as for bitterness, had no were an honest man, he “owed himgall.
self and the money too,” she who adBeloved knight! Compare his frank mitted that “an honester and truerrobberies with Panurge's many evil hearted man!” — with an amorous and disgusting ways of getting money. aposiopesis. No, Sir John was not Observe the poetry of Sir John's ma- the knight for ladies' love, and when raudings: “Let not us that are squires Shakespeare, “our humble author," of the night's body be called thieves promised to "continue the story with of the night's beauty; let us be Dia- Sir John in it;" we cannot think that na's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, Sir John was to be an amorist. Queen minions of the moon.” It is a merry Elizabeth may have suggested the harvest-moon that looks down upon idea, as tradition declares, and ShakeSir John with her golden eye-a gay speare may have worked it out in a Selene that loves this portly Endyin- fortnight, and so we have the Merry ion, "little better than one of the lives of Windsor. wicked.” Of the knight surely that These traditions are not very early, gentle German professor was think- nay, in a literary form, in printed ing, who, when his country-folk said books, they appear very late. In 1702, that the English “had no philos- Jolin Dennis, he of the Phrenzy, put ophy,” replied, “Yes, they have their forth his Comical Gullant, an imhumor.” The rascal has given us proved version of the Merry Wives. medicines to make us love him; we In his “epistle dedicatory” he says have drunk medicines; he is the that Queen Elizabeth commanded the most comparative, rascallest, sweet piece, and had it done in a fortnight.