« AnteriorContinuar »
nor is it impossible that the preface to to edition of the play dates from Les Fâcheux itself suggested to Eng- 1601–2, the tradition was a century lish minds this legend of expeditious old before winning its way into print. work. Between 1661 and 1702 a The title-page of the quarto of 1602 French fact had time to develop into says that it has been acted “Both bean English myth. It is Rowe who, in fore her Majestie and elsewhere," and his Life of Shakespeare (1709), says there proof and traditions end, and that the Queen “was so well pleased guessing begins. with that admirable character of Fal- We do not know for certain the staff in the two parts of Henry IV., place of the play in chronological sethat she commanded Shakespeare to ries. Though Falstaff dies in Henry V., continue it for one play more, and there is no reason why he should not to show him in love." In 1710, Gil- be revived in a piece of which the acdon “is very well assured” that the tion is in the reign of Henry IV. But Queen “had obliged Shakespeare to is Henry IV. on the throne still, in write a play of Sir John Falstaff in the Merry Wives? A passage in Act love,” — a play achieved in a fort. III., Scene II., reads as if he were not; night, “a prodigious thing when all as if Henry V. were King. It is said is so well contrived, and carried on of Fenton that he kept “company without confusion.” As the first quar- with the wild Prince and Poins,” and
this reads as if that wild fellowship ed, he only did what most of us have were now a thing of the past. done when we were young, and had
On the other hand, in the quarto, the chance. The Lucys carry three an early piratical edition, Falstaff sup- luces, or pikes, in their shields, not a poses the Fairies to be “the wild dozen, like Shallow. The whole quesPrince stealing his father's deer,” tion, even if it could be answered with which proves that contemporaries certainty, is not worth the gallons of thought Henry IV. was King, even ink that have been spilt over it, and if the words are not Shakespeare's. might well be left, with the author
It is not an important matter, as ship of Junius's Letters, and the idenShakespeare had an undoubted right, tity of the Man in the Iron Mask, as after killing Sir John in one play, to a happy hunting-ground for bores. give us a chance adventure of his ear- The Merry Wives of Windsor is lier days in another and later piece. not one of the best of Shakespeare's There is a great deal of learning about plays; it is one of the least good, as Shallow, and the supposed caricature is natural. We can hardly suppose of Sir Thomas Lucy, and the “luces" that he wrote it out of his natural in his coat of arms. When we say vein : he knew better than to introthat there is “a great deal of learn- duce Falstaff in love: he was lowering” about any matter, we generally ing the delightful character to the mean that nothing concerning it is level of a royal or of a popular deknown and much is guessed. In ex- mand. amining some boys once on Shake- Falstaff“ cannot cog," he is no "lispspeare, I received one answer to this ing hawthorn bud”—very far from it effect : “We have been told till we _“that smells like Bucklersbury in are tired to death of hearing it, that simple-time.” It is with a visible Greene called Shakespeare a Shake- struggle that he quotes Sidney,“ Have scene." I confess that I am tired to I caught my lovely jewel?” death of being told about Sir Thomas Moreover, the piece has reached us Lucy and the deer and the rabbits. in poor and more or less apocryphal As Dr. Johnson said concerning the condition. The quarto clearly does Second Punic War, I never wish to not exactly represent the original. It hear of it again as long as I live. The is a piratical publication, like Neuftale about Lucy and the bucks is in villenaine's piracy of Molière's SganaRowe, 1709, and was written down relle, ou le Cocu Imaginaire.* The earlier by the Rev. R. Davies, who quarto is a bad text; the folio is not a died in 1707, and who might have good text; “ each in turn convicts the been better employed than in collect- other as imperfect.” We do not know ing and perpetuating such tattle. Da- whether their imperfections are devies was such an ass that he calls Sir partures from one common original, Thomas Lucy “Sir Lucy,” and makes or whether each is untrue to a differhim out to be “Justice Clodpate," as ent original—one a sketch, the other if Shakespeare ever introduced a Jus- See Grigg's fac-simile, with Mr. Daniel's Introtice Clodpate. If Shakespeare poach- ductions, to which much is owed here.
MISTRESS FORD. “Why, this is the very same: the very hand, the very words. What doth he think of us ?"-Act II., Scene I.
a completed work. There is a con- way. The action seems to me to ocspicuous muddle in Act III., Scene V., cur on the morning after Falstaff's where a whole day and night appear ducking, and very early in the mornto pass in the course of a single scene, ing. Mr. Daniel says it is the afterMr. Daniel says, though I confess that noon of the day of that misadventure. I do not read the passage in the same But “this is affectations.” The text is corrupt; the piece was hurried and and nimbler rapier. It cannot surely palpably forced : the low_comedy of be that in William Page we have the Şir Hugh Evans and Dr. Caius is first sketch of an Eton boy? He is a not an example of Shakespeare's best very early British school - boy, at all low comedy. Yet how much would. events, and Windsor is not far from be lost, how many familiar phrases, Eton. He learns such Latin gramhow charming a picture of an English mar as Shakespeare, with Mr. Dongirl is Anne Page, how delightful a set nelly's leave, may have acquired at of fools in Shallow and Slender, if the the school of Stratford - on-Avon. Merry Wives had perished! Here, for William comes to trouble over his once, we have Shakespeare's humor accusativo, but he is a good sprag playing among domestic scenes, under memory on the whole, and one of the Windsor towers, in Datchet mead, few school - boys whom Shakespeare among his own people, without much thought fit to bring on the stage. intermixture of higher poetry, or of He is not prone to design the absurd, historical events. To be sure, many unconscious humors of boyhood. He of his characters, in whatever cos- needed his boys for girls' parts. tumes they appear, and in whatever The fat woman of Brentford is ancountry or age they exist, are pure other local and transitory “Humor.” English. But in the Merry Wives We cannot tell how loudly our forethey are all at home, among the fields fathers roared when Sir John appearthey knew, in the houses of massive ed in the costume of this familiar and oaken wood-work, under the red-tiled diverting matron. The fun was alroofs, full of their local humors, their most entirely “ topical” and tempoordinary affairs, their usual sports. rary, but no doubt it was excellent We could hardly expect to hear of fooling while Gillian of Brentford “ Banbury cheese" in Venice or Ve- was a popular example of corpulence rona, or of Banbury cakes, so familiar in womankind. Falstaff“in the stocks by name to the modern traveller on for a witch” would have been a sight the Great Western Railway. The so mirth-moving that we almost wonmill - sixpence and the two Edward der at Shakespeare's moderation in shovel - boards that Slender lost are not exposing the knight to that unof a native currency, and the baiting expected discredit. of Sackerson was no doubt a manly The number of quotable and much though now extinct British form of quoted things in the Merry Wives is bear-fight. The very color of Eliza- considerable. Shakespeare had an beth's time is over the scene, as when extraordinary knack of saying what Shallow, like Mercutio, disdains “your would bear repetition, and prove a passes, stocadoes, and I know not future bon - mot, in all manner of alwhat” of the Italian fencing-masters, tered circumstances. How often have then famous and formidable, and we not occasion to remark with Nym, swears by his “long sword,” one of “His mind is not heroic, and there's those immeasurable tucks which were the humor of it.” But how seldom, beginning to go out before a lighter alas! in the changes and chances of