« PreviousContinue »
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.] 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 fame ftory in a very contemptible performance, intitled, The fortunate, the deceived, and the unfortunate Lovers. Of this book, as I am told, there are feveral impreffions; but that in which I read it was published in 1632, quarto. A fomewhat fimilar story occurs in Piacevoli Notti di Ŝtraparola, Nott. 4a. Fav. 4a.
This comedy was firit entered at Stationers' Hall, Jan. 18, 1601, by John Bufby. STEEVENS.
This play fhould be read between K. Henry IV. and K. Henry V JOHNSON.
A paffage in the first sketch of The Merry Wives of Windfor fhews, I think, that it ought rather to be read between The Firft and The Second Part of King Henry IV. in the latter of which young Henry becomes king. In the laft act, Falstaff fays:
"Herne the hunter, quoth you? am I a ghost?
"Is ftealing his father's deare."
and in this play, as it now appears, Mr. Page discountenances the addreffes of Fenton to his daughter, because he keeps company with the wild prince, and with Poins."
The Fifhwife's Tale of Brainford in WESTWARD FOR SMELTS, a book which Shakspeare appears to have read, (having borrowed from it a part of the fable of Cymbeline,) probably led him to lay the scene of Falftaff's love adventures at Windfor. It begins thus: "In Windfor not long agoe dwelt a fumpterman, who had to wife a very faire but wanton creature, over whom, not without caufe, he was fomething jealous; yet had he never any proof of her inconftancy."
The reader who is curious in fuch matters may find the story of The Lovers of Pifa, mentioned by Dr. Farmer in the following note, at the end of this play. MALONE.
The adventures of Falstaff in this play feem to have been taken from the ftory of The Lovers of Pifa, in an old piece, called Tarleton's Newes out of Purgatorie. Mr. Capell pretended to much knowledge of this fort; and I am forry that it proved to be only pretenfion.
Mr. Warton obferves, in a note to the laft Oxford edition, that the play was probably not written, as we now have it, before 1607, at the earlieft. I agree with my very ingenious
friend in this fuppofition, but yet the argument here produced for it may not be conclufive. Slender obferves to mafter Page, that his greyhound was out-run on Cotfale [Cotswold-Hills in Gloucestershire]; and Mr. Warton thinks, that the games, established there by Captain Dover in the beginning of K. James's reign, are alluded to. But, perhaps, though the Captain be celebrated in the Annalia Dubrenfia as the founder of them, he might be the reviver only, or fome way contribute to make them more famous; for in The Second Part of Henry IV. 1600, Juftice Shallow reckons among the Swinge-bucklers, "Will Squeele, a Cotfole man."
In the first edition of the imperfect play, Sir Hugh Evans is called on the title page, the Welch Knight; and yet there are fome perfons who ftill affect to believe, that all our author's plays were originally published by himself. FARMER.
Dr. Farmer's opinion is well fupported by "An Eclogue on the noble Affemblies revived on Cotfwold Hills, by Mr. Robert Dover." See Randolph's Poems, printed at Oxford, 4to. 1638, p. 114. The hills of Cotfivold, in Gloucestershire, are mentioned in K. Richard II. Act II. fc. iii. and by Drayton, in his Polyolbion, fong 14. STEEVENS.
Queen Elizabeth was fo well pleased with the admirable character of Falstaff in The Two Parts of Henry IV. that, as Mr. Rowe informs us, the commanded Shakspeare to contiune it for one play more, and to fhew him in love. To this command we owe The Merry Wives of Windfor; which, Mr. Gildon fays, [Remarks on Shakspeare's Plays, 8vo. 1710,] he was very well affured our author finifhed in a fortnight. But this must be meant only of the firft imperfect 1ketch of this comedy. An old quarto edition which I have feen, printed in 1602, fays, in the title-page,--As it hath been divers times acted before her majefty, and elsewhere. This, which we have here, was altered and improved by the author almost in every speech. POPE. THEOBALD.
Mr. Gildon has likewise told us, “that our author's house at Stratford bordered on the Church-yard, and that he wrote the fcene of the Ghoft in Hamlet there." But neither for this, or the affertion that the play before us was written in a fortnight, does he quote any authority. The latter circumstance was first mentioned by Mr. Dennis. "This comedy," fays he, in his Epiftle Dedicatory to The Comical Gallant, (an alteration of the prefent play,) 1702, "was written at her [Queen Elizabeth's] command, and by her direction, and the was fo eager to fee it acted, that the commanded it to be finished in fourteen days; and was afterwards, as tradition tells us, very well pleased at
the reprefentation." The information, it is probable, came originally from Dryden, who from his intimacy with Sir William Davenant had an opportunity of learning many particulars concerning our author.
At what period Shakspeare new-modelled The Merry Wives of Windfor is unknown. I believe it was enlarged in 1603. See fome conjectures on the fubject in the Attempt to afcertain the Order of his Plays, Vol. II. MALONE.
It is not generally known, that the first edition of The Merry Wives of Windfor, in its prefent ftate, is in the valuable folio, printed 1623, from whence the quarto of the fame play, dated 1630, was evidently copied. The two earlier quartos, 1602 and 1619, only exhibit this comedy as it was originally written, and are fo far curious, as they contain Shakspeare's first conceptions in forming a drama, which is the most complete fpecimen of his comick powers. T. WARTon.
Sir John Falftaff.
Shallow, a country Juftice.
two gentlemen dwelling at Windfor.
William Page, a boy, fon to Mr. Page,
Hoft of the Garter Inn.
followers of Falstaff.
Robin, page to Falstaff.
Simple, fervant to Slender.
Rugby, fervant to Dr. Caius.
Mrs. Anne Page, her daughter, in love with Fenton, Mrs. Quickly, fervant to Dr. Caius.
Servants to Page, Ford, &c.
SCENE, Windfor; and the parts adjacent.
ACT I. SCENE I.
Windfor. Before Page's Houfe.
Enter Juftice SHALLOW, SLENDER, and Sir HUGH EVANS.
SHAL. Sir Hugh,' perfuade me not; I will make a Star-chamber matter of it: if he were twenty fir
* Sir Hugh,] This is the firft, of fundry inftances in our poet, where a parfon is called Sir. Upon which it may be obferved, that anciently it was the common defignation both of one in holy orders and a knight. Fuller, fomewhere in his Church Hiftory fays, that anciently there were in England more firs than knights; and fo lately as temp. W. & Mar. in a depofition in the Exchequer in a cafe of tythes, the witness speaking of the curate, whom he remembered, ftyles him, Sir Giles. Vide Gibson's View of the State of the Churches of Door, HomeLacy, &c. p. 36. SIR J. HAWKINS.
Sir is the defignation of a Bachelor of Arts in the Universities of Cambridge and Dublin; but is there always annexed to the furname;-Sir Evans, &c. In confequence, however, of this, all the inferior Clergy in England were diftinguished by this title affixed to their chriftian names for many centuries. Hence our author's Sir Hugh in the prefent play,-Sir Topas in Twelfth Night, Sir Oliver in As you like it, &c. MALONE.