Shakespeare and who afterwards made amends for it. In Dekker's tract, “A Knight's Conjuring," Chettle figures among the poets in Elysium: “ In comes Chettle sweating and blowing by reason of his fatness; to welcome whom, because hee was of olde acquaintance, all rose up, and fell presentlie on their knees, to drinck a health to all the louers of Hellicon.” Here we have a fat man greeted with laug?" and mock reverence by the poets-just such a m dei as Shakespeare needed, but the guess is mere conjecture: we don't know enough about Chettle to be at all sure. Yet Chettle was by way of being a poet, and Falstaff uses tags of verse-still, as I say, it is all pure guesswork. The only reason I put his name forward is that some have talked of Ben Jonson as Falstaff's original merely because he was fat. I cannot believe that gentle Shakespeare would ever have treated Jonson with such contempt; but Chettle seems to have been a butt by nature.

That Falstaff was taken from one model is to me certain. Shakespeare very seldom tells us what his characters look like; whenever he gives us a photograph, so to speak, of a person, it is always taken from life and extraordinarily significant. We have several portraits of Falstaff: the Prince gives a picture of the “old fat man, that trunk of humours “ that old white-bearded Satan ": the Chief Justice gives us another of his “moist eye, white beard, increasing belly and double chin.” Falstaff himself has another: “a goodly portly man, i' faith and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage.” Such physical portraiture alone would convince me that there was a living model for Falstaff. But there are more obvious arguments: the other humorous characters of Shakespeare are infinitely inferior to

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Falstaff, and the best of them are merely sides of Falstaff or poor reflections of him. Autolycus and Parolles have many of his traits, but they are not old, and taken together, they are only a faint replica of the immortal footpad:

Listening with my heart in my ears, I catch a living voice, a round, fat voice with tags of“ prythee," “wag,” and “marry," and behind the inimitable

" dramatic counterfeit I see a big man with a white head and round belly who loved wine and women and jovial nights, a Triton among the minnows of boon companions, whose shameless effrontery was backed by cunning, whose wit though common was abundant and effective through long practice—a sort of licensed tavern-king, whose mere entrance into a room set the table in a roar. Shakespeare was attracted by the many-sided racy ruffian, delighted perhaps most by his easy mastery of life and men ; he studied him with infinite zest, absorbed him wholly, and afterwards reproduced him with such richness of sympathy, such magic of enlarging invention that he has become, so to speak, the symbol of laughter throughout the world, for men of all races the true Comic Muse.

In any case I may be allowed one last argument. The Falstaff of “ The Merry Wives of Windsor is not the Falstaff of the two parts of “ King Henry IV.”; it is but a shadow of the great knight that we see, an echo of him that we hear in the later comedy. Falstaff would never have written the same letter to Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page; there was too much fancy in him, too much fertility, too much delight in his own mind- and word-wealth ever to show himself so painfully stinted and barren. Nor is it credible that Falstaff would ever have fallen three times running into the same trap; Falstaff made traps; he did not

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fall into them. We know, too, that Falstaff would not fight “ longer than he saw reason”; his instinct of self-preservation was largely developed; but he could face a sword; he drew on Pistol and chased him from the room; he was not such a pitiful coward as to take Ford's cudgelling. Finally, the Falstaff whom we all know could never have been befooled by the Welshman and his child-fairies. And this objection Shakespeare himself felt, for he meets it by making Falstaff explain how near he came to discovering the fraud, and how wit is made “a Jack-a

a aLent when 'tis upon ill employment.” But the fact that some explanation is necessary is an admission of the fault. Falstaff must indeed have laid his brains in the sun before he could have been taken in by foppery so gross and palpable. This is not the same man who at once recognized the Prince and Poins through their disguise as drawers. Yet there are moments when the Falstaff of “ The Merry Wives resumes his old nature. For example, when he is accused by Pistol of sharing in the proceeds of the theft, he answers with all the old shameless wit:

“Reason, you rogue, reason; think'st thou I'll endanger my soul gratis ? '

and, again, when he has been cozened and beaten, he speaks almost in the old way:

“I never prospered since I forswore myself at prim

Well, if my wind were but long enough to say my prayers, I would repent.”


But on the whole the Falstaff of “The Merry Wives ” is but a poor thin shadow of the Falstaff of the two parts of “ Henry IV.”

Had “ The Merry Wives” been produced under ordinary conditions, one would have had to rack one's brains to account for its feebleness. Not only is the genial Lord of Humour degraded in it into a buffoon, but the amusement of it is chiefly in situation; it is almost as much a farce as a comedy. For these and other reasons I believe in the truth of the tradition that Elizabeth was so pleased with the character of Falstaff that she ordered Shakespeare to write another play showing the fat knight in love, and that in obedience to this command Shakespeare wrote “ The Merry Wives” in a fortnight. For what does a dramatist do when he is in a hurry to strike while the iron is hot and catch a Queen's fancy before it changes? Naturally he goes to his memory for his characters, to that vivid memory of youth which makes up by precision of portraiture for what it lacks in depth of comprehension. And this is the distinguishing characteristic of “ The Merry Wives,” particularly in the beginning. Even without “ the dozen white luces" in his coat, one would swear that this Justice Shallow, with his pompous pride of birth and his stilted stupidity, is a portrait from life, some Sir Thomas Lucy or other, and Justice Shallow is not so deeply etched in as his cousin, Master Slender—" a little wee face, with a little yellow beard,-a cane-coloured beard.” Such physical portraiture, as I have said, is very rare and very significant in Shakespeare. This photograph is slightly malevolent, too, as of one whose malice is protected by a Queen's commission. Those who do not believe tradition when thus circumstantially supported would not believe though one rose from the dead to witness to them. The Merry Wives” is worthful to me as the only piece of Shakespeare's journalism that we possess; here

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we find him doing task-work, and doing it at utmost speed. Those who wish to measure the difference between the conscious, deliberate work of the artist and the hurried slap-dash performance of the journalist, have only to compare the Falstaff of “The Merry Wives" with the Falstaff of the two parts of “Henry IV.” But if we take it for granted that “ The Merry Wives” was done in haste and to order, can any inference be fairly drawn from the feebleness of Falstaff and the unreality of his lovemaking? I think so; it seems to me that, if Falstaff had been a creation, Shakespeare must have reproduced him more effectively. His love-making in the second part of “Henry IV.” is real enough. But just because Falstaff was taken from life, and studied from the outside, Shakespeare having painted him once could not paint him again, he had exhausted his model and could only echo him.

The heart of the matter is that, whereas Shakespeare's men of action, when he is not helped by history or tradition, are thinly conceived and poorly painted, his comic characters-Falstaff, Sir Toby Belch, and Dogberry; Maria, Dame Quickly, and the Nurse, creatures of observation though they be, are only inferior as works of art to the portraits of himself which he has given us in Romeo, Hamlet, Macbeth, Orsino, and Posthumus. It is his humour which makes Shakespeare the greatest of dramatists, the most complete of men.

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