Harvard Edition.




Vol. VI.



I 880.

1880, Dic. 02


THE Edishes. KD 53001 (6)


Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, by

HENRY N. HUDSON, in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

GINN & Heath:
J. S. Cushing, Printer, 75 Milk Street,





EGISTERED at the Stationers', January 18, 1602, as “an

excellent and pleasant-conceited comedy of Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor.” In pursuance of this entry, an imperfect and probably fraudulent edition was published in the course of the same year, and was reprinted in 1619. In this quarto edition, the play is but about half as long as in the authentic copy of 1623, and some of the prose parts are printed so as to look like verse. It is in doubt whether the issue of 1602 was a fair reproduction of the play as originally written, or whether it was printed from a defective and mutilated transcript stealthily taken down by unskilful reporters at the theatre. On the former supposal, of course the play must have been rewritten and greatly improved, -a thing known to have been repeatedly done by the Poet; so that it is nowise unlikely in this

But, as the question hardly has interest enough to pay the time and labour of discussing it, I shall dismiss it without further remark.

It is to be presumed that every reader of Shakespeare is familiar with the tradition which makes this comedy to have been written at the instance of Queen Elizabeth ; who, upon witnessing the performance of King Henry the Fourth, was so taken with Falstaff, that she requested the Poet to continue the character through another play, and to represent him in love. This tradition is first heard of in 1702, eighty-six years after the Poet's death; but it was accepted by the candid and careful Rowe; Pope, also, Theobald, and others, made no scruple of receiving it, men who would not be very apt to let such a matter pass unsifted, or help to give it currency, unless they thought there was good ground for it. Besides, the thing is not at all incredible in itself, either from the alleged circumstances of the case,

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or from the character of the Queen; and there are some points in the play that speak not a little in its support. One item of the story is, that the author, hastening to comply with her Majesty's request, wrote the play in the brief space of fourteen days. This has been taken by ome as quite discrediting the whole story; but, taking the play as it stands in the copy of 1602, it does not seem to me that fourteen days is too brief a time for Shakespeare to have done the work in, especially with such a motive to quicken him.

This matter has a direct bearing in reference to the date of the writing. King Henry the Fourth, the First Part certainly, and probably the Second Part also, was on the stage before 1598. And in the title-page to the first quarto copy of The Merry Wives, we have the words, “ As it hath been divers times acted by the Right Honourable my Lord Chamberlain's Servants, both before her Majesty and elsewhere.” This would naturally infer the play to have been on the stage a considerable time before the date of that issue. And all the clear internal evidences of the play itself draw in support of the belief, that the Falstaff of Windsor memory was a continuation from the Falstaff of Eastcheap celebrity. And the whole course of blundering and exposure which Sir John here goes through is such, that I can hardly conceive how the Poet should have framed it, but that he was prompted to do so by some motive external his own mind. That the free impulse of his genius, without suggestion or inducement from any other source, could have led him to put Falstaff through such a series of uncharacteristic delusions and collapses, is to me wellnigh incredible. So that I can only account for the thing by supposing the man as here exhibited to have been an after-thought sprung in some way from the manner in which an earlier and fairer exhibition of the man had been received.

All which brings the original composition of the play to a point of time somewhere between 1598 and 1601. On the other hand, the play, as we have it, contains at least one passage, inferring, apparently, that the work of revisal must have been done some time after the accession of King James, which was in March, 1603. That passage is the odd reason Mrs. Page gives Mrs.

Ford for declining to share the honour of knighthood with Sir John: “ These knights will hack; and so thou shouldst not alter the article of thy gentry”; which can scarce bear any other sense than as referring to the prodigality with which the King dispensed those honours in the first year of his English reign; knighthood being thereby in a way to grow so hackneyed, that it would rather be an honour not to have been dubbed. As for the reasons urged by Knight and Halliwell for dating the first writing as far back as 1593, they seem to me quite too far-fetched and fanciful to be worthy of notice; certainly not worth the cost of sifting, nor even of statement

Much question has been made as to the particular period of his life in which Sir John prosecuted his adventures at Windsor, whether before or after the incidents of King Henry the Fourth, or at some intermediate time. And some perplexity appears to have arisen from confounding the order in which the several plays were written with the order of the events described in them. Now, at the close of the History, Falstaff and his companions are banished the neighborhood of the Court, and put under strong bonds of good behaviour. So that the action of the Comedy cannot well be referred to any point of time after that proceeding Moreover we have Page speaking of Fenton as having “ kept company with the wild Prince and Pointz." Then too, after Falstaff's experiences in the buck-basket and while disguised as “the wise woman of Brentford,” we have him speaking of the matter as follows: “ If it should come to the ear of the Court, how I have been transformed, and how my transformation hath been washed and cudgelled, they would melt me out of my fat drop by drop, and liquor fishermen's boots with me: I warrant they would whip me with their fine wits till I were as crestfallen as a dried pear.” From which it would seem that he still enjoys at Court the odour of his putative heroism in killing Hotspur at the battle of Shrewsbury, with which the First Part of the History closes. The Second Part of the History covers a period of nearly ten years, from July, 1403, to March, 1413; in which time Falstaff may be supposed to have found leisure for the exploits at Windsor.

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