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Nym and Bardolph are both hanged in that play, yet appear in the Merry Wives of Windsor. Falstaff is disgraced in King Henry IV. Part ii, and dies in King Henry V. Yet in the Merry Wives of Windsor he talks as if he was still in favor at court_“If it should come to the ear of the court how I have been transformed,” &c.; and Page discountenances Fenton's addresses to his daughter, because he kept company with the wild Prince and with Poins. These circumstances seem to favor the supposition that this play was written between the first and second parts of King Henry IV. But that it was not written then may be collected from the tradition above mentioned. The truth probably is, that, though it ought to be read (as Dr. Johnson observed) between the second part of Henry IV. and Henry V., it was written after King Henry V., and after Shakspeare had killed Falstaff. In obedience to the royal commands, having revived him, he found it necessary at the same time to revive all those persons with whom he was wont to be exhibited—Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the Page; and disposed of them as he found it convenient, without a strict regard to their situations or catastrophes in former plays.
Mr. Malone thinks that the Merry Wives of Windsor was revised and enlarged by the author after its first production. The old edition, in 1602, like that of Romeo and Juliet, he says, is apparently a rough draught, and not a mutilated or imperfect copy. The precise time when the alterations and additions were made, has not been ascertained; some passages in the enlarged copy may assist conjecture on the subject, but nothing decisive can be concluded from such evidence.
This comedy was not printed in its present form till 1623, when it was published with the rest of Shakspeare's plays in folio. The imperfect copy of 1602 was again printed in 1619.
The bustle and variety of the incidents, the rich assemblage of characters, and the skilful conduct of the plot of this delightful comedy, are unrivalled in any drama, ancient or modern.
Falstaff, the inimitable Falstaff, here again “ lards the lean earth "_" a butt and a wit, a humorist and a man of humor, a touchstone and a laughing-stock, a jester and a jest—the most perfect comic character that ever was exhibited.” The jealous Ford, the uxorious Page, and their two joyous wives, are admirably drawn—Sir Hugh Evans and Doctor Caius no less so—and the duel scene between them irresistibly comic. The swaggering jolly Boniface, mine host of the Garter, and last, though not least, master Slender and his cousin Shallow, are such a group as were never yet equalled by the pen or pencil of genius.
* Mr. Boaden thinks that the chasms which occur in the story of the drama in this old copy afford evidence that it was imperfectly taken down during the representation.
Sir John Falstaff.
two Gentlemen dwelling at Windsor.
Servants to Page, Ford, foc.
SCENE. Windsor, and the Parts adjacent.
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
SCENE I. Windsor. Before Page's House.
Enter JUSTICE SHALLOW, SLENDER, and SIR HUGH
EVANS. Shal. Sir Hugh, persuade me not; I will make a Star-chamber matter of it: if he were twenty Sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, esquire.
Slen. In the county of Gloster, justice of peace, and coram.
Shal. Ay, cousin Slender, and Cust-alorum.?
Slen. Ay, and ratolorum too; and a gentleman born, master parson; who writes himself armigero; in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, armigero.
Shal. Ay, that I do; and have done any time these three hundred years.
Slen. All his successors, gone before him, have done't; and all his ancestors, that come after him, may: they may give the dozen white luces in their coat.
Shal. It is an old coat.
Eva. The dozen white louses do become an old coat well; it agrees well, passant: it is a familiar beast to man, and signifies—love.
1 Sir was a title formerly applied to priests and curates generally. Dominus, being the academical
title of a Bachelor (bas chevalier) of Arts, was usually rendered by Sir in English; and, as most clerical persons had taken that degree, it became usual to style them Sir.
2 A corruption of Custos Rotulorum.
Shal. The luce is the fresh fish; the salt fish is an old coat.
Slen. I may quarter, coz?
Eva. Yes, pe'r-lady; if he has a quarter of your coat, there is but three skirts for yourself, in my simple conjectures : but that is all one: If Sir John Falstaff have committed disparagements unto you, I am of the church, and will be glad to do my benevolence, to make atonements and compromises between you.
Shal. The Council ? shall hear it; it is a riot.
Eva. It is not meet the Council hear a riot; there is no fear of Got in a riot: the Council, look you, shall desire to hear the fear of Got, and not to hear a riot; take your vizaments in that.
Shal. Ha! o' my life, if I were young again, the sword should end it.
Eva. It is petter that friends is the sword, and end it: and there is also another device in my prain, which, peradventure, prings goot discretions with it. There is Anne Page, which is daughter to master George Page, which is pretty virginity.
Slen. Mistress Anne Page? She has brown hair, and speaks small like a woman.
Eva. It is that fery person for all the 'orld, as just as you will desire ; and seven hundred pounds of moneys, and gold, and silver, is her grandsire, upon his death's bed (Got deliver to a joyful resurrections !) give, when she is able to overtake seventeen years old: it were a goot motion, if we leave our pribbles
1 It seems that the latter part of this speech should be given to Sir Hugh. Shallow has just before said the coat is an old one; and now, that it is the luce, the fresh fish.” No, replies the parson, it cannot be old and fresh too_" the salt fish is an old coat." Shakspeare is supposed to allude to the arms of Sir Thomas Lucy, who is said to have prosecuted him for a misdemeanor in his youth, and whom he now ridiculed under the character of Justice Shallow.
2 The Court of Star-chamber is meant. 3 Advisement.