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MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
The Editions. The earliest known edition of The Merry Wives of Windsor is a Quarto printed in 1602, with the following title-page:
"A most pleasaunt and excellent conceited Comedie, of Sir Iohn Falstaffe and the merrie Wiues of Windsor. Entermixed with sundrie variable and pleasing humors of Sir Hugh the Welch Knight, Iustice Shallow, and his wise Cousin M. Slender. With the swaggering vaine of Ai cient Pistoll, and Corporall Nym. By William Shakespeare. As it hath bene diuers times Acted by the right Honorable my Lord Chamberlaines Seruants. Both before her Maiestie, and elsewhere. London Printed by T. C. for Arthur lohnson, and are to be sold at his shop in Powles Churchyard, at the signe of the Flower de Leuse and the Crowne" (reprinted in the Cambridge Shakespeare and in Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library; a facsimile is included in Dr Furnivall's Shakespeare Quartos, Quaritch). A second Quarto, a mere reprint of the first, appeared in 1619.
In the first Folio the play occupies pp. 39-60; its length there is more than double that of the Quartos, from which it differs to such an extent as to give the impression of being a revised and expanded version of a mere garbled and pirated sketch.
Date of Composition. The first Quarto was entered in the Stationers' Registers under date 18th Jan. 1602; the play was probably written after Henry V., i.e. after the middle of the year 1599. In the epilogue to II. Henry IV. a promise had been given to continue the story with Sir John in it; this promise was not kept in Henry V.; and “ The Merry Wives,” according to a well authenticated tradition, was composed by command of the Queen, “who obliged' Shakespeare to write a Play of Sir John Falstaff in Love, and which I am very well assured he performed in a fortnight: a prodigious thing when all is well contrived, and carried on without the least confusion” (Gildon, 1710; Dennis first mentions the tradition in 1702 ; cp. title-page of 1602 edition).
The date of the first composition of the play may with certainty be placed at about 1600 (probably Christmas 1599). *
An old tradition identifies Justice Shallow with Shakespeare's old enemy, Sir Thomas Lucy (of the deer-poaching story); Lucy died in July 1600, and it is held by some that the poet would not have waited - till his butt was in the grave before he aimed his shafts at hini.” At the same time it is noteworthy that the “dozen white luces” is only found in the Folio, not in the Quarto editions. The question at issue, on which scholars are divided, is whether the Quarto represents a pirated edition of an early sketch of the play, revised and enlarged in the first Folio version, or whether both versions are to be referred back to the same original. In support of the former theory it is alleged that the substitution of “King” in the Folio (I. i. 112) for “ council ” of the Quarto, the possible reference to the cheapening of knighthood ("" These knights will hack,” II. i. 52), and similar internal evidence, point to the reign of James I. ; these scholars therefore date the Folio version about 1605. On the other hand, Mr Daniel (Introduction to his editions) maintains that "the character of the publishers of the Quarto, its proved omissions, its recomposed passages (i.e. passages actually the work not of Shakespeare, but of the note-taker), its retention of (essential) passages omitted in the Folio, the complication in both of the time-plot ... lead almost inevitably to the conclusion that there was but one original for both Quarto and Folio." He points out further that the alleged internal evidence of later revision is of little real value, but it is somewhat difficult to get rid of these minutiæ, and some slight revision after 1603 is not inconsistent with this latter theory.
The Sources. This comedy of contemporary manners probably owed very little to older plays or novels, but it contains incidents not uncommon in Italian and other stories. In the following tales a suspicious husband is baffled much in the same way as Master Ford :-(1) The tale from Il Pecorone di Ser Giovanni Fiorentino ; (2) The old English version of this story in The Fortunate, the Deceived, and the Unfortunate Lovers, 1632, reprinted in 1685; (3) The Tale in Straparola similiar to that in Il Pecorone; (4) The Tales of the Two Lovers of Pisa, from Tarlton's Newes out of Pergatoriè, 1590; (5) The second tale from Straparola, in which the youth
Shakespeare acted in Every Man in His Humour in 1598, and the two plays have much in common (cp. e.g. Ford and Kitely; Nym's reiteration of 'humour,' &c.).
In the “Return from Parnassus" acted at Cambridge, probably Christmas 1601, the French Doctor is obviously an imitation of Dr Caius.
makes love to three ladies at once (cp. Hazlitts' Shakespeare's Library, Part I. vol. iii.).
Herne. It would seem that there existed in Shakespeare's day a tradition at Windsor that Herne was one of the keepers of the Park, who, having committed an offence for which he feared to be disgraced, hung himself upon an oak, which was ever afterwards haunted by his ghost.
The difference between the Quarto and Folio reference to the story is noteworthy; the former reads :
"Oft have you heard since Horne the hunter dyed ...'
The Folio makes the tale a more ancient one (op. IV. iv. 36-38).
The earliest notice of - Herne's oak" is in a “ Plan of the Town and Castle of Windsor and Little Park” (Eton, 1742); in a map a tree marked “Sir John Falstaff's oak" is represented as being on the edge of a pit just on the outside of an avenue which was formed in the seventeenth century, and known as Queen Elizabeth's Walk. Halliwell first printed, in his edition of the Quarto, a set of verses " Upon Herne's Oak being cut down in the spring of 1796.” Antiquarian research has demonstrated the exactness of Shakespeare's knowledge of Old Windsor (cp. Tighe and Davis' Annals of Windsor, Vol. i. pp. 673-686).
Duration of Action. As the play stands in the Quartos and Folios it is impossible to arrange the time consistently, owing to the confusion as regards Falstaff's interviews with the Merry Wives in Act III. Scene v.; the errors are probably due to compression of the play for stage purposes. The first part of the scene, according to Mr Daniel (Transactions of New Shakespeare Society, 1878-9), is inseparably connected with the day of Falstaff's first interview with Mrs Ford; the second part is as inseparably connected with the day of the second interview. The first part clearly shows us Falstaff in the afternoon, just escaped from his ducking in the Thames ; the second part as clearly shows him in the early morning about to keep his second appointment with Mrs. Ford. He proposes to make Ford's portion of the scene commence the 4th Act, changing good morrow into good even (Act III. v. 28) and this morning into to-morrow morning (Act III. V. 46). According to this arrangement the following time analysis would result :-Day 1, Act I. Sc. i. to iv. ; Day 2, Act II. Sc. i. to iii., Act III. Sc. i. to iv., and the Quickly portion of Sc. v.; Day 3, the Ford portion of Act III. Sc. v. to the end of the play.
If this suggestion is carried out, a further change is necessary in Act V. i. 14, where this morning should be read in place of yesterday.
Time of Action. Though the play was in all probability composed after Henry V., the action may be supposed to take place after the events recorded at the end of II. Henry IV.; the further degradation of the character of Falstaff in The Merry Wives belongs to the early years of " the madcap prince's” reign, when he had already renounced "the tutor and the feeder of his riot.” The characters intimately associated with Falstaff were transferred with him from II. Henry IV., with the exception of Nym,' who appears for the first time in Henry V.; Shallow's cousin,' Slender, of The Merry Wives, takes the place of Silence of II. Henry IV.; Mrs Quickly is identical only in name with the Hostess Quickly of I., II., Henry IV., and Henry V.