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THE earliest text of the Merry Wives is a Quarto (Q1) Early bearing the following title :-'A | Most pleasaunt and History.excellent conceited Comedie, of Syr Iohn Falstaffe, and the merrie Wiues of Windsor. | Entermixed with Sundrie variable and pleasing humors, of Syr Hugh the Welch Knight, Iustice Shallow, and his | wise cousin M. Slender. | With the swaggering vaine of Auncient Pistoll, and Corporall Nym. By William Shakespeare. | As it hath bene divers times Acted by the right Honorable | my Lord Chamberlaine's Seruants. Both before her | Maiestie, and elsewhere. | London. | Printed by T. C. for Arthur Iohnson, and are to be sold at | his shop in Powles Churchyard...' On 18th January 1602 the play had been entered on the Stationers' Register by John Busby, a notorious pirate. He shortly after transferred it to Johnson. Johnson reprinted it with slight alterations in 1619 (Q2). Four years later a widely different version of the play appeared in the Folio, and this was substantially reprinted in a third Quarto, 1630. The precise relation between the two versions cannot even yet be held to be completely determined, but the area of controversy is now comparatively narrow. It may be held to be made out (1) that the Quarto version, which is about half the

length of the Folio, and full of obvious blunders, is a garbled reproduction of the play as originally performed before the Queen. It was no doubt pirated from notes taken in the theatre.1 (2) That the Folio text approximately represents the original drama, slightly compressed and curtailed for performance. Some of the passages omitted in the Folio are retained in the Quarto. Thus, in i. 1. 128, Slender declares that he has matter in his head against the 'cony-catching rascals, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol'; but, in the Folio version, he is cut short by Bardolph before he has told what it is. Nevertheless the company know, and Falstaff asks Pistol: 'Did you pick Master Slender's pocket?' Clearly the original draft of Slender's speech must have contained something resembling the Quarto version of it, which adds: They carried me to the tavern, and made me drunk, and afterwards picked my pocket.' In this case an omission in the Folio has been luckily preserved in the Quarto; in other cases, however, it has vanished altogether. Thus the insuperable difficulties of the time-reckoning in iii. 5. (Falstaff's interviews with Mrs. Quickly and with Ford after the buck-basket escapade) can only be explained by a compression of two scenes occurring on successive days into one. And, as Mr. Daniel has pointed out, there are indications that we are meant to know much that we are not told of the relations between Caius and Evans and the Host after he has fooled

1 An interesting contribution to our criticism of the pirated texts of Shakespeare has been lately made by Curt Dewischeit (Jahrbuch, xxxiv. 170). He shows that a host of verbal variations between Quartos and Folios of Shakespeare can be explained on the hypothesis that the Quartos were printed from

texts obtained by the stenography of Bright (pub. 1588). But he appears to exaggerate the diffusion of the power to use it effectively. It is certain from internal evidence that the. Quartos of the Merry Wives and of Hamlet, at least, were far from being an approach to verbatim reports.

them. 'Twice at the end of Scenes 1. and 3. of Act iii. (at the end of Scene 1. only in Q) do they hint at something they intend; and in Act iv. 5., after the Host has lost his horses, they are curiously officious in cautioning him against the thieves; their threatened vengeance and the Host's loss were doubtless connected.'1

(3) There remain, however, a number of striking discrepancies only to be explained by assuming either that the Quarto version had been edited and supplemented by a tolerably skilful hand, or that the original play underwent a Shakespearean revision before it was printed for the Folio. The theory of revision has little in its favour beyond a few dubious phrases, which gain in point if they are supposed to have originated after 1603. Thus 'these knights. will hack' has been explained as an allusion to James's profuse creation of them; and Falstaff's 'now, master Shallow, you'll complain of me to the king' (Q, 'to the Council'), and Mrs. Quickly's 'the king's English' have been referred, quite needlessly, to Shakespeare's, instead of Falstaff's, king. The most interesting divergence on a larger scale is in the Herne's oak scene, where the Quarto version develops the fairy motif with a vivacity not to be expected of the mere botcher, and in a metre and manner faintly recalling the songs of Puck :

Quickly. Away begon, his mind fulfill,
And looke that none of you stand still.
Some do that thing, some do this,

All do something, none amis.

Sir Hugh. I smell a man of middle-earth.
Fal. God blesse me from that wealch Farie.
Quick. Look euerie one about this round,
And if that any here be found,

For his presumption in this place,

1 Introd. to Facsimile of Q, 1602, p. 9.

Date of



Spare neither legge, arme, head, nor face.

Sir H. See, I haue spied one by good luck,
His bodie man, his head a buck.

Fal. God send me good fortune now, and I care not.

Quick. Go strait, and do as I commaund,

And take a Taper in your hand,

And set it to his fingers endes,

And if you see it him offends,
And that he starteth at the flame,
Then is he mortall, know his name;
If with an F it doth begin

Why then be sure he is full of sin.
About it then, and know the truth
Of this same metamorphised youth.

Apart from this indeterminate margin of possibly later work, the date of the Merry Wives can be fixed within fairly narrow limits. The tradition which ascribed it to the Queen's express command emerges almost a century after her death; Dennis, Rowe, and Gildon record it almost simultaneously, with slight differences of detail which prove its antiquity. Dennis, who adapted the play under the title of The Comical Gallant (1702), excused himself for having thus honoured Shakespeare, on the ground that I knew very well that it had pleas'd one of the greatest queens that ever was in the world. . . . This comedy was written at her command, and by her direction, and she was so eager to see it acted that she commanded it to be finished in fourteen days.' Rowe, in his Life of Shakespeare (1709), added a further valuable detail: 'She was so well-pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff in the two parts of Henry IV. that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love.' Late as this tradition emerges, it is intrinsically very credible, and is substantially accepted by most critics. The anomalous position of the Merry Wives among Shakespeare's works, its intellectual thinness, its lack,

notwithstanding its masterly technique, of Shake-
spearean quality, are easily accounted for in a piece
hastily written at the Queen's command. The Windsor
scenery, touched with a minute realism elsewhere
strange to Shakespeare, and the abundance of allusions,
sure to be relished at Court, like the 'cousin gar-
mombles,' indicate that it was especially addressed to
Elizabeth. But it is more likely to have followed
Henry V. than Henry IV., for in the Epilogue of
Henry IV. Shakespeare had given a distinct promise to
'continue the story with Sir John in it, and make you
merry with fair Katharine of France.' It is incredible
that the Queen, with this prospect in store, should
have diverted Shakespeare from executing it; but
when Henry V. appeared nothing of Sir John was
found in the story but the news of his death. Fal-
staff had made the fortune of Henry IV., which was
commonly known by his name; he was already by
far the most famous of Shakespeare's characters. The
London public may well have resented his disappear-
ance and made demands for his recall, to which
the Queen gave effective expression. The Merry

Wives would then have been written in the course

of 1599.

of the Plot.

But if the Queen desired a continuation of the The Sources Falstaff story of Henry IV., she was destined to be disappointed. Shakespeare significantly avoids attaching the comedy to the history by definite links, and he attenuates those that he retains; he changes the scene, and leaves the time wholly vague; Shallow, though incensed with Falstaff, never refers to the thousand-pounds' debt which assuredly had not been paid; Silence is replaced by Slender; Fenton has 'kept company with the wild prince,' but has never met Falstaff. Falstaff's Windsor adventures are an independent story, which we are left to fit into his

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