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MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.] A few of the incidents in this comedy might have been taken from an old tranflation of Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino. I have lately met with the fame story in a very contemptible performance, intitled, The fortunate, the deceived, and the unfortunate Lovers. Of this book, as I am told, there are several impreffions; but that in which I read it was publifhed in 1632, quarto. A fomewhat fimilar story occurs in Piacevoli Notti di Ŝtraparola, Nott. 4a.
This comedy was firft entered at Stationers' Hall, Jan. 18, 1601, by John Bulby. STEEVENS,
This play fhould be read between K. Henry IV. and K. Henry V. JOHNSON.
A paffage in the first sketch of The Merry Wives of Windfor fhews, I think, that it ought rather to be read between The Firft and The Second Part of King Henry IV. in the latter of which young Henry becomes king. In the laft act, Falstaff fays:
"Herne the hunter, quoth you? am I a ghost?
"Is ftealing his father's deare."
and in this play, as it now appears, Mr. Page discountenances the addreffes of Fenton to his daughter, becaufe "he keeps company with the wild prince, and with Poins."
The Fifhwife's Tale of Brainford in WESTWARD SMELTS, a book which Shakspeare appears to have read, (having borrowed from it a part of the fable of Cymbeline,) probably led him to lay the fcene of Falstaff's love adventures at Windfor. It begins thus: "In Windfor not long agoe dwelt a fumpterman, who had to wife a very faire but wanton creature, over whom, not without caufe, he was fomething jealous; yet had he never any proof of her inconftancy."
The reader who is curious in fuch matters may find the ftory of The Lovers of Pifa, mentioned by Dr. Farmer in the following note, at the end of this play. MALONE.
The adventures of Falstaff in this play feem to have been taken from the ftory of The Lovers of Pifa, in an old piece, called Tarleton's Newes out of Purgatorie. Mr. Capell pretended to much knowledge of this fort; and I am forry that it proved to be only pretenfion.
Mr. Warton obferves, in a note to the laft Oxford edition, that the play was probably not written, as we now have it, before 1607, at the earlieft. I agree with my very ingenious
friend in this fuppofition, but yet the argument here produced for it may not be conclufive. Slender obferves to mafter Page; that his greyhound was out-run on Cotfale [Cotswold-Hills in Gloucestershire]; and Mr. Warton thinks, that the games, established there by Captain Dover in the beginning of K. James's reign, are alluded to. But, perhaps, though the Captain be celebrated in the Annalia Dubrenfia as the founder of them, he might be the reviver only, or fome way contribute to make them more famous; for in The Second Part of Henry IV. 1600, Juftice Shallow reckons among the Swinge-bucklers, "Will Squeele, a Cotfole man."
In the first edition of the imperfect play, Sir Hugh Evans is called on the title page, the Welch Knight; and yet there are fome perfons who ftill affect to believe, that all our author's plays were originally publifhed by himself. FARmer.
Dr. Farmer's opinion is well fupported by "An Eclogue on the noble Affemblies revived on Cotswold Hills; by Mr. Robert Dover." See Randolph's Poems, printed at Oxford, 4to. 1638, p. 114. The hills of Cotfwold, in Gloucestershire, are mentioned in K. Richard II. A& II. fc. iii. and by Drayton, in his Polyolbion, fong 14. STEEVENŠ.
Queen Elizabeth was fo well pleafed with the admirable character of Falstaff in The Two Parts of Henry IV. that, as Mr. Rowe informs us, the commanded Shakspeare to contiune it for one play more, and to fhew him in love. To this command we owe The Merry Wives of Windfor; which, Mr. Gildon says, [Remarks on Shakspeare's Plays, 8vo. 1710,] he was very well affured our author finished in a fortnight. But this must be meant only of the firft imperfect fketch of this comedy. An old quarto edition which I have seen, printed in 1602, fays, in the title-page,-As it hath been divers times acted before her majefty, and elsewhere. This, which we have here, was altered and improved by the author almost in every speech. POPE. THEOBALD.
Mr. Gildon has likewife told us," that our author's house at Stratford bordered on the Church-yard, and that he wrote the fcene of the Ghoft in Hamlet there." But neither for this, or the affertion that the play before us was written in a fortnight, does he quote any authority. The latter circumstance was first mentioned by Mr. Dennis." This comedy," fays he, in his Epiftle Dedicatory to The Comical Gallant, (an alteration of the prefent play,) 1702, "was written at her [Queen Elizabeth's] command, and by her direction, and fhe was fo eager to see it acted, that the commanded it to be finished in fourteen days; and was afterwards, as tradition tells us, very well pleased at
the reprefentation." The information, it is probable, came originally from Dryden, who from his intimacy with Sir William Davenant had an opportunity of learning many particulars concerning our author.
At what period Shakspeare new-modelled The Merry Wives of Windfor is unknown. I believe it was enlarged in 1603. See fome conjectures on the fubject in the Attempt to ascertain the Order of his Plays, Vol. II. MALONE.
It is not generally known, that the first edition of The Merry Wives of Windfor, in its present state, is in the valuable folio, printed 1623, from whence the quarto of the fame play, dated 1630, was evidently copied. The two earlier quartos, 1602 and 1619, only exhibit this comedy as it was originally written, and are fo far curious, as they contain Shakspeare's first conceptions in forming a drama, which is the most complete specimen of his comick powers. T. WARTon.
Sir John Falstaff.
Shallow, a country Juftice.
two gentlemen dwelling at Windfor.
William Page, a boy, fon to Mr. Page.
Hoft of the Garter Inn.
followers of Falstaff.
Robin, page to Falstaff.
Simple, fervant to Slender.
Rugby, fervant to Dr. Caius.
Mrs. Anne Page, her daughter, in love with Fenton, Mrs. Quickly, Jervant to Dr. Caius.
Servants to Page, Ford, &c.
SCENE, Windfor; and the parts adjacent.