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by ceasing to be Falstaff. He could only counterfeit love ; and his professions could be prompted, not by the love of pleasure, but of money. Thus the poet approached as near as he could to the work enjoined him: yet having, perhaps, in his former plays completed his own idea, seems not to have been able to give Falstaff all his former power of entertainment.
• This comedy is remarkable for the variety and number of the personages, who exhibit more characters appropriated and discriminated, than, perhaps, can be found in any other play. Whether Shakspeare was the first that produced on the English stage the effect of language distorted and depraved by provincial or foreign pronunciation, I cannot certainly decide. This mode of forming ridiculous characters can confer praise only on him who originally discovered it, for it requires not much of either wit or judgment: its success must be derived almost wholly from the player; but its power in a skilful mouth, even he that despises it is unable to resist.
« The conduct of this drama is deficient: the action begins and ends often before the conclusion, and the different parts might change places without inconvenience: but its general power; that power, by which all works of genius shall finally be tried, is such, that, perhaps, it never yet had reader or spectator, who did not think it too soon at an end.'
Dr. Johnson conjectures that this play should be read between King Henry IV. Part 2d. and King Henry V. while Mr. Malone would place it between the First and Second Parts of King Henry IV.
The vanity of sir John Falstaff having misinterpreted the
hospitable attentions of two ladies at Windsor into an admiration for his person, he resolves to profit by his good fortune, but is betrayed by some discarded domestics, who revenge their dismissal by revealing their master's designs to the husbands of his mistresses. Page disregards the information altogether; while Ford, who had, for some time past, entertained unfounded suspicions of his wife's honor, resolves to ascertain the truth of the information. For this purpose, under the assumed name of Brook, he causes himself to be introduced to Falstaff, whom he artfully draws into the confession of an assignation which he had just before made with mistress Ford, who in the mean time had conspired with her friend to punish the knight for his infamous proposals. Ford, now supposing that he has sufficiently detected the infidelity of his wife, assembles his neighbors, in order to surprise Falstaff at the appointed interview : he is, however, conveyed away by the two wives in a basket with foul linen, and thrown into the Thames, where he narrowly escapes drowning. The suspicions of Ford are now somewhat abated; but when he again repairs to Falstaff as Brook, and learns the deception that has been practised on him, and the arrangements which have been made by his wife for a second visit from her admirer, his fury rekindles ; he again solicits his friends to accompany him home, whence Falstaff is again conveyed in the disguise of an old witch, though not without suffering a severe cudgelling at the hands of the enraged Ford as a fortune-teller. A third assignation is now made with him in Windsor forest at midnight, where Falstaff, representing the spirit of a deceased huntsman, with horns on bis head, is severely pinched by the accomplices of the plot, in the garb of fairies and hobgoblins; when the husbands, who are now made acquainted with the intention of their wives, rush from the place ot their concealment; and, having sufficiently exposed and derided him, forgive him. The remainder of this comedy is occupied by the rivalry of Slender and Caius, for the hand of Page's daughter, who prefers a young gentleman named Fenton, whom she marries.
Sir John FALSTAFF.
two gentlemen dwelling at Windsor.
Servants to Page, Ford, &c.
SCENE, Windsor ; and the parts adjacent.
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
Windsor. Before Page's house. Enter JUSTICE SHALLOW, SLENDER, and SIR HUGH
Shal. Sir Hugh, persuade me not; I will make a Star-chambero 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 ; 5 in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, armigero.
It was the custom in ancient times to give the title of • Sir' to certain orders of the clergy as well as to knights.
? Ben Jonson intimates, that the Star-chamber had a right to take cognisance of routs and riots.
3 Quorum. Such a number of justices as is sufficient to transact business.
4 Custos rotulorum. 5 Armiger, esquire.
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 1 in their coat.
Shal. It is an old coat.
Evans. The dozen white louses do become an old coat well ; it agrees well, passant : 2 it is a familiar beast to man, and signifies-love.3
Shal. The luce is the fresh fish; the salt fish is an old coat.4
Slen. I may quarter, coz ?
Evans. Yes, per-lady ; 5 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
Shal. The Council 6 shall hear it; it is a riot.
2 By the way.
| Full-grown pikes or jacks.
3 Probably signifying, that this little animal deserts not man in his distress, but rather sticks closer to him in his adversity.
4. That is, the fresh fish is the coat of an ancient family; and the salt fish is the coat of a merchant grown rich by trading over the sea.'-Johnson.
5 By our lady. 6 The court of Star-chamber.