« AnteriorContinua »
lieving the Falstaff of the Merry Wives and the Oldcastle of Henry IV. to have been originally two different creations of character? I think not. The
latter spring,' and the 'Allhallown summer,' are but revived in the aged sinner of Windsor Park, who is described as Old, cold, withered, and of intolerable entrails,' and “as poor as Job, and as wicked as his wife.' The same 'whale with so many tuns of oil' who considered 'my hostess a most sweet wench,' could with great propriety admire Mrs. Ford, who was not young,' and Mistress Page, the mother of 'pretty virginity,' and probably, therefore, as old as her companion. If the tradition be correct that Elizabeth commanded Shakespeare to exhibit Falstaff in love, we must consider our great dramatist compromising his original character of Oldcastle, or Falstaff, as little as possible, by not drawing him actually smitten with the tender passion, which would have completely destroyed all former notions concern. ing him, but bringing his addiction to the fair sex more prominently before the spectator, and thus obeying the royal command without infringing more than possible on his first ideas. Ben Jonson says, “His wit was in his own power, would the rule of it had been so too. This looks like a confirmation of the tradition. Thus, observes Dr. Johnson, 'the poet approached as near as he could to the work enjoined him; yet, having perhaps in the former plays completed his own idea, seems not to have been able to give Falstaff all his former power of entertainment. In Henry IV., the prince describes him as 'that reverend vice, that grey iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years,' and 'that villanous abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan. In the Merry Wives he is likewise always mentioned as an aged person. In the second part of Henry IV., he describes himself as poor as Job.' The same expression is used in the Merry Wires, in a passage I have previously quoted. The letter of Jack Falstaff to Prince Henry, in act ii. sc. 2, of the second part of Henry IV., is also remarkably similar in style with the knight's love-letter to Mistress Page, in act il. sc. I, of the Merry Wives; and both conclude in a very similar manner.
“Too much stress has, I think, been laid by the critics on the lavish manner in which Falstaff is discovered in the 'Merry Wives of Windsor' to be living at the Garter Inn. He sits at ‘ten pounds a week, and is 'an emperor' in his expence. I see nothing very improbable in the conjecture, without reducing fiction too much to positive fact, but merely considering the circumstances as they must have arisen and remained in the dramatist's mind, that this was after his banishment from the person of the prince, who says,
For competence of life I will allow you,
Prince John, also, says immediately afterwards :
• I like this fair proceeding of the king's :
Falstaff may then have been living at Windsor, with his former followers, on an allowance from the young king : but that ‘ten pounds a week' was too great a rate for his purse, we learn from the necessity he is under of discarding some of his followers. Falstaff was less of a soldier at Windsor than formerly, but Pistol and Nym keep up their martial dignity, and refuse to take the humour letter.' In the same play, it is remarkable that he is described as being so poor; and Ford 'thinks himself in much better plight for a Jender' than he is. He addresses his body, and says, “Wilt thou after the expence of so much money be now a gainer?' Could he allude to the money he borrowed from Justice Shallow ? and had he been so extravagant as to be obliged to share the booty of the fan-handle with Pistol? In the Falstaff who says 'Reason, you rogue, reason: Think'st thou I'll endanger my soul gratis?' we recognize the Falstaff of the Historical Plays.
“ I think, with Skottowe, that the want of symmetry between the two characters is in the point of Falstaff's intrigue with the merry wives. The objection is not to his inclination to gallantry with Mistress Ford, or Mistress Page, but to the personal vanity and simple credulity which a belief of their attachment to him necessarily presupposes in Falstaff. Of personal vanity the fat knight of Henry IV. possesses not a spark: on the contrary, his preposterous fatness is an exhaustless theme of his own laughter. Rather than have courted exposure and ridicule from two sprightly women, he would instantly have smelt waggery in any advances they might have made to him; and if he had not at once put an end to their hopes of fooling him, he would merely have yielded till he could successfully have turned the tables on themselves. The Falstaff of the Merry Wives, indeed, jests with himself, and is merry with his unwieldy person, but the effect is only that of making his conduct appear more absurd and unnatural.'*
“The differences which exist between the Falstaff of the Merry Wives and the Falstaff of the Historical Plays may be accounted for much more reasonably, on the tradition that Shakespeare was, in some measure, writing to the ideas of another, than on the unsupported conjecture that they were originally two distinct characters. It is scarcely probable that our great dramatist would draw two characters so nearly similar. That the conjecture does explain several difficulties, I admit; but I should rather be inclined to believe that the two parts of Henry IV., like the Merry Wives, originally existed in an unfinished state, and that, when the first sketch of the Merry Wives was written, those plays had not been altered and amended in the form in which they have come down to us. This conjecture will, I think, be sufficient to explain nearly every difficulty; and, knowing so little as we do of the history of Shakespeare's composition, I do not see any thing very improbable in it. If Johnson had not published the sketch of the Merry Wives--and there can be little doubt that it was a piratical publication should we have had any reason to think that the amended play had ever existed in any other form than that in which it appeared in the first folio ? At all events, this conjecture will obviously dispense with the necessity of believing in any considerable abatement of the poet's skill.
“It is a fact, admitted, I believe, by all modern critics, that the Falstaff of the two parts of Henry IV. was originally called Oldcastle. Besides the internal evidences in the two plays, we have direct intimation of the fact in early writers : and as I have collected these as far as I could, in a little work on the subject, t recently published, it cannot be necessary to enter into the question here. Mr. Collier thinks it is now placed beyond a shadow of a doubt. The settlement of this is of some importance in its connexion with the present question, and whether Oldcastle was originally the name of the fat knight in the Merry Wives. Had it been so, it is somewhat strange that not any in. ternal evidence should be left of the alteration of the name. In fact, the metre in one case, as I have shown, would not suit Oldcastle, and it could scarcely have been altered to Falstaff. We may, then, fairly conclude that the Merry Wives was written after the change had been made from Oldcastle to Falstaff, in all probability not very long after the production of the two parts of Henry IV.
“The reader will thus see, that the supposition of the 'Merry Wives of Windsor' having been written before Henry V., and the second part of
*“ Skottowe's Life of Shakespeare,' 8vo. Lond. 1824, vol. i. p. 38."
+ “On the Character of Sir John Falstaff, as originally exhibited by Shakespeare in the Two Parts of Henry IV., 12mo. Lond. 1841."
Henry IV., involves fewer inconsistencies than any other. It is true that, in the sketch where Falstaff hears the noise of hunters at Hearne's Oak, he exclaims, I'll lay my life the mad Prince of Wales is stealing his father's deer ;' but, I think, with Mr. Knight, this may have reference to the Prince of the Famous Victories, a character with whom Shakespeare's audience was familiar. In the amended play, we find Page objecting to Fenton, because "he kept company with the wild Prince and Poins '(act iii. sc. 2); but this refers to his past life, and, therefore, does not necessarily imply that Henry V. was yet a prince. We find that the character of Mistress Quickly only is inconsistent with the manner in which the other persons, common to the Merry Wives and the Historical Plays, are introduced. If the Merry Wives had preceded the two parts of Henry IV., Shakespeare would scarcely have alluded to Poins, and his intimacy with the Prince, neither of them being introduced into the former play.”
We have quoted from Mr. Halliwell's Introduction at this length, and the rather because we could not easily give the reader any very good idea of his method of reasoning on these points with limited extracts. Without attempting in the pages of a magazine to enter minutely into the merits of the case, we yet may be permitted to observe, thst Mr. Halliwell apparently shows the identity of the characters in the Merry Wives and the Historical Plays with considerable distinctness. With respect to his conjecture of the two parts of Henry IV. having been originally produced in an imperfect form, like the present sketch of the Merry Wives, we can only say, if this had been the case, it seems odd that no appearance of anything of the kind should remain in the present copies. As a conjecture, perhaps, it is as good as many others; but one morsel of certain information is, in our estimation, worth a hundred random shots.
It only remains to add, that the Appendix contains a collection of tales upon which the Merry Wives is supposed to be founded, and that the text is amply illustrated by copious notes, critical and antiquarian. The elaborate and careful manner in which this work is edited reflects the highest credit both on the society and its editor. *
If from thine eyes (fair fetters) I was free,
* The Title of the work is, “ The First Sketch of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor." Edited by James Orchard Halliwell, Esq., F.R.S., &c., with an Intro. duction, Notes, and the original Italian Tales and Translations on wbich the Play is founded. Shakespeare Society,
A RUSTIC WALK AND DINNER.
BY LEIGH HUNT. *** The style of the blank verse, except here and there, is intentionally unelevated,
in accordance with the familiar and colloquial nature of the subject ;-it is literally sermo pedestris,-poetry on foot.
PART I.-THE WALK.
Pleasant is horseback, the light strenuous dance
But walking's freest. Riding, you must keep
Like lovers' whispers; you may go within,
And lo! we do so ; we, the reader and I,
Those heaps of butter-cups, that smear the land
“ Leaves would be counted flowers, if earth had none." Lo! for the love of leaves I'll quote myself! Blest heav'ns! what heaps of loveliness for ever Work under ground, and are for ever thrusting Their sweet heads forth, or stealing up their way Through trunks of trees, touching (as we may fancy) The hearts of those rough gravities with some sense Of pure and sweet; and thence at nicest tips Of twig, and draping every numerous bough, Unfold green elegance, as of fairy shops, And bang their glimmering tents 'twixt us and heaven ! Look up o'er head. What a thin, thick, huge, airy, Massy green world of lights and lucid glooms, This single tree !--whose trunk, like to a mast Mounting its world of sails, swells out of sight Through the fresh amber stories, layer on layer,