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THE COMPLETE WORKS OF
WITH COPIOUS NOTES AND COMMENTS
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA
By ISRAEL GOLLANCZ, M.A.
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 Auncient 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 Iohnson, and are to be sold at his shop in Powles Church-yard, 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 January 18 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 him.” At the same time it is noteworthy that the "dozen white luces" is only found in the Folio, not in the Quarto editions.
THE RELATION OF THE QUARTO AND FOLIO VERSIONS
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, 119) for "council" of the Quarto, the possible reference to the cheapening of knighthood (“These knights
1 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 "humor,” &c.).
In the “Return from Parnassus” acted at Cambridge, probably Christmas, 1601, the French Doctor is obviously an imitation of Dr. Caius,