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THE PLOT, THE FABLE, AND CONSTRUCTION,
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
A few of the incidents in this comedy might have been taken from some old translation of“ Il Pecorone," by Giovanni Fiorentino. I have lately met with the same 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 impressions ; but that in which I read it, was published in 1632, in quarto. A something similar story occurs in the Piacevoli Notti di Straparola. Nott. 4". Fay. 4.
STEEVENS. Of this Play there is a tradition preserved by Mr. Rowe, that it was written at the command of queen Elizabeth, who was so delighted with the character of Falstaff, that she wished it to be diffused through more plays; but suspecting that it might pall by continued uniformity, directed the poet to diversify his manner,
by shewing him in love. No task is harder than that of writing to the ideas of another. Shakspeare knew, what the queen, if the story be true, seems not to have known, that by any real passion of tenderness, the selfish craft, the careless jollity, and the lazy luxury, of Falstaff, must have suffered so much abatement, that little of his former cast would have remained, Falstaff could not love, but by ceasing to be Falstaff. He could only counterfeit love; and his professions could be prompted, not by the hope of pleasure, but of money. Thus, the poet approached as near as he could to the work enjoined him ; yet having, perhaps, in the former plays completed his own ideas, 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 upon 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