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MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is no doubt a very amusing play, with a great deal of humour, character, and nature in it: but we should have liked it much better, if any one else bad been the hero of it, instead of Falstaff. We could have been contented if Shakspeare had not been commanded to shew the knight in love." Wits and philosophers, for the most part, do not shine in that character; and. Sir John himself, by no means, comes off with flying colours. Many people complain of the degradation and insults to which Don Quixote is so frequently exposed in his various adventures. But what are the unconscious indignities which he suffers, compared with the sensible mortifications which Falstaff is made to bring upon himself? What are the blows apd buffettings which the Don receives from the staves of the Yangucsian carriers, or from Sancho Panza's more hard-hearted hands, compared with the contamination of the buck
basket, the disguise of the fat woman of Brentford, and the horns of Herne the hunter, which' are discovered on Sir John's head ? In reading the play, we indeed wish him well through all these discomfitures, but it would have been as well if he had not got into them. Falstaff in the MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is not the man he was in the two parts of Henry IV. His wit and eloquence have left him.
Instead of making a butt of others, he is made a butt of by them. Neither is there a single particle of love in him to excuse his follies : he is merely a designing, barefaced knave, and an unsuccessful one. The scene with Ford as
Master Brook, and that with Simple, Slender's man, who comes to ask after the Wise Woman, are almost the only ones in which his old intellectual ascendency appears.
He is like a person recalled to the stage to perform an upaccustomed and ungracious part; and in which we perceive only some faint sparks of those flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the hearers in a roar." But the single scene with Doll Tear sheet, of Mrs. Quickly's account of his desiring s to eat some of housewife Keach’s prawns," and telling her “ to be no more so familiarity with such people,” is worth the whole of the MERRY WIVES OF
WINDSOR pat together. Ford's jealousy, which is the mainspring of the comick incidents is certainly very well managed. Page, on the contrary, appears to be somewhat uxorious in his disposition ; and we have pretty plain indications of the effect of the characters of the husbands on the different degrees of fidelity in their
wives. Mrs. Quickly makes a very lively go-between, both between Falstaff and his Dulcineas, and Apne Page and her lovers, and seems in the latter case so intent on her own interest, as totally to overlook the intentions of her employers. Her master, Doctor Caius, the Frenchman, and her fellow servant Jack Bugby, are very completely described. This last mentioned person is rather quaintly commended by Mrs. Quickly as
an honest, willing, kind fellow, as ever servant shall come in house withal, and I warrant you, no telltale, nor no breedbate ; his worst fault is that he is given to prayer; he is something peevish that way ; but no body but has his fault.” The Welch Parson, Sir Hugh Evans (a title which in those days was given to the clergy) is an excellent character in all respects. He is as respectable as he is laughable. He has " very good discretions, and very odd humours.” The duel scene with Caius gives him an opportunity to shew his “ cholers and his tremblings of mind," his valour and his melancholy, in an irresistible manner. In the dialogue, which at his mother's request he holds with his pupil, William Page, to shew his progress in learning, it is hard to say whether the simplicity of the master or the scholar is the greatest. Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol, are but the shadows of what they were ; and Justice Shallow himself has little of his consequence left.
But his cousin, Slender, makes up for the deficiency. He is a very potent piece of imbecility. In him the pretensions of the worthy Gloucestershire family are well kept up, and
immortalised. He and his friend Sackerson, and his book of songs, and his love of Anne Page, and his having nothing to say to her can never be forgotten. It is the only first rate character in the play : but it is in that class. Shakspeare is the only writer who was as great in describing weakness as strength.
COMEDY OF ERROURS.
This comedy is taken very much from the Me. næchmi of Plautus, and is not an improvement on it. Shakspeare appears to have bestowed no great pains on it, and there are but a few passages which bear the decided stamp of his genius. He seems to have relied on his author, and on the interest arising out of the intricacy of the plot. The curiosity excited is certainly very considerable, though not of the most pleasing kind. We are teazed as with a riddle, which notwithstanding we try to solve. In reading the play, from the sameness of the names of the two Antipholises and the two Dromios, as well from their being constantly taken for each other by those who see them, it is difficult, without a painful effort of attention, to keep the characters distinct in the mind. And again, on the stage, either the complete similarity of their persons and dress must produce the same perplexity whenever they first enter, or