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CHRONOLOGY AND STATE OF THE TEXT.
title: “A most pleasaunt and excellent conceited Comedy of Syr John
Printed by T. C. for Arthur Johnson, &c. &c. 1602.” The same copy was reprinted in 1619. The comedy as it now stands first appeared in the folio of 1623. Knight is of opinion that the quarto of the MERRY WIVES OF Windsor was piratically published, after the play had been re-modelled by its author. The copy of the folio contains very nearly twice the number
of lines that the quarto contains. The succession of scenes is the same in both copies, except in one instance; but the speeches of the several characters are greatly elaborated in the amended copy, and several of the characters not only heightened, but new distinctive features given to them. We point out these differences, for the purpose of showing that, although the quarto of 1602 was most probably piratically published when the play had been re-modelled, and was re-printed without alteration in 1619, (the amended copy then remaining unpublished,) the copy of that first edition must not be considered as an imperfect transcript of the complete play. It stands precisely upon the same ground as the first copy of Henry V. The differences between the two copies are produced by the alterations of the author working upon his first sketch. The extent of these changes and elaborations can only be satisfactorily perceived by comparing the two copies, scene by scene.
The opinion that this comedy was written after the two parts of HENRY IV. is not quite in consonance with the tradition that Queen Elizabeth desired to see Falstaff in love; for Shakespeare might have given this turn to the character in HENRY V., after the announcement in the Epilogue to the second part of Henry IV.:-“our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it.” Malone's theory, therefore, that it was produced after HENRY V., is in accordance with the tradition as received by him with such an implicit belief. George Chalmers, however, in his “ Supplemental Apology,” laughs at the tradition, and at Malone's theory. He believes that the three historical plays and the comedy were successively written in 1596, and in 1597, but that Henry V. was produced the last. He says “In it (HENRY V.) Falstaff does not come out upon the stage, but dies of a sweat, after performing less than the attentive auditors were led to expect : and in it, ancient Pistol appears as the husband of Mistress Quickly; who also dies, during the ancient's absence in the wars of France. Yet do the commentators bring the knight to life, and revive and unmarry the dame, by assigning the year 1601 as the epoch of the MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. Queen Elizabeth is said by the critics to have commanded these miracles to be worked in 1601,-a time when she was in no proper mood for such fooleries. The tradition on which is founded the story of Elizabeth's command to exhibit the facetious knight in love, I think too improbable for belief." Chalmers goes on to argue that after Falstaff's disgrace at the end of the second part of HENRY IV. (which is followed in Henry V. by the assertion that “the King has killed his heart”) he was not in a fit condition for “a speedy appearance among the Merry Wives of Windsor ;” and further, that if it be true, as the first act of the second part evinces, that Sir John, soon after doing good service at Shrewsbury, was sent off, with some charge, to Lord John of Lancaster at York, he could not consistently saunter to Windsor, after his rencontre with the Chief-Justice. Looking at these contradictions, Chalmers places “the true epoch of this comedy in 1596;” and affirms “that its proper place is before the first part of Henry IV.” Knight conjectures that it was produced before the Histories; and that the characters were subsequently heightened, and more strikingly delineated, to assimilate them to the characters of the Histories.