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(1) Scene \.-~fferne*s oak.] One of the many phasing features in this sprightly comedy is the amount of local colouring with which it is imbued. Within the last few years the researches of various writers have shown, to use the words of Mr. Halliwell, "that 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' is to be regarded, in all essential particulars, as a purely English local drama, in which the actors and incidents, though spiritually belonging to all time, are really founded and engrafted upon living characters, amidst scenes existing, in a provincial town of England and its neighbourhood, in the lifetime of the poet." With regard to Heme's oak, the fact is now established, that a family of the name of Heme was living at Windsor in tho sixteenth century, one Gylles Heme being married there in 1569. The old tradition was that Heme, one of the keepers in tho park, having committed an offence for which he feared to be disgraced, hung hinisolf upon an oak, which was over after haunted by his ghost.
The earliest notice of this oak, since immortalized by Shakespeare, is in a " Plan of the Town and t 'astie of Windsor and little Park," published at Eton, in 1742. In the map, a tree, marked " Sir John Falstatfs oak," is represented as being on the edge of a pit, (Shakespeare's fairy pit!) just on the outside of an avenue which was formed in the seventeenth century, and known as Queen Elizabeth's Walk. Tho oak, a pollard, was described in 1780 as being twenty-seven feet in circumference, hollow, and the only tree in the neighbourhood into which boys could get. Although in a rapid state of decay, acorns were obtained from it as late as 178o\ and it would in all probability have stood the scath of time and shocks of weather, but that unfortunately it was marked down inadvertently in a list of decayed and unsightly trees which had been ordered to be destroyed by George III., and fell a victim to tho woodman's axe in 17i)G.
(2) SCENE V.—Vet be cheerful, knight: tltou shalt cat a posset to-night at my house.'] To posset, whatever its derivation, meant to coagulate, or curd:—
"And with a sudden vigour it doth posset,
Hamlet, Act I. Sc. 8.
and the posset originally was, perhaps, no more than curdled milk, taken to promote perspiration. Hence, tho hour of projection, tho appropriate time for the administration of tho ]x>ssot proper, such as we are now considering, was at night, shortly t>cfore retiring to rest; Mrs. Quickly, in the present play, promises John Rugby *' A posset soon at night,—at tho end of a sea-coal fire:" Lady Macbeth, at night, speaks of having " drugged the possets" of Duncan's *' grooms." Martha, in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Scornful Lady," Act 11. Sc. 1, remarks to Welford, "Sir, 'tis so late, and our entertainment (meaning our posset) by this time is grown so cold, that 'twere an unmannerly part longer to hold you from your rest." And in Sir John Suckling's ballad on the wedding of Lord Broghill, the last ceremony described in the bridal chamber is:—
"Income the biide's-maids with the posset,
On tho nature and qualities of Sack, "Simple of itself," tho commentators aro profvise in information. On this, its crowning luxury.—the famous and universally popular sack-posset,—they atlbrd us none at all. Luckily, we are enabled to supply this grave omission, having at hand two recipes, infallibly authentic, for the precious
brcwage. Tho first of these is taken from & work published near the end of the seventeenth century, entitled '* A True Gentlewoman's Delight:" the other is from the pen of Sir Fleetwood Shepherd.
"To Makk A Sack-possi T.— Take Two Quarts of pure pood Crvam. and a Quarter of a Pound of the best Almonds. Stamp them in the Cream ami boyl. with Amber and Mask therein. 1 hen take a Pint of Sack in a basin, an J set it on a Chafing-dith, till it be blood-warm; then take the Yolks of Twelve Egg», *itk Four of their Whites, and b^at them well together; and so pot the Eggs into the Sack. Then stir all together over the coaU, till it is all as thick as you would have it. If you now tike soaie Ambrr and Afusk. and grind the same quite small, with -njcar, and strew this on the top of your Possit, 1 promise yuu thai it shall have a most delicate and pleasant taste."
He must be tho veriest Pythagorean who could doubt it; and the marvel is how such a "night-cap" ever went out of fashion. The Knight's preparation sotiiis hardly so ambrosial, but that too must nave been & palatable "comforter:"—
"From fam'd Barbadoes in the Western Main,
(3) SCENE V.—lam glad, though you have la en. a tpefisl stand to strike at me, that your arrow ftatA glancfL] Deer shooting was a favourite sport of both sexes in the time of Shakespeare, and to enable ladies to enjoy it in safety ac l without fatigue, stands, or standings, with flat roofs, ornamented and concealed by boughs and bushes, were erected in many parks. Here, armed with the cross-bow or bow and arrow, the fair huntresses were wont to take aim at the animal which tho keepers compelled to pass before thorn. To this practice tho poet alludos again in ** Love') Labour's Lost," Act IV. Sc. 1:—
'* Pkin. where is the bosh
That we must stand and play the murderer in!
Fun. Hereby, upon the edge of yondrr coppice;
And in "Cymbeline," Act III. Sc. 4:—
"When thou hast ta'en thy stand.
The elected deer before thee!"
(4) Scknk V.— Well, what remedy?] In the quarto*, after FalstatFs speech, the dialogue proceeds as follows :—
"Mrs. Fohi>. Come, mistris Page, lie be bold with you, Tis pity to part hive that is so true.
Mrs. Pack. Altho' that I have missed in my intent.
Sir Hu. Come, Master Page, you must needs agree.
Ford. I yfaith, sir, come, you see your wife is wcl pleased.
Page. I cannot tel, a id yet my hart's well eased.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
The only edition of this comedy known before the folio 1623, is a quarto printed in 1600, entitled:—" Much adoe about Nothing, as it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. London Printed by V. S. for Andrew Wise and William Aspley, 1600." It is supposed originally to have been acted under the title of " Benedick and Beatrix," and, from being unnoticed by Meres, to have been written not earlier than 1598.
The serious incidents of his plot, some writers conjecture, Shakespeare derived from the story of Ariodante and Geneura, in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, which, in 1582-3, was made the subject of dramatic representation, and played before Queen Elizabeth by " Mult-aster's children," that is, the children of St. Paul's school, and of which an English translation by Sir John Harrington, Elizabeth's " merry poet," and godson, was published in 1591. Others, with more probability, believe the source from whence he took them was some now extinct version of Bandello's twenty-second novel, " Como il S. Timbreo di Curdona, essendo col He Piero d'Araaona in Messina, s'innamora, di Fenicia Leonata: e i vavii fortunevoli accidenti, che avvennero prima che per moglie la prendesse." In Bandello's story the scene, like that of the comedy, is laid at Messina; the name of the slandered lady's father is the same, Lionato, or Leonato; and the friend of her lover is Don Piero, or Pedro. These coincidences alone are sufficient to establish some near or remote connexion between the novel and the play, but a brief sketch of the romance will place their affinity almost beyond doubt. Don Piero of Arragon returns from a victorious campaign, and, with the gallant cavalier Timbreo di Cardona, is at Messina. Timbreo falls in love with Fenicia, the daughter of Lionato di Leonati, a gentleman of Messina, and, like Claudio in the play, courts her by proxy. He is successful in his suit, and the lovers are betrothed: but the course of true love is impeded by one Girondo, a disappointed admirer of the lady, who determines to prevent the marriage. In pursuance of this object, he insinuates to Timbreo that Fenicia is false, and offers to show him a stranger scaling her chamber window. The unhappy lover consents to watch; and at the appointed hour, Girondo and a servant in the plot, pass him disguised, and the latter is seen to ascend a ladder and enter the house of Lionato. In an agony of rage and jealousy, Timbreo in the morning accuses the lady of disloyalty, and rejects the alliance. Fenicia falls into a swoon; a dangerous illness supervenes; and the father, to stifle all rumours hurtful to her fame, removes her to a retired house of his brother, proclaims her death, and solemnly performs her funeral obsequies. Girondo is now struck with remorse at having "slandered to death" a creature so innocent and beautiful. He confesses his treachery to Timbrco, and both determine to restore the reputation of the lost one, and undergo any penance her family ma}' impose. Lionato is merciful, and requires only from Timbrco, that he shall wed a lady whom he recommends, and whose face shall be concealed till the marriage ceremony is over. The denouement is obvious. Timbrco espouses the mysterious fair one, and finds in her his injured, loving, and beloved Fenicia.
The comic portion of " Much Ado about Nothing," involving the pleasant stratagems by which the principal characters are decoyed into matrimony with each other, is Shakespeare's own design, and the amalgamation of the two plots is managed with so much felicity, that no one, perhaps, who read the comedy for entertainment only, ever thought them separable.