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Falstaff. I love thee, and none but thee; help me away; let me creep in here; I'll never
Act III. Sc. III.
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
In Five Acts.
BY WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.
PRINTED FROM THE ACTING COPY, WITH REMARKS BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL.
To which are added,
A DESCRIPTION OF THE COSTUME,-CAST OF THE CHARACTERS, EXITS AND ENTRANCES,-RELATIVE POSITIONS OF THE PERFORMERS ON THE STAGE, AND THE WHOLE OF THE STAGE
As now Performed at the
EMBELLISHED WITH A FINE WOOD ENGRAVING,
By Mr. WHITE, from a Drawing by Mr. R. CRUIKSHANK.
JOHN CUMBERLAND, 19, LUDGATE HILL.
The Merry Wives of Windsor.
TAKING the word of tradition that Elizabeth was so much delighted with the character of Falstaff, that she commanded Shakspeare to exhibit him in love, we should say that, independent of every other merit, she is eminently entitled, for this one act, to the grateful remembrance of posterity. Falstaff having been disgraced in the second part of Henry IV., and fairly gathered unto his fathers in King Henry V., had never again started into existence, but for the potent spell of the royal enchantress.
"I can call spirits from the vasty deep"
is the boastful exclamation of the "devil Glendower”—the question is— "But will they come when you do call to them !"
Elizabeth spake the word, and uprose Sir John; not in his windingsheet, ghastly and pale, but in "his great pelly-doublet," as rosy and as rubicund as ever:
"The jolly knight in triumph comes,
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!
He shows his honest face."
With his powers of entertainment undiminished-as full of wit and waggery as when he marched his ragged regiment of mortal men to fill a pit at the battle of Shrewsbury. In the following scenes he is exhibited with a new feature-Falstaff is in love-as much so as a gross fat man, of intolerable entrails, devoted to ease and jollity, can be supposed to be. His inordinate vanity and love of money entangle him in an intrigue with Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page, from which spring a variety of incidents verging on the utmost limits of comedy, and a singular mixture of characters of great originality and whim, among which, not the least conspicuous are the two merry wives of Windsor.
This comedy is a curious picture of the domestic life and manners of Shakspeare's age. It represents the middle class of society. The jealousy of Ford is naturally depicted, and gives an agreeable relief to the official pomposity of Justice Shallow, the inane simplicity of Master Slender, and the pedantic circumlocution of Sir Hugh Evans. There are other personages, of scarcely inferior note, who figure away in this drama-Doctor Caius, an irascible quack-the bully-rook Tapster, mine host of the Garter-and honest John Rugby, whose worst fault is, that he is "given to prayer."-And that Jupiter himself might not be without his satellites, the resuscitation of Falstaff once more introduces us to his old cronies-Dame Quickly, who is marvellously metamorphosed into the decent housekeeper of Doctor Caius-Ancient Pistol, as great a thief and coward as ever-and Nym, and Bardolph, both of whom were hanged in Henry V. Characters so various and opposed-so exactly discriminated and appropriated, are not to be found in any other play extant, with the exception, perhaps, of Every Man in his Humour, which is a masterpiece of dramatic contrast and profound art. The two intrigues