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The Merry Wives of Windsor

I.i.7 (194,4) [Custalorum] This it, I suppose, intended for a corruption of Custos Rotulorum. The mistake was hardly designed by the author, who, though he gives Shallow folly enough, makes him rather pedantic than illiterate. If we read:

Shal. Ay, cousin Slender, and Custos Rotulorum.

It follows naturally:

Slen. Ay, and Ratalorum too.

I.i.22 (194,5) [The luce is the fresh fish; the salt fish is an old coat] I see no consequence in this answer. Perhaps we may read, the salt fish is not an old coat. That is, the fresh fish is the coat of an ancient family, and the salt fish is the coat of a merchant grown rich by trading over the sea.

I.i.115 (198,1) [and broke open my lodge] This probably alludes to some real incident, at that time well known.

I.i.121 (198,2) ['Twere better for you, if 'twere not known in council; you'll be laugh'd at] The old copies read, 'Twere better for you, if 'twere known in council. Perhaps it is an abrupt speech, and must be read thus: 'Twere better for you--if 'twere known in council, you'll be laugh'd at. 'Twere better for you, is, I believe, a menace.(1773)

I.i.127 (199,3) [coney-catching rascals] A coney-catcher was, in the time of Elizabeth, a common name for a cheat or sharper. Green, one of the first among us who made a trade of writing pamphlets, published A Detection of the Frauds and Tricks of Coney-catchers and Couzeners.

I.i.159 (200,6) [Edward shovel-boards] By this term, I believe, are meant brass castors, such as are shoveled on a board, with king Edward's face stamped upon them.

I.i.166 (201,8) [Word of denial in thy Labra's here] I suppose it should rather be read,

Word of denial in my Labra's hear;

that is, hear the word of denial in my lips. Thou ly'st.

I.i.170 (201,9) [marry trap] When a man was caught in his own stratagem, I suppose the exclamation of insult was marry, trap!

I.i.184 (202,3) [and so conclusions pass'd the careires] I believe this strange word is nothing but the French cariere; and the expression means, that the common bounds of good behaviour were overpassed.

I.i.211 (203,4) [upon Allhallowmas last, a fortnight afore Michaelmas?] [Theobald suspected that Shakespeare had written "Martlemas."] This correction, thus seriously and wisely enforced, is received by Sir Tho. Hammer; but probably Shakespeare intended a blunder.

I.iii.56 (210,7) [The anchor is deep: will that humour pass?] I see not what relation the anchor has to translation. Perhaps we may read, the author is deep; or perhaps the line is out of its place, and should be inserted lower after Falstaff has said,

Sail like my pinnace to those golden shores.

It may be observed, that in the tracts of that time anchor and author could hardly be distinguished. (see 1765, II,464,7)

I.iii.110 (213,6) [I will possess him with yellowness] Yellowness is jealousy. (1773)

I.iii.III (213,7) [for the revolt of mine is dangerous] I suppose we may read, the revolt of men. Sir T. Hammer reads, this revolt of mine. Either may serve, for of the present text I can find no meaning.

I.iv.9 (213,8) [at the latter end of a sea-coal fire] That is, when my master is in bed.

II.i.5 (219,1) [though love use reason for his precisian, he admits him not for his counsellor] Of this word I do not see any meaning that is very apposite to the present intention. Perhaps Falstaff said, Though love use reason as his physician, he admits him not for his counsellor. This will be plain sense. Ask not the reason of my love; the business of reason is not to assist love, but to cure it. There may however be this meaning in the present reading. Though love, when he would submit to regulation, may use reason as his precisian, or director in nice cases, yet when he is only eager to attain his end, he takes not reason for his counsellor. (1773)

II.i.27 (220,2) [I was then frugal of my mirth] By breaking this speech into exclamations, the text may stand; but I once thought it must be read, If I was not then frugal of my mirth.

II.i.29 (220,3) [Why, I'll exhibit a bill in the parliament for the putting down of men] [T: of fat men] [W: of mum] I do not see that any alteration is necessary; if it were, either of the foregoing conjectures might serve the turn. But surely Mrs. Ford may naturally enough, in the first heat of her anger, rail at the sex for the fault of one.

II.i.52 (222,4) [These knights will hack, and so thou shouldst not alter the article of thy gentry] [W: lack] Upon this passage the learned editor has tried his strength, in my opinion, with more spirit than success.

I read thus--These knights we'll hack, and so thou shouldest not alter the article of thy gentry. The punishment of a recreant or undeserving knight, was to hack off his spurs: the meaning therefore is; it is not worth the while of a gentlewoman to be made a knight, for we'll degrade all these knights in a little time, by the usual form of hacking off their spurs, and thou, if thou art knighted, shalt be hacked with the rest.

II.i.79 (223,5) [for he cares not what he puts into the press] Press is used ambiguously, for a press to print, and a press to squeeze.

II.i.114 (224,7) [curtail-dog] That is, a dog that misses hie game. The tail is counted necessary to the agility of a greyhound; and one method of disqualifying a dog, according to the forest laws, is to cut his tail, or make him a curtail. (see 1765, II,477,+)

II.i.128 (225,9) [Away, Sir corporal Nym.--Believe it, Page, he speaks sense] Nym, I believe, is out of place, and we should read thus:

Away, Sir corporal. Nym. Believe it. Page, he speaks sense.

II.i.135 (225,1) [I have a sword, and it shall bite upon my necessity.--He loves your wife] [V: bite--upon my necessity, he] I do not see the difficulty of this passage: no phrase is more common than--you may, upon a need, thus. Nym, to gain credit, says, that he is above the mean office of carrying love-letters; he has nobler means of living; he has a sword, and upon his necessity, that is, when his need drives him to unlawful expedients, his sword shall bite.

II.i.148 (226,3) [I will not believe such a Cataian] [Theobald and Warburton had both explained "Cataian" as a liar.] Mr. Theobald and Dr. Warburton have both told their stories with confidence, I am afraid, very disproportionate to any evidence that can be produced. That Cataian was a word of hatred or contempt is plain, but that it signified a boaster or a liar has not been proved. Sir Toby, in Twelfth Night, says of the Lady Olivia to her maid, "thy Lady's a Cataian;" but there is no reason to think he means to call her liar. Besides, Page intends to give Ford a reason why Pistol should not be credited. He therefore does not say, I would not believe such a liar: for that he is a liar is yet to be made probable: but he says, I would not believe such a Cataian on any testimony of his veracity. That is, "This fellow has such an odd appearance; is so unlike a man civilized, and taught the duties of life, that I cannot credit him." To be a foreigner was always in England, and I suppose everywhere else, a reason of dislike. So Pistol calls Slender in the first act, a mountain foreigner; that is, a fellow uneducated, and of gross behaviour; and again in his anger calls Bardolph, Hungarian wight.

II.i.182 (228,4) [very rogues] A rogue is a wanderer or vagabond, and, in its consequential signification, a cheat.

II.i.236 (230,7) [my long sword] Not long before the introduction of rapiers, the swords in use were of an enormous length, and sometimes raised with both hands. Shallow, with an old man's vanity, censures the innovation by which lighter weapons were introduced, tells what he could once have done with his long sword, and ridicules the terms and rules of the rapier.

II.ii.28 (234,6) [red lattice phrases] Your ale-house conversation.

II.ii.28 (234,7) [your bold-beating oaths] [W: bold-bearing] A beating oath is, I think, right; so we now say, in low language, a thwacking or swinging thing.

II.ii.61 (235,8) [canaries] This is the name of a brisk light dance, and is therefore properly enough used in low language for any hurry or perturbation.

II.ii.94 (236,1) [frampold] This word I have never seen elsewhere, except in Dr. Hacket's Life of Archbishop Williams, where a frampul man signifies a peevish troublesome fellow.

II.ii.142 (238,3) [Clap on more sails; pursue; up with your fights] [Warburton had quoted a passage from Dryden'a Amboyna for "fights," explaining them as "small arms."] The quotation from Dryden might at least have raised a suspicion that fights were neither small arms, nor cannon. Fights and nettings are properly joined. Fights, I find, are cloaths hung round the ship to conceal the men from the enemy, and close-fights are bulkheads, or any other shelter that the fabrick of a ship affords.

II.ii.170 (240,5) [not to charge you] That is, not with a purpose of putting you to expence, or being burthensome.

II.ii.256 (242,6) [instance and argument] Instance is example.

II.ii.324 (244,8) [Eleven o'clock] Ford should rather have said ten o'clock: the time was between ten and eleven; and his impatient suspicion was not likely to stay beyond the time.

II.iii.60 (246,2) [mock-water] The host means, I believe, to reflect on the inspection of urine, which made a considerable part of practical physick in that time; yet I do not well see the meaning of mock-water.

III.i.17 (249,5) [By shallow rivers, to whose falls] [Warburton had introduced The Passionate Shepherd to his Love and The Nymph's Reply at this point in his text, attributing both to Shakespeare.] These two poems, which Dr. Warburton gives to Shakespeare, are, by writers nearer that time, disposed of, one to Marlow, the other to Raleigh. These poems are read in different copies with great variations.

III.i.123 (253,6) [scald, scurvy] Scall was an old word of reproach, as scab was afterwards.

Chaucer imprecates on his scrivener;

"Under thy longe lockes mayest thou have the scalle."

III.ii.58 (255,7) [We have linger'd about a match between Anne Page and my cousin Slender, and this day we shall have our answer] They have not linger'd very long. The match was proposed by Sir Hugh but the day before.

III.ii.73 (256,1) [The gentleman is of no having] Having is the same as estate or fortune.

III.ii.90 (257,2) [I think, I shall drink in pipe-wine first with him] [Tyrwhitt: horn-pipe wine] Pipe is known to be a vessel of wine, now containing two hogsheads. Pipe wine is therefore wine, not from the bottle, but the pipe; and the text consists in the ambiguity of the word, which signifies both a cask of wine, and a musical instrument. Horn-pipe wine has no meaning. (1773)

III.iii.60 (260,4) [that becomes the ship-tire, the tire-valiant, or any tire of Venetian admittance] [Warburton had explained the two tents as head-dresses, and "of Venetian admittance" as "which will admit to be adorned."] This note is plausible, except in the explanation of Venetian admittance: but I am afraid this whole system of dress is unsupported by evidence.

III.iv.13 (267,7) [father's wealth] Some light may be given to those who shall endear one to calculate the increase of English wealth, by observing, that Latymer, in the time of Edward VI. mentions it as proof of his father's prosperity, That though but a yeoman. he gave his daughters five pounds each for her portion. At the latter end of Elizabeth, seven hundred pounds were such a temptation to courtship, as made all other motives suspected. Congreve makes twelve thousand pounds more than a counterbalance to the affectation of Belinda. Ho poet would now fly his favourite character at less than fifty thousand.

III.iv.100 (270,1) [will you cast away your child on a fool and a physician?] I should read fool or a physician, meaning Slender and Caius.

III.v.113 (274,4) [bilbo] A bilbo is a Spanish blade, of which the excellence is flexibleness and elasticity.

III.v.117 (274,5) [kidney] Kidney in this phrase now signifies kind or qualities, but Falstaff means a man whose kidnies are as fat as mine.

III.v.155 (275,6) [I'll be horn-mad] There is no image which our author appears so fond of, as that of cuckold's horns. Scarcely a light character is introduced that does not endearor to produce merriment by some allusion to horned husbands. As he wrote his plays for the stage rather than the press, he perhaps reviewed them seldom, and did not observe this repetition, or finding the jest, however, frequent, still successful, did not think correction necessary.

IV.i (276,7) [Page's house. Enter Mrs. Page. Mrs. Quickly, and William] This is a very trifling scene, of no use to the plot, and I should think of no great delight to the audience; but Shakespeare best knew what would please.

IV.ii.22 (879,8) [he so takes on] To take on, which is now used for to, grieve, seems to be used by our author for to, rage. Perhaps it was applied to any passion.

IV.ii.26 (279,9) [buffets himself on the forehead, crying, peer- out, peer-out!] That is, appear horns. Shakespeare is at his old lunes. (see 1765, II, 526,+)

IV.ii.161 (283,1) [this wrongs you] This is below your character, unworthy of your understanding, injurious to your honour. So in The Taming of the Shrew, Bianca, being ill treated by her rugged sister, says: "You wrong me much, indeed you wrong yourself."

IV.ii.195 (284,2) [ronyon!] Ronyon, applied to a woman, means, as far as can be traced, much the same with scall or scab spoken of a man.

IV.ii.204 (284,3) [I spy a great peard under his muffler] As the second stratagem, by which Falstaff escapes, is much the grosser of the two, I wish it had been practiced first. It is very unlikely that Ford, baring been so deceived before, and knowing that he had been deceived, would suffer him to escape in so slight a disguise.

IV.ii.208 (284,4) [cry out upon no trail] The expression is taken from the hunters. Trail is the scent left by the passage of the game. To cry out, is to open or bark.

IV.iii.13 (285,5) [they must come off] To come off, signifies in our author, sometimes to be uttered with spirit and volubility. In this place it seems to mean what is in our time expressed by to come down, to pay liberally and readily. These accidental and colloquial senses are the disgrace of language, and the plague of commentators.

IV.iv.32 (287,7) [And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle] To take, in Shakespeare, signifies to seize or strike with a disease, to blast. So in Hamlet;

"No planet takes."

So in Lear;

"-----Strike her young bones, "Ye taking airs, with lameness." (rev. 1778,I,341,4)

IV.v.7 (290,3) [standing-bed, and truckle-bed] The usual furniture of chambers in that time was a standing-bed, under which was a trochle, truckle, or running bed. In the standing-bed lay the master, and in the truckle-bed the servant. So in Hall's Account of a Servile Tutor:

"He lieth in the truckle-bed. "While his young master lieth o'er his head."

IV.v.21 (291,4) [Bohemian-Tartar] The French call a Bohemian what we call a Gypsey; but I believe the Host means nothing more than, by a wild appellation, to insinuate that Simple makes a strange appearance.

IV. v. 29 (291, 5) [mussel-shell] He calls poor Simple mussel-shell, because he stands with his mouth open.

IV. v. 104 (293, 6) [Primero] A game at cards.

IV. v. 122 (294, 7) [counterfeiting the action of an old woman] [T: a wood woman] This emendation is received by Sir Thomas Hammer, but rejected by Dr. Warburton. To me it appears reasonable enough.

IV. v. 130 (294, 8) [sure, one of you does not serve heaven well, that you are so cross'd] The great fault of this play, is the frequency of expressions so profane, that no necessity of preserving character can justify them. There are laws of higher authority than those of criticism.

V. v. 28 (300, 3) [my shoulders for the fellow of this walk] Who the fellow is, or why he keeps his shoulders for bin, I do not understand.

V. v. 77 (304, 9) [Fairies use flowers for their charactery] For the matter with which they make letters.

V. v. 84 (304, 1) [I smell a man of middle earth] Spirits are supposed to inhabit the ethereal regions, and fairies to dwell under ground, men therefore are in a middle station.

V. v. 99 (305, 4) [Lust is but a bloody fire] So the old copies. I once thought it should be read,

Lust is but a cloudy fire,

but Sir T. Hammer reads with less violence,

Lust is but i' the blood a fire.

V. v. 172 (308, 8) [ignorance itself is a plummet o'er me] Though this be perhaps not unintelligible, yet it is an odd way of confessing his dejection. I should wish to read:

--ignorance itself has a plume o' me;

That is, I am so depressed, that ignorance itself plucks me, and decks itself with the spoils of my weakness. Of the present reading, which is probably right, the meaning may be, I am so enfeebled, that ignorance itself weighs me down and oppresses me. (see 1765, II, 554, 1)

V. v. 181 (309, 1) [laugh at my wife] The two plots are excellently connected, and the transition very artfully made in this speech.

V. v. 249 (311, 2) [Page. Tell, what remedy?] In the first sketch of this play, which, as Mr. Pope observes, is much inferior to the latter performance, the only sentiment of which I regret the omission, occurs at this critical time, when Fenton brings in his wife, there is this dialogue.

Mrs. Ford. Come, mistress Page. I must be bold with you. 'Tis pity to part love that is so true.

Mrs. Page. [Aside] Although that I have miss'd in my intent, Yet I am glad my husband's match is cross'd. --Here Fenton. take her.--

Eva. Come, master Page, you must needs agree.

Ford. I' faith, Sir, come, you see your wife is pleas'd.

Page. I cannot tell, and yet my heart is eas'd; And yet it doth me good the Doctor miss'd. Come hither, Fenton, and come hither, daughter. (1773)

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General Observation. 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. Shakespeare 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 idea, 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 Shakespeare was the first that produced upon the English stage the effect of language distorted and depraved by provincial or foreign pronunciations, 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 month, 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 different parts might change places without inconvenience; but its general power, that power by which all works of genius shall finally be tried, is such, that perhaps it never yet had reader or spectator, who did not think it too soon at an end.

Samuel Johnson