페이지 이미지

When Shakespeare drew this picture of country life, hurriedly and quite outside his projected works, one comforting thing at least occurred to him; he would escape from the city. And if he was compelled to bring with him to the country his troop of swindlers and town corruptions, he would set them down where their surroundings would show them off to their discredit. Simplicity, ignorance, and folly there may be there, but there is also honesty and all the other virtues. That is the Windsor atmosphere. The foils and vices all come from town. There is nothing in any of the villagers' doings to their discredit. Sometimes they are bumpkins. But in the end they are the people who come off best. Falstaff, with his professed contempt for honour, swoops down on them to fill his purse and to satisfy his gross passions, down from the corrupt life at court in London, and the country folks show him what they think of him, and of the ways of such as he and his companions.

Page is a very pleasant person so far as we make his acquaintance. Not only does he trust his virtuous wife implicitly, but he has the good sense to throw discredit at once upon anything coming from such a tainted source as those discarded rogues. Even if it be true, however, he

has no doubt his wife is fit to take care of herself. As an English country gentleman of the middle class, he is a better type of the class than either of the wives. We meet him first desirous of smoothing over the quarrel about the deer. Almost his first words are a kindly invitation to all the party to dinner. He has greyhounds to run a course, and he it is who gets up the birding party, and has a good hawk for the bush.

He disapproves of Fenton, and therein shows his sense, though probably Fenton is about to follow the prince's example. It is Page who is at once down upon Nym for his drawling affecting speech-he wouldn't believe him at any price. Shallow looks up to him and consults him. He is too good-humoured and kindly to quarrel with his wife about it, but he agrees to differ with her in his choice for their daughter-a trouble that could never have been set right, were it not that both their plans were defeated. Page all along dissuades his friend Ford from his senseless jealousy, but how admirably is that jealousy turned to account in the main action of the play! It is a jealousy so unjust and so unreasoning that it recalls Kitely's in Every Man in his Humour more than any other creation I am aware of. For it is inherent in Ford. They were the old lines he lived in before Falstaff came on the scene. And at the close, when there is sport afoot, Page at once joins in, administering a sharp reproof to Ford on the one hand, and ready to deal out sharper punishment to that fat unvirtuous knight. And afterwards, though unfairly treated as he feels he is, he is ready to hold out the hand of good-fellowship where another would cherish resentment. The only defect I can find in Page is his desire to match his daughter with Slender. But that no doubt arose from some desire for social position. No one in the play is gifted with any striking ability, but such merits as are dealt out are all conspicuous in Page. Nym mistook his man very thoroughly when he proposed to possess Page with jealousy and "incense him to deal with poison."

Mistress Anne is no doubt attractive-young, well

off, and fair to look upon, we would like to know her better. Considering the important part she plays in the story, the main part indeed in the primary business of the play, it is remarkable how little we are told about her, or rather how seldom we see her. She has a firm will of her own, and her choice about the turnips in preference to Slender shows her to be decidedly original.

Slender is a capital source of merriment upon the stage, and forms an important part of the play in modern representation, more so perhaps than one would judge should be allotted to him in the study. Most brainless of youths and most incapable of lovers, as Dowden says, he is dear for the sake of Anne Page. He is careful to say and do the wrong thing in every way upon every occasion. I have called attention to several of his lamentable blunders in my notes, which need a little explanation to appreciate them. And I have an idea why Sir John Falstaff broke his head and adds insult to injury by parading the outrage, which perhaps sometimes escapes notice. He was one of the keeper's party beaten by Sir John. Perhaps this is obvious. Slender is in some respects the Silence of the previous play. He acts as a toady to Shallow, and he drinks too much upon occasions. There is also a suggestion of music in Slender, when he wants his song book, recalling his more entertaining predecessor. Wheatley says Slender was the most popular character after Falstaff. He then proceeds to quote some verses from Halliwell, coarse and blundering, about Simple.

Dr. Caius, the renowned French physician, has reminded me of Ambrose Parey. See my note at III. i. 61. He


was in the front rank of Parisian doctors at this time. I will not repeat what I have said elsewhere, but further research may reveal something of Parey's personality, and of his visits to London, which would dispose of this idea one way or the other. There are certainly points in common. Steevens refers to Doctor Doddipol for another stage French physician, with the statement that "This piece appeared at least a year before The Merry Wives of Windsor"; but this is an incorrect view of the dates, Steevens assigning the present play to the year 1601. French physicians appear often in later plays, and must have been as common as blackberries. Nashe, however, has a very interesting account of what he represents as the impostor French doctor, half drugger, half conjurer: “ambitious after preferment, agrees to anything, and to Court he goes; where being come to enterview, hee speaks nothing but broken English like a French Doctor, pretending to have forgotten his naturall tung by travell," Terrors of the Night, 1594. From Nashe's account we learn that French doctors were in demand at this time, and that there was a class of impostors pretending to be such. Dr. Caius is of course the real thing.

Steevens refers to an interesting parallel, also later than Merry Wives, in Jack of Dover's Quest of Inquirie, 1604. One of the tales, "The Foole of Winsor," begins: "Upon a time, there was in Winsor (quoth another of the jurie), a certaine simple outlandish doctor of phisicke, belonging to the Deane, who on a day being at dinner in Eton College," etc. This doctor does not speak in broken English. See Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Jest Books, 1864, P. 339. It is not in the least likely this fool-tale hangs

on to the Merry Wives.

doctor at Windsor probably.

But there was a real foreign

The name Caius is an uncommon one. Besides the Cambridge founder, it was the name of Prince Henry's drawing-master (spelt "Caus" in Cunningham's Revel's Accounts) in 1610.

Dr. Caius, valiant at fence, and skilled in the ancients, is an excellent "flouting-stock" for mine Host. He is rather the cause of wit in others than witty himself. In the Quarto he is invariably "Doctor" in his appearances, but he is three times called by his full name in the text-each time spelt "Doctor Cayus."

Welsh characters were very frequently placed on the stage, to ridicule their unfamiliar language. See my note at IV. v. 82 for references. These stage Welshmen are generally dull people, devoid of all humour, probably intentionally. There is a Welshman in Sharpham's play, The Fleire (1607), who bears the name of "Dr. Caius." The Welshmen in plays generally speak broken English like Evans, but a little later than this Welsh words appear in their speeches. Captain Jenkin in Webster's Westward Ho, 1607, is one of the earliest to use his own language, as he is also one of the best. Nashe, however, has one Welsh expression, if not more, in Have with you to Saffron Walden, 1596. In Rowley's Match at Midnight, Randal is worthy of mention. Evans is an excellent character. Like all Shakespeare's schoolmasters, he is at once simple and pedantic. The fact that he is a parson seems to be lost sight of a good deal, although he remembers grace before dinner in the Quarto. He has nothing to do with any of the marriage ceremonies.

« 이전계속 »