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Friday, November 15, 2013
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
conclusions (for the moment) about The Merry Wives of Windsor.
|1910 Jacket (F.A. Stokes, New York)|
[Image source: http://yama-bato.tumblr.com/post/2061649579/the-merry-wives-of-windsor-1910-author]
I do not think it was written for, or performed at, the Garter ceremonies in April 1597. There is no evidence that plays ever formed part of Garter ceremonies, nor that plays were commissioned by or for the Monarch.
(I base these views on, above all, Barbara Freedman's "Shakespearean Chronology, Ideological Complicity, and Floating Texts: Something is Rotten in Windsor" (Shakespeare Quarterly Vol 45 No 2 (1994)), which you can read when you've signed up to MyJstor.)
(Frederick D. Losey, introducing the play in his 1926 edition, claims that it's because the Merry Wives was a court-sponsored play that it's all about middle-class Windsor citizens; the general public, on the other hand, wanted to hear about kings and nobles. Losey seems to imply that he has other evidence for this surprisingly lowbrow taste among courtiers, but he doesn't tell us what it is. I draw exactly the opposite conclusion: citizen comedy was particularly entertaining to citizens, hence its presence in MW tells against court sponsorship.)
The play does, undeniably, include a few underlined Garter references that seem to pierce the 4th wall, but why (or in reference to what occasion) is unclear.
Accordingly, the only firm evidence to date the play is that it can't be later than 1601 (when the bad quarto emerged).
Having been so dismissive of April 1597, Freedman seems surprisingly amenable to Gary Taylor's alternative theory of Feb 1598, thus accepting the common view that MW was written at the same time as 2H4. (This seems to be mainly because Feb 1598 would have been a good time for German satire. Ironically, that's an occasionalist argument.)
I'm more inclined to think it post-dates Henry V, so I'm placing it 1599-1600. [Apparently I am in agreement with current scholarship, according to the British Library's Shakespeare in Quarto page on MW, though I don't understand what it means when it says "Shakespeare must have written [Henry V] before deciding on the chronology of The Merry Wives of Windsor in relation to the other plays involving Falstaff".]
Principally this is because of the Falstaff crew. I see Pistol and Shallow being "introduced" in Henry IV Part 2, I see Corporal Nym being "introduced" in Henry V. In my opinion the Merry Wives takes recognition of these characters for granted.
It is quite characteristic of the low characters in the Henriad (collective name given by scholars to the two parts of Henry IV plus Henry V) that what later become their defining features are not in full effect from the start. In 1H4 Bardolph's red nose is not mentioned at first, and the language of the "Hostess" isn't immediately full of suggestive pratfalls; in 2H4 Pistol isn't instantly Marlovian; and in H5 Nym takes a few speeches before he actually brings out the word "humour". This may be partly because Shakespeare fleshed out the characters as he wrote, but it's also to build up the audience's acquaintance with a character piece by piece. You need to know, for example, that Nym considers himself a man of few words.
An audience meeting Nym for the first time in MW would be fairly mystified. He has become a wild sort of linguistic engine:
Slice, I say! pauca, pauca: slice! that's my humour.
He has only a small part here, but such humour as it has (oh God, I swear that was unintentional) depends on the way that Nym and Pistol bounce off each other in their various swaggerings. More to the point, it depends on the audience remembering how they bounce off each other in H5. It is a reprise.
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Labels: William Shakespeare