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The Sources of Shakespeare's Merry Wives

  • A. L. Bennett (a1)


It Is a commonplace of criticism that the Falstaff of The Merry Wives of Windsor is an altogether different comic from the ready and resourceful, the irrepressible Sir John of Henry IV. Could it have been otherwise? If the Queen wished to see Falstaff'in love,’ that would mean unsuccessfully in love, and nothing would do but to make Falstaff an amorous buffoon taken in repeatedly by transparent devices and exposed to the ridicule of ordinary minds. The tradition of the Queen's command aside, making Falstaff the dupe in a domestic comedy would require a radical change in character. And had not the real, the original knight died babbling of green fields and gone to Arthur's bosom? Finally, if Shakespeare had in mind Ralph Doister (or some other strictly thrasonical figure) while he was making Merry Wives, as it seems possible he did, would not the lusterless Sir John wooing citizens’ wives be more fully accounted for?



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1 Muir, Kenneth, Shakespeare's Sources, I (London, 1957), 259.

2 Baldwin, T. W., On the Literary Genetics of Shakespeare's Plays, 1592-1594 (Urbana, 1959), pp. 454, 469.

3 Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, II, ed. Geoffrey Bullough (London and New York, 1958), 9. Credit for discovery of Casina as a source for Merry Wives belongs to Forsythe, R. S., Modern Philology, XVIII (1920), 5777.

4 Edgerton, William L., Nicholas Udall (New York, 1965), p. 103.

5 Ralph Roister Doister, ed. C. G. Child (Boston, 1912), p. 32.

6 Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, p. 8.

The Sources of Shakespeare's Merry Wives

  • A. L. Bennett (a1)


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