24b. The Merry Wives of Windsor
previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams
(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)
The Merry Wives of Windsor was registered to Arthur Johnson by assignment from John Busby in January 1602, and duly published in Quarto format in that same year by T.C. [i.e. Thomas Creede] for Arthur Johnson as 'A most pleasaunt and excellent conceited Comedie...By William Shakespeare. As it hath been diuers times Acted by the right Honourable my Lord Chamberlaines seruants [i.e. the company Shakespeare had joined eight years earlier, and with which he then remained all his working life] Both before her Maiestie and elsewhere'. (305) The same edition was reprinted by Jaggard early in the next century. But the play included as the third in the Comedy section of the 1623 Folio (502) was much longer and (by general consensus) better. So what is the relation of the two texts? Nobody doubted that the Quarto version represented Shakespeare's first thoughts until one P.A. Daniel found it 'very difficult to believe him capable at any time in his career of such a performance' (Daniel 1881). That opened the door for W.W. Greg. To this day, nobody bothers about Q1's 'By William Shakespeare', or its alleged insult to the Lord Chamberlain, or to Queen Elizabeth the First, or to its deluded and defrauded general public.
But shall we test this theory? If it is right, then the Quarto version could not possibly have been set up from authorial copy, whereas the Folio version must have been. So, in an age of extreme variability in spelling and so forth, the two texts were prima facie entirely different. Unfortunately for the theory, they are not. In particular, since F 1623 is authentically Shakespearean in origin, any idiosyncrasies that it may contain must derive from him and not from any compositor or copyists, since it was their function to normalise and regularise (not abnormalise and irregularise) his papers. There is no reason, conversely, why any of them should appear in Q1 or Q2 at all. However, they do. So the theory of Q1 as a 'memorial reconstruction', enthusiastically adopted by all modern editors, is just wrong. Many experts, both professional and lay, have rejected it, on rational grounds, e.g. that there is no actual evidence for it and all the extant evidence (as cited above, for example) stands foursquare against it. But no modern editor has taken the least notice. Here, for the first time, is a refutation based solidly on fact.
The Merry Wives of Windsor