What Planet is This?

27 Jul 2005

Halliwell-Phillipps on the Merry Wives

In all things Shakespearean, the name of James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps often quietly pops up. He's not the most lauded of Shakespeare scholars, but he perhaps should be. Peter Levi once said of him that the "impression of those of his works that I have read has been that not all of his scholarship has been distilled into the later scholarly literature. There are crumbs and tatters of evidence for this and that in the life of Shakespeare that lurk forgotten in the pages of Halliwell-Phillipps" (1988, p.382).

One of those crumbs or tatters may even be online, in the form of a pamphlet about the Merry Wives of Windsor. It's a common legend that Elizabeth I commissioned Shakespeare to write the Merry Wives through wanting to see Falstaff in love, and that Shakespeare whipped it up in two weeks. It's one of his densest plays in terms of wordplay, though, so for the legend to be true he would've had to have been working particularly frantically.

The pamphlet of Halliwell's is dated ⅯⅮⅭⅭⅩⅬⅠⅠⅠ, i.e. 1743, which I take to be a typo for 1843. Certainly, Halliwell didn't take on the Phillipps part of his name until 1872, so it must've been produced before then. In it, he describes textual variations of Merry Wives contained in a playhouse script from "the time of the Commonwealth" which he believes to be derived from a line independent to that of our received text. In fact, Halliwell seems to believe that it's the only existing derivation of a manuscript of Shakespeare's plays.

His evidence for believing this 1649–1660 text to be a more authoritative version of Merry Wives is, though, fairly compelling in places. There are many emendations to the text that feel too pointless but consistent to be those of a non-authorial editor. For example, the part in II.ii that goes as follows in the received text:

Ford. There is a gentlewoman in this town, her husband's name is Ford.
Fal. Well, sir.
Ford. I have long loved her, and I protest to you, bestowed much on her.

Is oddly different in this manuscript:

Ford. There is a gentleman in this town, his name is Ford, whose wife I have long loved.
Fal. Well, sir.
Ford. And, I protest to you, bestowed much on her.

There are many other such changes, so much so that Halliwell says that were he to publish them all it would be "necessary to reprint the greater part of the play". It's disappointing, however, that he neglected to include Mrs. Quickly's speech from III.iv, which he says is "entirely different from that in the printed editions". I'm not sure whether this manuscript exists now, of course, and if it does it would be pretty difficult to track down.

It also clears up some interesting editorial questions over the received text, in places, sometimes with disturbingly brief and obvious emendations. For example, the received text of III.iii:

Fal. I see what thou wert, if Fortune thy foe were not, Nature thy friend: Come, thou canst not hide it.

Is given as follows in the manuscript:

Fal. I see what thou wert, if Fortune thy foe were not, Nature's thy friend: Come, thou canst not hide it.

What a difference a possessive makes! On the other hand, Googling for some of the emendations that the manuscript suggests brings to light the fact that Halliwell's pamphlet doesn't seem to have been accepted into any modern edition, into any of the later scholarly literature that Levi talks about. I'm not sure whether this is just from oversight, though, or whether it's been seriously considered and rejected, and Halliwell himself says that he leaves "to others the question how far these emendations may be safely admitted into an edition of Shakespeare".

Either way, if anyone knows anything more about this matter, I would of course very much appreciate being contacted about it.

Cite: Palmer, S.B. (2005). "Halliwell-Phillipps on the Merry Wives", in: What Planet is This?
Archival URI: http://inamidst.com/notes/halliwellmerry


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