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geously, and leaning on her majesty's chair with the air of one that is privileged to say what he lists, ever and anon making of such remarks as the circumstances seemed to give good warrant for; and joining in her majesty's mirth, whenever it was exhibited, with a heartiness which shewed that in such instances, to play the courtier was nothing but natural to him. It was remarked of all, that never had the queen looked so gracious, for she kept turning and smiling upon the handsome nobleman at her side, and saying of this thing and that thing after so amiable a fashion; and commended Master Shakspeare so liberally, that the whole court were moved with admiration. All present appeared in an excellent fine humour, and listened with the very profoundest attention. Some looked to be in a continual smile-others frequently did indulge themselves with a giggle-and some few, who seemed as though they could not confine their mirth within such modest bounds, must needs laugh aloud.
By this time Master Shakspeare had got into the third act of his play, which hath become so singularly liked of the world, under the title of “ The Merry Wives of Windsor," and that it lacked nothing in the reading of it is beyond all possibility of doubt. Indeed it may be said, without starting from the truth any great way, so altered he his voice, and expressed he the dialogue
with such a natural manner, that any one, at the shutting of his eyes, might have fancied he heard many different persons. In truth, there wanted no more actors. He was the whole Dramatis Persona in himself. This excellent talent of his made his hearers receive the scene of the challenge between the choleric Welchman and the equally incensed French Doctor, in the field nigh unto Frogmore, with wonderful admiration. But when came Sir John Falstaff put into the buck-basket by the merry wives, and the account he gives of it to the jealous husband, surely nothing could exceed the delight with which it was received.
* In honest truth, Master Shakspeare,” cried the queen very merrily, “that fat knight of yours is like to make our sides ache. Oh, the absolute villain! Oh, the monstrous rogue! I'faith 'tis in excellent conceit. We are taken with the humour of it mightily. What say you, my lord,” exclaimed ta queen, turning to her favourite, 6 doth it not
em to you as ridiculous as heart could wish?"
“ Please your majesty, never have I been so taken with any play," replied the Lord Essex.
66 It hath in it a wonderful store of wit certainly--indeed, I take it to be as rare a device of the mind as was ever writ.”
“ What say you, my Lady Howard,” enquired her majesty, turning round to the Lady Howard of
Walden, who was to the left of her, “ think
the villainous old fellow was well served of those inerry wives, by being stuffed into the buck-basket, and then cast into the ditch at Datchet mead?”
s indeed, please your majesty, methinks he had the very properest reward for his abominable impudency,” answered her ladyship. « I would have served him worse, for I would have had the greasy rogue smothered to death, or drowned outright.”
Nay, that's too bad of you," observed the queen, “ 'twould be but right to let him live and repent him of his misdoings. But, odds my life, he be so droll a fish none should have the heart to kill him.”
“O’my word, so think I,” added my Lord Essex, “your majesty hath expressed the very drift of my mind in this. I must say I like the varlet hugely, and consider a ducking or so a very fitting punishment for his offences."
Nay, I think it be monstrous of him, at his time of life, that he should be gallanting of two women at once—and they married too !” cried Lady Blanche Somerset, who was somewhat of a prude.
6 Married two !” exclaimed my Lord Bumble, who had heard not enough of what had passed to give him a proper knowledge of the matter. “5 Married two did he? that be clean bigamy: that is to say, if he had marriage of one whilst the other was
above ground; but if one of the two shall have become a defunct, then shall there be no harm in't.”
“ Proceed, Master Shakspeare," said the queen; and not without a smile at the mistake of her lord in waiting, which seemed to have amused many. “We are marvellously anxious to learn how Sir 3. speeds in his wooing.”
1 ster Shakspeare had said nothing hitherto, yet dia he seem in no way abashed at being among so many people of worship, for he turned his intelligent eyes from one to the other as either spoke, as if regarding with some amusement the variety of characters before him, as each displayed some distinct feature in what was said, or in the manner of saying it. Then fell he to the perusing of the fourth act, in the very first scene of which, where the Welsh parson is trying of the boy in his Latin grammar, the queen once or twice did put up her fan and giggled very prettily, and thereupon her ladies seemed wonderfully confused, and giggled also; and the lords and gentlemen smiled somewhat: but when in the next scene Sir John Falstaff is in such a wonderful anxiousness to escape, in consequence of Mistress Page bringing intelligence of Master Ford being a coining from birding, with a whole company to search the house for him; and the jealousy of the husband is made so manifest, and he beateth the old knight in his disguise,
taking him for to be the fat woman of Brentford, whose dress he weareth, every one appeared to laugh till their ribs were like to crack.
5 Better and better !” exclaimed the queen, in evident delight, when he came to the ending of the act. “ These be merry wives indeed! l'faith ’tis the difficultest thing possible to say which serve they out the best-Master Jealous-pate the husband, or that huge piece of roguery Sir John Falstaff. Is it not so, my lord ?”
“Without doubt,” replied my Lord Essex, “Nothing have I seen in play or history so painted to the life. That your majesty hath extreme discrimination in the detection of that which be most admirable where there is much excellence, what hath just fallen from you proves.”
Nay, my lord, you flatter,” said her majesty, smiling upon him all the time very graciously. “ We have but an indifferent judgment in these things. Our opinion must be scarce worth the having. Mayhap we have just wit enough to know the good from the bad: but, indeed, that be all our poor knowledge can lay claim to.”
« That will I never believe, please your majesty,' cried my Lord Henry Howard, who was close behind her chair. - For of all human creatures that breathed, never met I one that came at all nigh unto your majesty in niceness of judgment; not only upon such matters as are now honoured with