Theatre / The Merry Wives of Windsor

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The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comic play by William Shakespeare.

Sir John Falstaff attempts to seduce two married ladies, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford; neither is impressed by him, and they conspire to subject him to a succession of practical jokes. A subplot concerns Mistress Page's daughter Anne, whose parents want her to marry, but can't agree on which of her suitors she should choose, while she herself prefers a man neither of her parents approves of.

Falstaff had previously appeared as a supporting character in Shakespeare's historical plays, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, but here appears in a contemporary setting.

Not one of Shakespeare's stronger efforts, the play is thought to have been commissioned for a specific occasion and written in a hurry. The characters are all stock, the A-plot and B-plot are barely even aware of each other, the exposition gets especially clunky in the build-up to the finale and it's all Strictly Formula. But Falstaff remains a joyously Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist, and the unsuccessful suitors are two of the purest buffoons in the Shakespearean canon. With a few edits and a good cast it's a great way to kill an hour and a half. There is a persistent story that Queen Elizabeth, after seeing Henry IV, ordered Shakespeare to write a play about "Falstaff in love," but this story first appeared decades after Shakespeare's death in the writings of the dramatist John Dennis — who just happened to be promoting his own rewrite of the play at the time. (It was a flop.)

This appears to be one of the few plays for which Shakespeare came up with an original plotnote . At least three operas have been based on the play: one with music by Otto Nicolai, one by Ralph Vaughn Williams, and one, under the title of Falstaff, by Giuseppe Verdi.

The Merry Wives of Windsor provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Falstaff, Slender.
  • Dog Latin: Played with during William's Latin exam and Mistress Quickly's comments throughout the lesson:
    Hugh Evans: What is he, William, that does lend articles?
    William: Articles are borrowed of the pronoun, and be thus declined: Singulariter, nominativo, hic, haec, hoc.
    Hugh Evans: Nominativo, hig, hag, hog; pray you, mark: ''genitivo:, hujus''. Well, what is your accusative case?
    William: Accusativo, hinc.
    Hugh Evans: I pray you, have your remembrance, child; Accusativo, hung, hang, hog.
    Mistress Quickly: "Hang hog" is Latin for bacon, I warrant you.
  • Exact Words: "To Master Brook [i.e. Ford] you yet shall keep your word/For he tonight shall lie with Mistress Ford."
  • Funetik Aksent: Shakespeare writes out Hugh's Welsh accent and Doctor Caius's French accent.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Sir Hugh Evans teaches the boy William Page what the "focative case" is, which is a play on the word "vocative" and the offending "f-word", according to Cracked.com.
    Hugh Evans: What is your genitive case, William?
    William: Genitive case?
    Hugh Evans: Ay.
    William: Genitive, horum, harum, horum.
    Mistress Quickly: Vengeance of Jenny's case! Fie on her! Never name her, child, if she be a whore.
    Hugh Evans: For shame, 'oman!
    Mistress Quickly: You do ill to teach the child such words! He teaches him to hick and to hack, which they'll do fast enough of themselves, and to call "horum", fie upon you!
  • Graceful Loser: Falstaff happily accepts that he deserves his humiliation at the end.
  • Humiliation Conga: Falstaff's entire plotline is this.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Ford learns of Falstaff's intentions toward his wife, and spends part of the play believing that she reciprocates them.
  • The Musical: Or rather, The Opera. It was adapted by both Giuseppe Verdi and Antonio Salieri.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Falstaff as the Witch of Brentford and Ford as Brook.
  • Zany Scheme: Anne's parents each come up with one to let their respective preferred son-in-law-to-be elope with Anne while everybody's preoccupied with Falstaff's Humiliation Conga.
    • Counter Zany: In the denouement, the two preferred suitors discover they've eloped with decoy Annes while the real thing has eloped with her preferred suitor.


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