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Merry Wives of Windsor


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A romantic comedy by Shakespeare printed in a ‘bad’ quarto (1602); the Folio text (1623) is twice as long. The tradition that it was written at the request of Elizabeth I for a play showing Falstaff in love is documented no earlier than 1702(by J. Dennis).

Falstaff, who is ‘out at heels’, determines to make love to the wives of Ford and Page, two gentlemen dwelling at Windsor, because they have the rule of their husband's purses. Nym and Pistol, the discarded followers of Falstaff, warn the husbands. Falstaff sends identical love‐letters to Mrs Ford and Mrs Page, who contrive the discomfiture of the knight. At a first assignation at Ford's house, on the arrival of the husband, they hide Falstaff in a basket, cover him with foul linen, and have him tipped into a muddy ditch. At a second assignation, they disguise him as the ‘fat woman of Brainford’, in which character he is soundly beaten by Ford. The jealous husband having also been twice fooled, the plot is now revealed to him, and a final assignation is given to Falstaff in Windsor Forest at Herne's oak (see Herne The Hunter), where he is beset and pinched by mock fairies and finally seized and exposed by Ford and Page.

The sub‐plot is concerned with the wooing of Anne, the daughter of Page, by three suitors: Doctor Caius, a French physician, Slender, the foolish cousin of Justice Shallow, and Fenton, a wild young gentleman, whom Anne loves. Mistress Quickly, servant to Dr Caius, acts as go‐between for all three suitors, and encourages them all impartially. Fenton, after much interference and plotting on behalf of the suitors, finally runs away with Anne and marries her.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.


Reference entries

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Authors

William Shakespeare (1564—1616) playwright and poet


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