Friday, April 15, 2016

Merry Wives of Windsor - Shakespeare

This play was entirely new to me.  It involves certain members of the Henry IV books, specifically Falstaff and his gang, so I wanted to wait until I was done with the 'Henriad' to read it.  The only thing I knew about it was that it was very lightly regarded.  I was curious if it deserved that ranking.

The plot is fairly straightforward.  Falstaff (and his motley crew) go to the small town of Windsor.  While there, Falstaff decides that he would like to have an affair with one of two married women, either Mistress Ford or Mistress Page.  He kicks things off by sending each of them an identical letter proposing a fling.  This backfires as they immediately compare notes.  Mistress Ford will have nothing to do with him, but Mistress Page decides to pull a trick on him.  She will invite him over secretly but then have him abused in various ways.
Meanwhile, her husband, Mr Page, gets wind of the letters.  He distrusts his wife and so tries to catch the two of them in the act.  He does this by approaching Falstaff under a false name and offering him money if he can cuckold Ford (i.e. himself).  Falstaff lets him in on the plans and continually gets caught (and abused).
Meanwhile, there is a subplot about the Ford daughter and who she should marry.  The father and mother want different men and the daughter has her own choice.  It's very straightforward and easy to see what will happen.

Yes, the comedy is slight and somewhat baffling.  This may be a performance that you really have to watch to get.  There is a Welsh parson and a French doctor that bicker in strange accents.  Bardolph, Pistol and Nym are there but none of them seem to make sense.  Worst of all, Falstaff seems to have lost all of his cleverness from the Henry IV plays.
There are some interesting bones to the play though.  It's easy enough to imagine a modern remake in which some romancer sends identical emails to two women in the same yoga class.  The conspire to make an ass of him and teach him better respect of women.  The details are simple enough, but even that doesn't sound like enough of a plot, does it?

About a month ago, I looked a series of lectures that W.H. Auden gave on Shakespeare.  For 'Merry Wives of Windsor' he simply played the Verdi opera, 'Falstaff'.  He said that the opera was the only good thing to come of this play.  He may be right.


  1. Nice review. I've never read this play. I would like to hear Auden's lectures. I bet they're really interesting.

  2. Nice review. I've never read this play. I would like to hear Auden's lectures. I bet they're really interesting.