The Merry Wives of Windsor
- This article refers to the play by William Shakespeare. For the opera by Carl Otto Nicolai of the same name, see Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy by William Shakespeare, published in 1602 but probably written as early as 1597. It seems to have been written between The Second Part of King Henry IV and The Famous Life of King Henry V and, like them, features the fat and cowardly knight, Sir John Falstaff who had first appeared in The First Part of King Henry IV. It may have been intended as comic relief amidst the four great histories that began with The Tragedy of Richard II, all written between 1595 and 1599.
Falstaff, down on luck and money, decides to seduce Mistress Alice Ford and Mistress Meg Page (the “merry wives” of the title,) both of whom have control of their husbands’ finances. He writes them love letters which, of course, are revealed to the women as identical. They decide on revenge. To complicate matters Mistress Ford’s husband, Frank, is told that Falstaff is in love with his wife and he also seeks revenge – twice, Falstaff is forced to flee or disguise himself from Frank’s wrath; first he is persuaded by the wives to escape in a laundry basket which is promptly thrown into a muddy ditch, then dressed by them as “Mother Pratt” and finds himself soundly beaten anyway as the jealous husband takes his frustrations out on the poor fat “woman” who he found at Falstaff's lodgings
Finally the ladies’ machinations are revealed to their husbands and a plot is hatched to lure Falstaff to Windsor Forest to be frightened and humiliated by mock fairies, then exposed as the cad he is by the husbands.
There is a sub-plot - the wooing of the Pages' daughter, Anne, by three men, Doctor Caius, the foolish Slender and Fenton, a young man whom she loves. During the fun and games in the forest each of her parents attempts to have her carried off by the man of their choice only to find she has already married and run off with Fenton and the other two have been chasing a boy in disguise.
The play ends with Falstaff being forgiven, even by Frank, and Mr Page accepting the marriage of his daughter to Fenton.
As well as the Nicolai opera above, the play was given the treatment by Verdi: “Falstaff” his last opera - and Ralph Vaughan Williams as the opera “Sir John in Love”. (The tune “Greensleeves” first appeared in classical guise as a result of its use in this opera and the final forest scene was set by RVW as a secular cantata, “In Windsor Forest.”)
Open Source Shakespeare - The Merry Wives of Windsor