The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy written by William Shakespeare. Although first published in 1602, it is believed to have been written before 1597 and features Sir John Falstaff, who plays a prominent role in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Tradition holds that Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Shakespeare to write a play showing Falstaff in love. It is therefore believed that the play’s first performance took place at the Garter Feast in April 1597.
Other than having Falstaff appear, the play makes no mention of any historical setting. The play opens with the broke Falstaff deciding to court two wealthy married women in order to improve his finances, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. When his servants refuse to deliver letters, he fires them, and they tell the women’s husbands. However, when the ladies finally do get the letters, they discover that the letters are identical. Neither one is interesting in the old, fat Falstaff, but pretend to respond to his offers for amusement and revenge.
Several tricks are played on Falstaff, and the wives and their husbands play one last trick, humiliating Falstaff in front of the whole town. Falstaff takes it well. Everyone agrees to return home for a good laugh. Many critics classify this as one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays, finding Falstaff vastly different that as portrayed in Henry IV. However the exploration of sexual innuendo and class-consciousness give the play a more modern sensibility.