The Merry Wives of Windsor

This may be my new favorite play.

Seriously, this thing was freaking hilarious, the sort of thing I threw down multiple times and exclaimed, “why is this not done more often?”  Of everything I have read so far, even the awesome Sixes, I strongly recommend that everybody read it.  The thing is crazy, and hilarious, and you will laugh out loud.

Trust me. It's ridiculous.

This play is a spin-off of the comedic bits in the Henry IV plays, featuring Falstaff, Bardolph, and Pistol, before they die horrible deaths in Henry V.  Unlike most Shakespearean comedies, where one person puts on a disguise to some end, Merry Wives of Windsor has everyone messing with everyone.

Here’s the plot, in Falstaff’s words: “Briefly, I do mean to make love to Ford’s wife: I spy entertainment in her; she discourses, she carves, she gives the leer of invitation.” The play is one big beaver hunt.

No, the other type of beaver.

Of course, Mistress Ford was only being a good hostess when she was friendly towards Falstaff, and she is absolutely disgusted by the idea of this fat knight.  She confides in her best friend, Mistress Page, and wonders, “What tempest, I trow, threw this whale, with so many tuns of oil in his belly, ashore at Windsor?  How shall I be revenged?” A wonderful question.  The rest of the play his her attempt to answer.  The two women happily lead the fat man on, but her husband Ford hears about Falstaff’s bragging and gets very jealous.  He disguises himself as someone named “Master Brook,” and asks Falstaff to help woo Mistress Ford.  Yeah, it’s a weird plan, but jealous lovers do weird stuff.  This way, Ford learns about his wife’s plans to meet with Falstaff, but has no idea that it is all a joke.  When she hears about her husband’s end of the scheme, Mistress Ford exclaims “I know not which pleases me better, that my husband is decieved, or Sir John.”

Like this show, but with more fidelity.

This creates a brilliant device for Falstaff to get into trouble.  The first time Ford tries to capture the knight in the act, the “old fat fellow” hides in the laundry, and gets carried out of the house by the servant.  They then dump the laundry in the river.  Falstaff’s monologue when he returns to the bar is one of the funniest things I have ever read.  I am obliged to include it here, in it’s entirety.

Have I lived to be carried in a basket, like a barrow of butcher’s offal, and to be thrown in the Thames? Well, if I be served such another trick, I’ll have my brains ta’en out and buttered, and give them to a dog for a new-year’s gift. The rogues slighted me into the river with as little remorse as they would have drowned a blind bitch’s puppies, fifteen i’ the litter: and you may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking; if the bottom were as deep as hell, I should down. I had been drowned, but that the shore was shelvy and shallow,–a death that I abhor; for the water swells a man; and what a thing should I have been when I had been swelled! I should have been a mountain of mummy.”

The hilarious image in my head was not readily found on Google. Here's a soul-shatteringly terrifying image, instead.

He then comes back to the house a second time, led on by Mistress Ford, and then he has to sneak out of the house dressed as one of the servant’s mothers.  In particular, he dresses as “the fat woman of Brainford,” a suspected witch that Ford hates.  Though Falstaff escapes, he is beaten “into all the colours of the rainbow” by Ford as he leaves.  Still, the merry wives convince him to meet a third time, this time in the woods.  Trying to push the envelope as far s possible, they suggest he dress up as some sort of kinky role-play, a folk-character named “Herne the Hunter,” who traditionally wears a huge set of horns on his head.

Women: If you promise a desperate man sex, he will do very ridiculous things to accomodate you.

By then, however, the women have let their husbands in on the prank.  Actually, they have let the entire town of Windsor in on the prank, and enlist the children to dress up as fairies in the woods.  The scene that follows is like a bad acid-trip version of Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Yeah, that image of Tim Curry as the Devil at the beginning of this post makes a lot more sense now, doesn't it?

They wind up tricking Falstaff into thinking that he has offended actual forest spirits, and “the supposed fairies pinch him sound, And burn him with their tapers” to see if he is mortal or not.  The scene is ridiculous and, more importantly, timelessly funny.  The women reveal their prank, Ford learns to stop being jealous and just love his wife, and everyone has a grand time.  Oh, and Page has a daughter who gets married offstage, resolving a subplot that also runs throughout the play and involves most of the town (I don’t want to spoil all of it for you).

I don’t know why this play isn’t done more often.  You don’t even have to do anything with it!  I mean update it if you want to, set it in Windsor Connecticut or something, but it’s just people running around acting like idiots for a good while and at the end of it we see a married couple resolve their jealousy issues.  It’s lovely.

Just like Connecticut during Fall. Complete with elitist idiots (or meth-heads, depending on which part of the state you are from).

Really, I don’t have much else to say about this play.  It’s great, funny characters, strong female roles, absurd finale, you couldn’t want anything more.  Well, how about this funny bit from Ford, after he talks to Page about Falstaff’s sexy ambitions:  “Page is an ass, a secure ass: he will trust his wife; he will not be jealous. I will rather trust” he exclaims – “an Irishman with my aqua-vitae bottle, or a thief with my ambling gelding, than my wife with herself.” Because there’s nothing funnier than taking a shot at the Irish.

It's a type of racism that will never go out of style, mostly because we think it's funny too.

Actually no, I won’t end it on that quote.  There’s another one that I want to share, mostly because it describes my outlook on life at the moment: “Why, then the world’s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.”

See you soon for Measure for Measure!

5 Responses to “The Merry Wives of Windsor”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] it’s moments, and it has the best and most intelligent cast of female characters outside of Merry Wives of Windsor.  For that alone it’s probably worth staging, and my male perspective is just making me […]

  2. […] Coriolanus was a weaker version of Timon of Athens, I feel like this play is a weaker version of Merry Wives of Windsor. I can’t bring myself to call it bad, but it has a great hollowness to it. It’s funny, […]

  3. […] are valued for their chastity, and regardless of their other qualities it is the chastity that makes or breaks their full value.  The brothel-bound Marina, in Pericles, is another great example of […]

  4. […] of my favorite characters in all of Shakespeare: Thersites, a crazy Greek bastard who’s like Falstaff and Apemantus rolled into one.  Actually, yes, I’m going to share some of my favorite lines […]

  5. […] to recognize this as Shakespeare’s best comedy!  I really, really wanted this slot to go to Merry Wives of Windsor, but I realized that it’s really just a personal favorite comedy and not among the top 5 best […]

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