This one’s probably the easiest play to read, other than Romeo and Juliet, so far. I have to say I really got into it and it wasn’t overly complex as far as the action goes. That could be because Shakespeare intended it to be a contemporary story for his contemporary audience, and didn’t have to use more archaic phrasings and references for his characters.
The Merry Wives of Windsor still needs careful attention, however. Sir John Falstaff (known as Prince Hal’s drinking buddy in I Henry IV, but was named Oldham in my copy of that play) is in Windsor. He’s determined to seduce Mistresses Page and Ford, who have a lot of money and some freedom from their husbands. He sends each letters declaring his love for them, but they meet up and notice the wording is exact (except for their names), and they decide to play a trick on Sir John. However, the servants sent to deliver the letters are disgusted by Sir John’s liberties, and tell the husbands about the letters. Page trusts his wife; Ford does not.
This sets in motion the main plot of the play, and a really interesting, twisting, turning road for our characters.
A side story involves Anne Page, who is being pursued by a few idiots that come and go in the story. One is Slender, a man who is so indecisive and doesn’t seem to be able to speak to Anne, so much so his uncle Shallow must do the talking! Another is the French doctor Caius. Both men have plenty of money and each Page parent has a different preference. But Anne prefers Fenton, a young handsome man without wealth but high born, who is honest with Anne and they are in love.
When I first started reading this, I had some trouble because I was convinced that there was a mistake in the printing. Several b’s were turned to p’s, and v’s to f’s, and d’s to t’s. Then I realized that was elaborating on pronunciation for the Welsh and French characters and it got easier to deal with.
This is one of those plays I think anybody could enjoy, and let’s just say the ending’s pretty satisfying. The meetings between the ladies and Falstaff are so much fun to read…and I’d love to see this one on the stage.
Now, for some notable quotables:
SIR JOHN: I have writ me here a letter to her–and here another to Page’s wife, who even now gave me good eyes too, examined my parts with most judicious oeillades; sometimes the beam of her view gilded my food, sometimes my portly belly.
PISTOL: Then did the sun on dunghill shine.
NIM: I thank thee for that humour.
SIR JOHN: O, she did so course o’er my exteriors, with such a greedy intention, that the appetite of her eye did seem to scorch me up like a burning-glass! Here’s another letter to her. She bears the purse too. She is a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty. I will be cheaters to them both, and they shall be exchequers to me. They shall be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both. (Giving a letter to Pistol) Go bear thou this letter to Mistress Page, (giving a letter to Nim) and thou this to Mistress Ford. We will thrive, lads, we will thrive.
–Act 1, Scene 3
FORD: …I will rather trust a Fleming with my butter, Parson Hugh the Welshman with my cheese, an Irishman with my aqua-vitae bottle, or a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife with herself. Then she plots, then she ruminates, then she devises; and what they think in their hearts they may effect, they will break their hearts but they will effect. God be praised for my jealousy! Eleven o-clock the hour, I will prevent this, detect my wife, be revenged on Falstaff, and laugh at Page. I will about it. Better three hours too soon than a minute too late. God’s my life: cuckold, cuckold, cuckold!
–Act 2, Scene 2