The Merry Wives of Windsor
- A comedy by Shakespeare, first performed in about 1597 inLondon; according to tradition it was written in a hurry to pleaseQueen Elizabeth, who had asked to see Falstaff in love. Theplay is generally considered one of Shakespeare's weakest works; inparticular, the Falstaff of The Merry Wives seems a pale imitationof the great figure of the Henry IV plays. Nevertheless, KarlMarx later wrote:In the first act alone of The Merry Wives of Windsorthere is more life and movement than in all German literature.It is the only one of Shakespeare's plays to have a contemporarymiddle-class setting and to be written mainly in prose.
When Beerbohm Tree presented the play for the coronationof Edward VII in 1902, he deliberately cast Madge Kendaland Ellen Terry as the two wives, knowing how much they hatedeach other. Tree hid in a box to watch their encounter at the firstrehearsal but was disappointed when they behaved with the utmost dignity.
The story concerns Falstaff's attempts to seduce MistressFord and Mistress Page, the wives of the title, as a means ofgetting his hands on their husbands' wealth. The wives discover thathe has sent them identical love letters and devise a series of plotsto humiliate him. Accordingly Falstaff is forced to hide in a basketof stinking linen, thrown into a ditch, beaten by Ford, and tormentedby a troupe of bogus fairies.