Shakespeare and The Merry Wives of Windsor

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I adore Shakespeare. I’ve read at least half of his works. I’ve seen dozens of his plays performed. In college I took a class completely devoted to learning how to read and interpret his writing. I’ve visited the Globe in England and every time I read a new play of his I find a new reason to love his work.

His writing isn’t perfect. He ripped story lines from others and his plays can be repetitive. He can be long-winded when he wants to, but all-in-all, there’s more brilliance than hot air there. When Shakespeare ran out of words to express what he was feeling, he invented them! That’s just amazing. Not only did he invent words, but they are ones that stuck and that we still use today.

I love his wit. He was incredibly funny. Many of his jokes were topical, so they aren’t nearly as amusing to us as they were to audiences that lived during his lifespan. It’s like someone watching an episode of Saturday Night Live from 30 years ago and expecting to catch every joke from the weekend update.

The Merry Wives of Windsor
by William Shakespeare

On to the The Merry Wives of Windsor. This isn’t my favorite play, it isn’t even my favorite comedy by the Bard, but it is entertaining. It’s well-known purely because it brought back a fan-favorite, Sir John Falstaff (from the Henry IV history plays).

The basic plot is as follows, that well-loved pompous old fool, Falstaff, decides to seduce two of the married ladies in the town of Windsor. The confusion that ensues is almost like a French farce. People run in, doors slam, identities are mistaken, etc. In other words, good times.

Always the idiot, Falstaff makes the mistake of wooing two women who happen to be best friends. Mistress Ford and Mistress Page both receive love letter from the fat knight and devise a plan to trap and mock him. Mistress Ford’s husband ends up as collateral damage when he’s led to believe his wife is actually cheating on him.

What sets this play apart from his many others is the fact that it’s the only one set in contemporary (for Shakespeare) England. Most of his other plays either took place in the past or in another country. The subplot involves a husband and wife (the Pages) who are trying to marry their daughter off to men she doesn't love. The clever daughter evades her parents' wishes by coming up with a tricky solution of her own to get the man she truly loves.

If you're new to Shakespeare, see it live first! It's a play, it was meant to be seen and not just read. Once you've done that, explore the beauty of his writing. Much Ado About Nothing is a great place to start in the comedies and Hamlet remains my favorite tragedy... so far.

---One side note, if you’re looking for a definitive edition of Shakespeare, I would highly recommend the The Riverside Shakespeare. It is massive (like five inches thick), but I love it.

*Photo from the 2010 Globe performance


B said...

Which is your favorite of the comedies? I always loved TAMING OF THE SHREW and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, though I haven't read Merry Wives.
I was never a fan of his historical plays - the Henry's or the Richard's - but there is definitely something to be said about his comedies!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I love Much Ado, the verbal sparring is just so great. I think Twelfth Night is probably my favorite comedy. I'm with you on the Histories. I struggle to get into those.

April BooksAndWine said...

I totally suck at Shakespeare and only ever read the ones required for school, with the aid of Sparknotes, but I think I'd like to try his plays. Like, I love the adaptations of Taming Of The Shrew that I've seen, namely Ten Things I Hate About You. Good tip about seeing the play first then reading it. Also, will have to try Much Ado About Nothing.

And you know, the plot of The Merry Wives Of Windsor sounds ridiculous and awesome.

Mumsy said...

O Melissa, you are right about Shakespeare but wrong about the best comedy, which is OBVIOUSLY Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night is pure awesome goodness with laughsauce on top.

Mumsy said...

Whoops! Didn't see your comment! So you are not wrong about ANYTHING! What an excellent day to be you!

LindyLouMac said...

It is great to read this post and see how much you appreciate Shakespeare. I think more people would do so if they were taught to enjoy his work by good teachers.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

April - I love 10 Things I Hate About You, such a great movie!

Mumsy - Ha, at least we're of the same opinion! I was trying to describe the plot of Twelfth Night the other day and realized how ridiculous it sounds. It is so good though!

Lindy - Shakespeare gets a bad rap as being "boring" or "difficult" but he is so funny! I wish more people understood that.