Alleged to be written at the
command of Queen Elizabeth I, who wanted to see Falstaff,
Shakespeare’s ever-popular conniving rogue, in love, this is in fact a
story of his comeuppance. Falstaff, as always, is short of money. To put
this right, he woes the Merry Wives, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page,
with the intention of using his charms to live off them, financially. He
makes the mistake of sending them identical love letters. They meet and
compare and decide to set up a series of situations to teach him a
lesson. They succeed with panache and Falstaff is thrown in the Thames
with the laundry, beaten black and blue with a stick, and pinched and
burnt by a fairy troupe in “haunted” Windsor Forest.
Not only are the wives manipulating him but Master Ford as well. Made
suspicious by the goings-on he is keen to test the his wife’s fidelity. He
pretends to be another suitor to his own wife, and engages Falstaff to
woe Mistress Ford in his stead.
A number of comedy character parts inhabit this play, greatly adding to
the confusion and complications: Bardolph, Nym and Pistol and Mistress
Quickley make an appearance from the earlier Henry IV Parts 1 and II
and from Henry V. Hilarity is increased by the machinations of Anne
Page and her suitors, the totally unsuitable Slender and Dr Caius. Anne
and a more appropriate young man Fenton, trick them all and appear at
the end married.
The play is often performed in an outside setting, so that as the evening
darkens, the haunted atmosphere of “still midnight” in Windsor Forest
(Act V) can be recreated with natural sounds, shadowy trees and flitting
Perhaps one of the slighter of Shakespeare’s comedies, it nevertheless
remains popular in performance and offers some lively opportunities for
(Reference: Nicholas Rowe in is “Life of Shakespeare” prefixing the
edition of the 1709 “Plays” writes that the Queen was so pleased with
the character of Falstaff that she commanded Shakespeare to write him
into another play and make him in love.
Approximate date of play: 1602)