Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Windsor. Town on the River Thames that is the play’s principal setting. Windsor is also the site of Windsor Castle, about twenty miles west of the center of London. Landmarks in the town include the great park and the castle, Datchet Mead, the road to Frogmore, the Garter Inn, the great oak in the forest, the nearby sawpit, and the castle ditch, in which Thomas Page conceals himself with Justice Shallow and Shallow’s simple-minded nephew, Slender. The play’s Windsor is a solid, comfortable community that takes pride in itself. Apart from the decadent knight Sir John Falstaff, Master Fenton, Justice Shallow, and Slender, all the characters in the play are citizens of Windsor.
*Garter Inn. Windsor meeting place of Falstaff and his cohorts. The setting provides another perspective of Windsor society and affords Falstaff a place in which to hatch his scheme to replenish his finances by wooing Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, the wives of two substantial citizens.
Caius’s house. Home of the stupid French doctor Caius that is the scene of sheer farce, in which the eccentric Frenchman is satirized. Production designers avail themselves of the opportunity to embellish the set with extra doors and paraphernalia that add to the scene’s zaniness.
Herne’s oak. Site of Falstaff’s third adventure, where he...
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The Merry Wives of Windsor focuses on how a community establishes and preserves its own standards. Outsiders like Falstaff, Fenton, Caius, and Evans cause a wide range of threats to Windsor's inhabitants. Evans and Caius threaten the conventions of language use that other characters rely on: the Welsh Evans has an accent, and Caius frequently misunderstands English expressions and imports French words into his speech. Even native speakers within the community often lack language skills— Mistress Quickly mistakes Latin for vulgar English, and Slender frequently mistakes the prefixes and suffixes of words. But language is nevertheless used by the characters to define an inside group and an outside group; and foreigners are on the outside. They are the object of the host's tricks, and remain the subject of humor throughout the play. There are many ways in which modern communities use language to distinguish among groups, and sometimes to exclude certain people or groups of people. For example, slang associated with younger people often receives ridicule and rejection from the adult community.
Falstaff poses a different kind of threat to the community of Windsor: he uses language exceedingly well, and in fact he is fully in control of his own jokes, fully capable of mocking other people (and himself) through language. But his cleverness also works against him. The very ruse he sets up to earn himself money reveals his capacity for using other people...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Anderson, Linda M. A Kind of Wild Justice; Revenge in Shakespeare's Comedies. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987. Anderson argues that The Merry Wives of Windsor is a play "obsessed" with revenge, and offers a detailed and readable analysis of its three separate revenge plots. She also gives an accessible account of other critical opinion, including the general tendency to ignore the play.
Barton, Anne. Introduction to The Merry Wives of Windsor, by William Shakespeare. In The Riverside Shakespeare, edited by G. Blakemore Evans, 286-89. Chicago: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. Barton discusses the play's possible commission by Queen Elizabeth and its performance at the Feast of the Garter in 1597. She also analyzes the play's content, especially Falstaff's relation to the Windsor community and the meaning of the play's many misuses and abuses of English language.
Bradbrook, Muriel C. Shakespeare the Craftsman. The Clark Lectures, 1968. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. In a chapter entitled "Royal Command: The Merry Wives of Windsor," Bradbrook offers a discussion of the play in terms of its (possible) intended audience. She elucidates the play's humor by connecting ito the political events of the time, including English relations with German and French politicians, and argues that the play is a marketable and professionally astute accomplishment because of its topical nature.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Barton, Ann. “Falstaff and the Comic Community.” In Shakespeare’s “Rough Magic”: Renaissance Essays in Honor of C. L. Barber, edited by Peter Erickson and Coppélia Kahn. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1985. An excellent study of Falstaff, the most controversial character in the play. Barton shows that Shakespeare was consciously trying to exclude such self-seeking epicureans from his plays; Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor was the last time such a character received such prominence.
Green, William. Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962. This book follows the history of the play, from its composition to its first performance and audience.
Hemingway, Samuel B. “On Behalf of That Falstaff.” Shakespeare Quarterly 3 (1952): 307-311. Hemingway attributes Falstaff’s controversy to his presence in the Henry IV plays as well as in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Shakespeare’s portrayal of him is different in each.
Roberts, Jeanne Addison. Shakespeare’s English Comedy: “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in Context. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979. Places the play into the context of the development of Shakespeare’s career, arguing that the play provided Shakespeare’s transition...
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