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 appears at midnight, disguised as Herne the Hunter with antlers on his head. The forest is appropriate for the references to Diana and Actaeon, with Falstaff’s becoming a parodic Actaeon figure.
Bibliography and Further Reading
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 from writing histories to writing tragedies. Roberts also includes chapters on the text, date, sources, and genre.
Wells, Stanley, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. This is where all studies of Shakespeare should begin. It includes excellent chapters introducing the poet’s biography, conventions and beliefs of Elizabethan England, and reviews of scholarship in the field.