Shakespeare’s “merry wives” are Mistress Ford and Mistress Page of the town of Windsor. The two play practical jokes on Mistress Ford’s jealous husband and a visiting knight, Sir John Falstaff.
Merry wives, jealous husbands, and predatory knights were common in a kind of play called “citizen comedy” or “city comedy.” In such plays, courtiers, gentlemen, or knights use social superiority to seduce citizens’ wives.
The Windsor wives, though, do not follow that pattern. Instead, Falstaff’s offer of himself as lover inspires their torment of him. Falstaff responds with the same linguistic facility that Shakespeare gives him in the history plays in which he appears, making him the “hero” of the play for many audiences.
The authoritative edition of The Merry Wives of Windsor from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play -Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play -Scene-by-scene plot summaries -A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases -An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language -An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play -Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books -An annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Natasha Korda
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.