The Merry Wives of Windsor (~1596) by William Shakespeare

An interesting spin-off from Shakespeare’s histories, namely “Henry IV”, carrying over the character of Falstaff and some of his friends into a comic outing.

Apparently Shakespeare was compelled to write the play after the Queen loved the character of Falstaff so much in the “Henry IV” plays that she wanted another play with Falstaff, pronto. While I wouldn’t call the play weak in the way something like “The Comedy of Errors” is weak, it certainly does feel rushed in some ways, and full of padding, filler, the same way “Henry IV, Part 2” felt to me.

The primary story, concerning Falstaff and the titular merry wives is compelling and often very funny. The subplots are pretty draining, difficult to follow, and mired in cultural context very foreign to modern readers. Certainly a play better to watch performed rather than just read on the page (then again, isn’t that every play?), as the accents and various nationalities of the characters are a key comic component.

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It’s a surprisingly good-natured affair, lacking the bite and acidity of some of Shakespeare’s more venomous comedies. The main story quite literally hinges on two wives being very contended in their marriages, and amused at the thought of another man thinking he could in any way affect that. A far cry from the gender politics of “The Taming of the Shrew”! The ending isn’t even a “defeat” of the comic antagonists so much as a politely amused call to return to normalcy and unity.

I didn’t find the play especially compelling personally, but it’s certainly an interesting diversion from the histories where it span off from, and is a better comedy than some of his earlier works besides. I give it three sets of horns, and a laundry basket.

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