22. The Merry Wives Of Windsor
This is a very strange play! And, I have to say, I don’t think it’s a very good one. It’s certainly one that I feel is only ever performed today because it was written by Shakespeare – I don’t think it would be performed at all otherwise.
It feels a lot like Shakespeare trying to write a city comedy. The timings suggest that he wrote this around the time that Ben Jonson was starting to emerge on the scene, so I wonder whether he felt some pressure to deliver a popular comedy. So, he dusted off Falstaff and company, and followed their escapades when in Windsor (for some reason!).
There are moments of that are genuinely quite funny. Falstaff has to be bundled out of Mistress Ford’s house inside a basket of dirty laundry, while Ford’s husband searches the house frantically for signs of adultery. This is followed by a second instance where Falstaff is forced to dress up as an old, fat woman and is chased out of the house by the husband. Both very funny moments but the plot is so thin that we struggle to care too much.
It is nice to see a play where the women are largely pulling the strings. It is Mistress Ford and Mistress Page who are the ones engineering situations to humiliate and punish the lecherous Falstaff. But, as always, it is slightly less fun being on the side of the righteous rather than the side of the morally questionable trickster (as Jonson well knew).
As always with the city type characters, a lot of the comedy wordplay they use dates quite badly. At best it falls flat and at worst it is incomprehensible. So, a lot of the set-up of the plot in Act One is lost amongst bawdy jokes and wordplay that just isn’t funny. Which means it takes quite a while to get a grasp on who everyone is and how the different plots intertwine.
So, all-in-all, I’m not a massive fan of this play. It certainly wouldn’t be my first pick of Shakespeare’s to direct!