Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor

December 8, 2014

51tg46BczpL._AA160_After I’d seen the stunning performances of both parts of Henry IV at Stratford, with Anthony Sher as Falstaff this spring, I promised myself that I’d go back to the other Falstaff play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. It was apparently written for court performance at the behest  of   Elizabeth I who had so enjoyed Falstaff in the earlier plays that she needed more…

The play is best described as a farce, I think; there’s no history involved, as there is in the eponymous Henry plays, and it’s almost entirely in prose, not verse. The plots are very complicated and intertwined, as one might expect. Falstaff’s sidekicks from the Henry plays, Bardolph, Pistol and Nym, are still there; the plot involves the outwitting and humiliation of the womanising Falstaff by two women of the town, as well as ensuring that the right man (of three) gets the girl – he does, of course – and her parents are suitably outwitted in their wrong-footed intentions for their daughter. Then there is a good deal of humour involving languages and the fun that can be made of schoolboy Latin, and Frenchmen, Welshmen and Germans attempting to speak English, along with an enormous number of sexual puns and innuendoes. So we know what the court enjoyed four centuries or so ago. I found myself laughing aloud many times whilst reading the text; I learnt that ‘Hungarian’ was a general term of abuse at the time, and also that the newly-discovered potato was considered to be an aphrodisiac: ‘let the sky rain potatoes’ exclaims Falstaff, as he thinks that his amorous intentions are about to be fulfilled…

I am certainly looking forward to seeing the play onstage one day!


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