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The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comic play by William Shakespeare.

Sir John Falstaff attempts to seduce two married ladies, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford; neither is impressed by him, and they conspire to subject him to a succession of practical jokes. A subplot concerns Mistress Page's daughter Anne, whose parents want her to marry, but can't agree on which of her suitors she should choose, while she herself prefers a man neither of her parents approves of.

Falstaff had previously appeared as a supporting character in Shakespeare's historical plays, Henry IV and Henry V, but here appears in a contemporary setting.

Not one of Shakespeare's stronger efforts, the play is thought to have been commissioned for a specific occasion and written in a hurry. The characters are all stock, the A-plot and B-plot are barely even aware of each other, the exposition gets especially clunky in the build-up to the finale and it's all Strictly Formula. But Falstaff remains a joyously Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist, and the unsuccessful suitors are two of the purest buffoons in the Shakespearean canon. With a few edits and a good cast it's a great way to kill an hour and a half. There is a persistent story that Queen Elizabeth, after seeing Henry IV, ordered Shakespeare to write a play about "Falstaff in love", but this story first appeared decades after Shakespeare's death in the writings of the dramatist John Dennis -- who just happened to be promoting his own rewrite of the play at the time. (It was a flop.)

At least two operas have been based on the play: one with music by Otto Nicolai, the other, Falstaff, with music by Giuseppe Verdi.


The Merry Wives of Windsor provides examples of: