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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.
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:
- Abhorrent Admirer: Falstaff, Slender
- Funetik Aksent: Shakespeare writes out Hugh's Welsh accent.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Sir Hugh Evans teaches the boy William Page what the "focative case" is, which is a play on the word "vocative" and the offending "f-word", according to Cracked.com.
- Graceful Loser: Falstaff happily accepts that he deserves his humiliation at the end.
- Humiliation Conga: Falstaff's entire plotline is this.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Ford learns of Falstaff's intentions toward his wife, and spends part of the play believing that she reciprocates them.
- Paper-Thin Disguise
- Zany Scheme: Anne's parents each come up with one to let their respective preferred son-in-law-to-be elope with Anne while everybody's preoccupied with Falstaff's Humiliation Conga.
- Counter Zany: In the denouement, the two preferred suitors discover they've eloped with decoy Annes while the real thing has eloped with her preferred suitor.