|Why then, the world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open.|
Act 2, scene 2, lines 2–3
Setting the attraction of my good parts aside, I have no other charms.
Act 2, scene 2, lines 105–106
Shakespeare's “merry wives” are Mistress Ford and Mistress Page of the town of Windsor. The two play practical jokes on Mistress Ford's jealous husband and a visiting knight, Sir John Falstaff.
Merry wives, jealous husbands, and predatory knights were common in a kind of play called "citizen comedy" or "city comedy." In such plays, courtiers, gentlemen, or knights use social superiority to seduce citizens' wives.
The Windsor wives, though, do not follow that pattern. Instead, Falstaff's offer of himself as lover inspires their torment of him. Falstaff responds with the same linguistic facility that Shakespeare gives him in the history plays in which he appears, making him the "hero" of the play for many audiences.
Scholars think Shakespeare wrote this play between 1597 and 1601. It was published as a quarto in 1602. A fuller, more readable text appeared in the 1623 First Folio in 1623. Sources likely included a story from Ser Giovanni Fiorentino's Il Pecorone (The Dunce) and Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie.
Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 2004 Folger Shakespeare Library
Roderick Marshall. Falstaff: The Archetypal Myth. Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books, 1989.
Jeanne Addison Roberts. Shakespeare's English Comedy: The Merry Wives of Windsor in Context. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.
Chimes at Midnight (1965, Alpine Films and Internacional Films). Directed by Orson Welles. Cast includes Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielguid, and Ralph Richardson.
Robert Smirke. Falstaff hiding in the buckbasket. Oil on panel, ca. 1820-1825.
Shakespeare in American Life: Hackett's Falstaff
Inside the Collection
Folios and Quartos from the Collection: The Merry Wives of Windsor