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The Merry Wives of Windsor

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, fat, disreputable Sir John Falstaff pursues two housewives, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, who outwit and humiliate him instead. Meanwhile, three suitors seek the hand of Anne Page, Mistress Page's daughter.

Falstaff hopes to seduce the wives so he can gain access to their husbands' wealth. Ford learns of Falstaff's approaches and is consumed by jealousy. In disguise, he befriends Falstaff to learn about Mistress Ford’s behavior. The wives, however, trick Falstaff and Ford. As Falstaff visits Mistress Ford, Mistress Page announces that Ford is coming. Falstaff hides in a basket of dirty laundry and is thrown in the river.

Another visit ends similarly: Falstaff disguises himself as “the fat woman of Brentford,” whom Ford hates. Ford beats "her" in anger. Finally, Falstaff is lured to a comical nighttime rendezvous where all of Windsor comes together, Falstaff is publicly humiliated, and Ford admits his folly. Two of Anne Page's suitors elope with boys in disguise while Anne marries her chosen suitor, Fenton.

Early printed texts

The Merry Wives of Windsor was first published as a quarto in 1602 (Q1) and then reprinted in a 1619 quarto edition (Q2). It was included in the 1623 First Folio (F1) in a version that is nearly twice as long as Q1, and although the two share essentially the same course of dramatic action, in some places their dialogue diverges substantially. (The 1630 Q3 reprints the F1 version.) Most modern editors base their text on F1, while drawing on Q1's rich stage directions, as do the Folger's editors.

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Item Title: 
[Merry wives of Windsor] A most pleasaunt and excellent conceited comedie, of Syr Iohn Falstaffe, and the merrie wiues of Windsor.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22299
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1602

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Item Title: 
[Merry wives of Windsor] A most pleasant and excellent conceited comedy, of Sir Iohn Falstaffe, and the merry vviues of VVindsor.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22300 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1619

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Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

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Item Title: 
The merry vviues of Windsor. With the humours of Sir Iohn Falstaffe, as also the swaggering vaine of ancient Pistoll, and Corporall Nym.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22301
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1630

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Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

Picturing The Merry Wives of Windsor

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Merry Wives of Windsor​ is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

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Madge Kendall as Mistress Ford (early 20th century)

Madge Kendall as Mistress Ford (early 20th century)

Item Title: 
Mrs. Kendal as Mistress Ford in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" [by Shakespeare] [graphic] / Window & Grove.
Item Call Number: 
ART File K33.1 no.3 part 1 PHOTO (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Window & Grove, photographer.
Item Date: 
[London, England : s.n., 19th or early 20th century]

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William Crane as Falstaff (1896)

William Crane as Falstaff (1896)

Item Title: 
[William H. Crane as Falstaff, in Shakespeare's Merry wives of Windsor] [graphic] : And you may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking, 1896 / Sarony.
Item Call Number: 
ART File C891 no.3 PHOTO (size M)
Item Creator: 
Sarony, Napoleon, 1821-1896, photographer.
Item Date: 
New York : [s.n., 1896]

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Anne Page (1861)

Anne Page (1861)

Item Title: 
[Sweet Anne Page] [graphic] / J. Bouvier.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box B782 no.1 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Bouvier, Augustus Jules, 1825-1881, artist, attributed name.
Item Date: 
1861

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Falstaff hiding in the laundry (Act 3, scene 3; 1798)

Falstaff hiding in the laundry (Act 3, scene 3; 1798)

Item Title: 
Merry wives of Windsor [act III, scene 3] [graphic] / W.N. Gardiner, del et sc.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S528m4 no.46 copy 1 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Gardiner, W. N. (William Nelson), 1766-1814, printmaker.
Item Date: 
[London, England] : published by Edwd. Harding, 1798.

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Falstaff in disguise as an old woman (Act 4, scene 2; 19th century)

Falstaff in disguise as an old woman (Act 4, scene 2; 19th century)

Item Title: 
[Illustrations to Shakespeare - small rectangle series] [graphic] / [John Wright].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box W951 no.77 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Wright, John Massey, 1777-1866, artist.
Item Date: 
[late 18th century or 19th century]

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Falstaff with a buck's head (Act 5, scene 5; 19th century)

Falstaff with a buck's head (Act 5, scene 5; 19th century)

Item Title: 
Les joyeuses commières de Windsor [graphic] / [Alexandre Bida].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box B584 no.23 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Bida, Alexandre, 1813-1895, artist.
Item Date: 
[19th century]

More images of Merry Wives of Windsor can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)