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.
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.
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.)