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Pageantry, Queens, and Housewives in the Two Texts of The Merry Wives of Windsor


The pageant that ends Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor alludes in its form and themes to the country-house entertainments performed for Elizabeth on progress. It interprets this kind of pageantry as a space to negotiate communal identities and as an opportunity for women and the nonelite to intervene socially and politically. As it does so, it reveals friction between regional pride and emerging nationalism, and it suggests that Elizabeth served as a powerful model of female authority for women of the middling sort. We find substantial difference in the pageant’s language between the 1602 Quarto and the 1623 Folio. Although previous scholars have argued that the Quarto is anticourt and would not make sense as a royal performance, its intertextuality with royal entertainment highlights the subtle tribute it offers Elizabeth. The Quarto pageant celebrates Windsor as a self-sufficient community that serves royal interests without sacrificing its own. The Folio pageant offers more explicit allusions to the court, and these additional references make it not more celebratory but more ambivalent, as it both emulates and parodies Elizabethan court festival. The Folio’s development of ideologies present in more subtle ways in the Quarto, such as its heightened celebration of self-governing women, lends support to the possibility that the Quarto is an early text and that the Folio is a revised version.

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