Skip to main content
Shakespeare's works /

The Merry Wives of Windsor

A scene from The Merry Wives of Windsor

Introduction to the play

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, 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.

Read full synopsis

Read the text
Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of The Merry Wives of Windsor

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

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

The Merry Wives of Windsor in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to The Merry Wives of Windsor. Find more in our digital image collection

Anne Page. By Thomas Francis Dicksee.
Act 5, scene 5: "I am here a Windsor stag and the fattest I think..." By Henry William Bunbury.
Falstaff hiding in the buckbasket
Falstaff, on an advertisement for Liebig Company's Fleisch-Extract.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching The Merry Wives of Windsor

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.