A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
The Merry Wives of Windsor

In Shakespeare’s only contribution to the popular genre of city comedy like "Eastward Ho!", he depicts not London but the town of Windsor, dominated then as now by its castle, seat of Elizabeths I and II.

Here the wives, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, outwit their improbable suitor Sir John Falstaff.  According to rumor, Shakespeare wrote the play when Queen Elizabeth I ordered a comedy about “Falstaff in love.”  The fat Sir John of “King Henry IV” had delighted audiences at both parts of that work, so much so that if audiences disapproved of a play on the boards, they would call out “fat meat,” urging the actors to abandon that work and instead enact a Henry IV play with their favorite, Falstaff.

In “The Merry Wives” Falstaff , a huge, shabby knight with a thin purse  is played by Richard Cordery.  Yet his wit and at times his body are nimble, twinkling at the thought that he is irresistible when he writes the same love letter to both Alice Ford and Margaret Page, who control the purse strings of their rich husbands.   He relishes the sparkling lines Shakespeare gave him, like his complaint at being doused in the Thames along with the soiled linen, under which he had hidden in a laundry basket.  At the end, unlike Malvolio, he takes his punishment in good humor. As the jealous Master Ford, Tom Mannion brings depth and seriousness to a character usually played as farcical, although when he ends up falling into the basket he frantically searches, he is paid for his irrationality.  As Alice and Margaret,  Claire Carrie and Lucy Tregear use their quick wits and ingenuity in defeating Falstaff’s advances and his inflated language.  When, proposing to make Alice a Lady, praising the “arched beauty” of her brow and the fine hats that would become it, Alice replies, “A plain kerchief, Sir John, my brows become [are becoming in] nothing else, nor that well neither.”

Alison Fiske is both comic and clever as Mistress Quickly, the doyenne of malapropism, outwitting not only Sir John but the suitors to Ann Page, serving as their go-between and helping them all, including Dr. Caius (Greg Hicks), a French physician whose mangled English is another source of humor.  Life in the town is enlivened by a troupe of colorful characters like the doctor and the Welsh parson who teaches Latin to Margaret’s son (with Mistress Quickly, undeterred by her ignorance, providing obscene interpretations).  In addition, the pastimes and occupations of the middle-class men and women, like hunting and dining, bleaching clothes, and staging a children’s pageant provide a realistic background of everyday life in Elizabethan Windsor that makes this comedy unique as well as a delight.