The Merry Wives of Windsor

Type: 
Comedy
First Performed: 
1600-01
First Printed: 
1602
"

Why, then the world ’s mine oyster,
Which I with sword will open.

"

This prose-filled comedy centers on the character Sir John Falstaff, a knight who has outraged Windsor society with his rowdy behavior, and has managed to fall on hard times. Falstaff plans to restore his fortunes by seducing the wives of two of Windsor 's wealthy citizens. He attempts to woo Alice Ford and Meg Page by sending them each love letters. Alice and Meg, being friends, compare their identical letters and uncover Falstaff's plot. The two set out to turn the tables and make a fool of the knight. They begin by sending him letters in return to encourage his advances.

Also on the minds and lips of Windsor society is young Anne Page, daughter of a wealthy family, who is being courted by three suitors: Slender (favored by Anne's father); Doctor Caius (favored by Anne's mother); and Fenton (whom Anne herself prefers).

Eventually, Alice Ford, Meg Page and their husbands conspire to ultimately humiliate Falstaff—and they engage young Anne in their schemes. On Hallowe'en in Windsor Great Park, Anne is to lead the children of the town (dressed as fairies) in an attack on the knight as he waits in the woods, ostensibly for Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. In the meantime, Anne's father has encouraged Slender to elope with his daughter that night while Anne's mother encourages Doctor Caius to do the same. Both are told they will recognize Anne by the color of her dress, since she will be masked. Anne, however, has made her own plans to elope with her true love Fenton.

Falstaff, also dressed in costume, is made the fool and is mercilessly tormented by the “fairies,” until the Fords and Pages reveal themselves and forgive the misguided knight. Slender and Doctor Caius reappear unsuccessful in their attempts to elope with young Anne, but Fenton has fared better and returns with his new wife, Anne.