31 January 2013

The Merry Wives of Windsor

So, we're past Two Gentlemen, finally, and into a ridiculous farce of a comedy. This is a show I've had the good fortune to see performed, and it is hilarious. Merry Wives was written to showcase the character of Sir John Falstaff, whom we will see again in Henry IV, as the friend of Prince Hal. I think he has a bit role in Henry V, too, but as that's one I haven't read, we'll find out when we get there.

Falstaff, frankly, is a pig. And this is the story where his idiocy has consequences. Being a man who thinks much of himself, he sends letters to two different women, propositioning them. They, being friends, get together to rant about this drunken idiot who thinks they'd be interested in an affair, only to discover that the only thing different about each letter was the addressee. Even more insulted, they decide to get even.

They arrange assignations with Falstaff, scheduled at a time when one of their husbands will wander in and Falstaff has to be sneaked out. In one instance, he's carried out in a washing tub by a servant and dumped in a ditch. On another occasion, he's dressed up as a hated female relative who is chased out of the house by a screaming husband while being beaten with a stick.

The husbands are very confused at first. For a while, one thinks his wife really is having an affair, but when they discover what's going on, the husbands and wives team up for a final showdown out in the woods, designed to scare Falstaff out of his wits and pay him back for his misdeeds.

Merry Wives has some of the great elements of Shakespearean comedy: sassy women, slapstick routines, and fun language (a favourite insult from this play is, "You Banbury cheese!"). It's one that you don't see as often, which is a pity. It's ludicrous and a lot of fun. It's not a play with much substance, really. It's just a good time. Falstaff got a play of his own because Elizabeth I liked his character and wanted more, and Shakespeare, eager to please, obliged her. The Bard knew how to play politics.

Our next play is Measure for Measure, which I haven't read in the past or seen before, but I'm looking forward to the adventure.

A few favourite quotes:

"I will marry her, sir, at your request; but if there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance, when were are married and have more occasion to know one another: I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt: but if you say, 'Marry her,' I will marry her; that I am freely dissolved, and dissolutely" Slender, Merry Wives, I.1.254-261 (not quite a Mrs. Malaprop, but close)

"I love not the humour of bread and cheese" Nym, II.1.139

"Who's a cuckold now?" Ford, V.5.115

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