Back To CourseCAHSEE English Exam: Tutoring Solution
13 chapters | 159 lessons
Eddie has an MFA in English from Georgia College where he has taught scriptwriting, English 101, English 102, and World Literature since 2007.
The Merry Wives of Windsor contains two important plotlines. The play's funniest plotline is the conflict between Sir John Falstaff and the two merry wives (Mistress Ford and Mistress Page). The story's other major plotline deals with three suitors (Slender, Doctor Caius and Fenton), all of whom wish to win Anne Page's hand in marriage.
Of all Shakespeare's comedies, The Merry Wives of Windsor is the one that most resembles a modern sitcom. The play focuses on mostly middle-class characters, none of the characters are ever in mortal danger, it is written almost entirely in prose and it employs a great deal of low comedy. Low comedy is the stuff of slapstick, pratfalls, outrageous accents, sight gags and Three Stooges-style physicality. The Merry Wives of Windsor has lots of this. In fact, most of the action that drives the plot of this play is based on Mistress Ford and Mistress Page (a.k.a. The Merry Wives) concocting various schemes toward the purpose of embarrassing Sir John Falstaff.
It all begins with Falstaff's plan to woo Mistress Page and Mistress Ford. He doesn't actually have affection toward them, but he believes that they were making eyes at him and that - if he plays his cards right - he can milk them of their husbands' money.
So Falstaff asks two of his men, Pistol and Nym, to deliver love letters to the two women. In true Falstaff fashion, he writes them the exact same letter, the only difference being the name in the salutation. He commands Nym and Pistol to deliver the letters for him. Nym and Pistol refuse to deliver the letters, so instead Falstaff gives them to his boy, Robin, to deliver.
It doesn't take Mistress Ford and Mistress Page long to grow disgusted with Falstaff. First of all, they are honorable wives. Secondly, Falstaff is unattractive in every way that a man can be. He is old and fat. He is a drunk, a glutton, a thief and a lecher. So, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford decide to get even with Falstaff by using his own plan against him.
Meanwhile, Pistol and Nym tell the women's husbands, Ford and Page, what Falstaff is up to. Page brushes it off believing that his wife is a good, incorruptible woman. Ford has the opposite reaction. He is a jealous man, and he flies into a rage upon hearing the news.
Deciding to test his wife's faithfulness, Ford disguises himself as a man named Brook. He takes a bag of money to Falstaff and asks him to help him woo Mistress Ford. Falstaff agrees and tells Brook that he already has a secret meeting set up with Mistress Ford.
When Falstaff shows up for the meeting, the first prank is played on him. Mistress Page shows up, and Mistress Ford hides Falstaff. Mistress Page informs Mistress Ford that her husband is on his way. So, Mistress Ford goads Falstaff into getting in a buck-basket (a laundry basket). Once he is in the laundry basket, two servants carry him away and toss him in the River Thames.
Ford looks everywhere (except the laundry basket that the servants carry right by him) for the man he believes that his wife is hiding but can find no sign of Falstaff.
Not finished making a buffoon of Falstaff, the merry wives concoct another meeting. Thanks to Brook's bag of money, being thrown in the River Thames is not enough to deter Falstaff. For the second prank, the merry wives dress Falstaff in clothing belonging to a fat woman (the old lady of Brentford), whom Ford hates. He has banished her from the house believing she is a witch. The disguise fools Ford, and believing that Falstaff is the old woman of Brentford, Ford gives him a beating for being in his house.
At this point, the women decide to tell their husbands what they've been up to, and they all devise one final humiliation for Falstaff. There is an old wives' tale about a ghost called Herne the Hunter who haunts an oak tree in Windsor Forest. They decide to lure Falstaff to that tree, dress up a bunch of children as fairies, and - until Falstaff admits his scheme - they will have the fairies 'pinch him sound and burn him with their tapers.'
There is also a love story in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Anne Page, the daughter of Page and Mistress Page, has three suitors who all wish to marry her: Slender, Doctor Caius and Fenton. Fenton is the only one who Anne loves, and it is clear why. Doctor Caius is presented as an absurd Frenchman who can hardly speak English and Slender's attempts to make conversation with Anne are as awkward and uncomfortable as they get. However, Anne's father prefers Slender, and Anne's mother prefers Doctor Caius. Page believes that Anne will be dressed in a white gown while she plays a fairy in the trick on Falstaff. He tells Slender to sneak her away at that time and marry her in secret. Mistress Page, believing that Anne will be dressed in green, tells Doctor Caius to sneak her away and marry her.
After the trick is successfully played on Falstaff, Doctor Caius and Slender both enter complaining that they were duped. And the 'Anne' that each of them snuck away turned out to be a boy! The real Anne used this time to sneak away with Fenton and marry him. But the family conflict over this hasty marriage is quickly resolved. Fenton tells Anne's parents:
You would have married her most shamefully,
Where there was no proportion held in love.
The truth is, she and I, long since contracted,
Are now so sure that nothing can dissolve us.
The offence is holy that she hath committed;
And this deceit loses the name of craft,
Of disobedience, or unduteous title,
Since therein she doth evitate and shun
A thousand irreligious cursed hours,
Which forced marriage would have brought upon her.
Page and Mistress Page agree with Fenton's long dialogue and wish the two lovebirds happiness.
Sir John Falstaff - Falstaff is one of Shakespeare's finest characters. He appears in both of Shakespeare's Henry IV plays. He is the only character in the play of noble title, but he is put through the wringer by the play's middle-class ensemble. A majority of the play follows the story of the two merry wives carrying out their revenge on him. He is nearly drowned in the River Thames, beaten by Ford and humiliated in Windsor Forest. Most characters would have learned their lesson after the first humiliation, but Sir John is driven by his greed for money. One of the major reasons Shakespeare wrote this play is that Queen Elizabeth watched his Henry plays and demanded more Falstaff.
Mistress Ford - One of the merry wives alluded to in the play's title. It is Falstaff's attempts to woo her that result in most of the play's comedy. She shows a great deal of courage in carrying out these pranks on Falstaff because unlike Mistress Page, Mistress Ford has a jealous husband who is untrusting and quick to anger.
Mistress Page- The other merry wife. Mistress Page is Mistress Ford's accomplice in carrying out the pranks on Falstaff. Her husband trusts her more than Ford trusts his wife, which is ironic because Mistress Page actually does deceive her husband in the play. She wants her daughter to marry Doctor Caius (against her husband's wishes).
Ford- The jealous husband of Mistress Ford. He disguises himself as Brook and pays Falstaff to woo his own wife for him. He does this to test her virtue. He is an unknowing accomplice in the first two pranks on Falstaff and happily continues his Brook persona to carry out the third prank.
Page - Unlike Ford, Page trusts his wife and is not concerned when he finds out that Falstaff is pursuing her. He attempts to dupe his wife by secretly marrying Anne Page to Slender, but his plan is spoiled. He proves a reasonable man at the end of the play. He did not want his daughter to marry Fenton because he believed Fenton was only interested in her money. But, at the end, Fenton promises that he really loves her, and Page is convinced.
Mistress Quickly - She serves doctor Caius. Each of Anne's three suitors pay her to help them win over Anne. She hides her triple-dealings from them. She also provides help to the merry wives in tricking Falstaff. She appears in both Henry IV plays, where she runs the Boar's Head Tavern.
Anne Page - The daughter of Page and Mistress Page. She is a main instrument of the plot because three suitors are all trying to gain her hand in marriage. Her father prefers Slender. Her mother prefers Doctor Caius, but Anne is in love with Fenton. At the end of the play, she dupes her mother and father and marries Fenton.
Hugh Evans - A priest. His thick Welsh accent provides low comedy in the play. He is an advocate for Slender and tries to help Slender win Anne's hand in marriage.
Doctor Caius - Another one of the main facilitators of the play's low comedy. He speaks with an outrageous French accent and often speaks entire sentences in French. He is the suitor preferred by Anne's mother.
Slender - Slender is another of Anne's suitors. He is lukewarm in his wooing of Anne. He doesn't have passionate feelings for her like the other two. His attempts to make conversation with Anne are hilariously awkward. He is the suitor preferred by Anne's father.
Fenton - Fenton was once a drinking buddy of Prince Hal from Henry IV. He woos Anne initially for the money, but in the process of wooing her actually falls in love with her. He is the only one of the suitors that Anne loves, and he winds up marrying her at the end.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a play filled with low comedy. Its greatest moments are the three tricks that are played on Falstaff. It also contains a love story where three suitors all vie for Anne Page's hand in marriage.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseCAHSEE English Exam: Tutoring Solution
13 chapters | 159 lessons