About The Merry Wives of Windsor


There are three early texts of Merry Wives; the first two (printed in the First Quarto and the Second Quarto) are garbled and are only half as long as the version printed in what we have come to believe is the authoritative version — that is, the version in the First Folio. Seemingly, however, even the First Folio edition is incomplete, for there are non sequiturs in the play, referring to a horse-stealing episode and a deer-poaching episode which are not developed. Furthermore, it is believed that the First Folio version was taken from a script that belonged to the man playing the Host of the Garter Inn. Only his lines are fully developed. The rest of the play is largely filled with paraphrases and mangled lines.

Critics also tend to believe an eighteenth-century writer who refers to this play as having been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth herself. "It [Merry Wives] had pleased one of the greatest Queens that ever was in the World," he writes, adding that "this Comedy was written at her Command . . . and she commanded it to be finished in fourteen days." Another eighteenth-century scholar mentions that Elizabeth was "so well pleas'd with that admirable Character of Falstaff in the two parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one Play more, and to shew him in Love." This deadline, of course, could explain the sloppy attention to plot and subplot lines.

Scholars have also said that the verse in Merry Wives is so poor that the comedy sounds un-Shakespearean. But they laud the creation yet again of the Falstaff character. He is a glorious figure of fun. And the "wives" are indeed "merry," and even the jealous Ford is changed into a man of merriment when the play finally ends.