The Merry Wives of Windsor

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Cambridge University Press, Apr 10, 1997 - Drama - 163 pages
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Despite a consistent record of attracting appreciative audiences to the theater, The Merry Wives of Windsor has not received as much favorable criticism as it merits. Focusing on the unconventional Sir John Falstaff--one of Shakespeare's most vivid creations, best known for his role as confidant to Prince Hal in the Henry IV plays--this witty and satiric farce is perhaps Shakespeare's most realistic comedy. Comparing Falstaff's role in the two genres, many critics have found the comic characterization somewhat weak; by concentrating almost exclusively on this perceived failing, they have often missed the structural strengths and coherent design of the play. R.S. White allusively draws on recent theories of literature, especially feminist criticism and reader-response theory, to illuminate and revalue this neglected play. Seeing Falstaff as a comic mirror of provincial society, he demonstrates how his behavior reflects the values of the town dwellers--notably, acquisitive capitalism and the tendency to treat women as property and marriage capital. His analysis reveals how Shakespeare's use of plot, character, and imperialist language highlights the political ramifications of the seemingly trivial story. White also presents the operatic adaptations of the play by Nicolai, Verdi, and Vaughan Williams as significant readings of the original as well as independent masterpieces. His study provides a cogent introduction to the general problems of interpreting Shakespeare in the present day as well as a fresh and insightful account of The Merry Wives of Windsor.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
The world of the play
6
Some moments in the play
13
The play on the stage
16
Note on the text
28
List of characters
30
THE PLAY
33
Textual analysis
151
Reading list
163
Copyright

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About the author (1997)

William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616 Although there are many myths and mysteries surrounding William Shakespeare, a great deal is actually known about his life. He was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, son of John Shakespeare, a prosperous merchant and local politician and Mary Arden, who had the wealth to send their oldest son to Stratford Grammar School. At 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the 27-year-old daughter of a local farmer, and they had their first daughter six months later. He probably developed an interest in theatre by watching plays performed by traveling players in Stratford while still in his youth. Some time before 1592, he left his family to take up residence in London, where he began acting and writing plays and poetry. By 1594 Shakespeare had become a member and part owner of an acting company called The Lord Chamberlain's Men, where he soon became the company's principal playwright. His plays enjoyed great popularity and high critical acclaim in the newly built Globe Theatre. It was through his popularity that the troupe gained the attention of the new king, James I, who appointed them the King's Players in 1603. Before retiring to Stratford in 1613, after the Globe burned down, he wrote more than three dozen plays (that we are sure of) and more than 150 sonnets. He was celebrated by Ben Jonson, one of the leading playwrights of the day, as a writer who would be "not for an age, but for all time," a prediction that has proved to be true. Today, Shakespeare towers over all other English writers and has few rivals in any language. His genius and creativity continue to astound scholars, and his plays continue to delight audiences. Many have served as the basis for operas, ballets, musical compositions, and films. While Jonson and other writers labored over their plays, Shakespeare seems to have had the ability to turn out work of exceptionally high caliber at an amazing speed. At the height of his career, he wrote an average of two plays a year as well as dozens of poems, songs, and possibly even verses for tombstones and heraldic shields, all while he continued to act in the plays performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. This staggering output is even more impressive when one considers its variety. Except for the English history plays, he never wrote the same kind of play twice. He seems to have had a good deal of fun in trying his hand at every kind of play. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, all published on 1609, most of which were dedicated to his patron Henry Wriothsley, The Earl of Southhampton. He also wrote 13 comedies, 13 histories, 6 tragedies, and 4 tragecomedies. He died at Stratford-upon-Avon April 23, 1616, and was buried two days later on the grounds of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. His cause of death was unknown, but it is surmised that he knew he was dying.