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MonkeyNotes-The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
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LITERARY INFORMATION

Through history, there have been many explanations as to why Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor. Some have argued that the play was written for the Garter Ceremony held on April 23, 1597, when the patron of Shakespeare's company, Lord Hunsdon, was installed; supposedly, the play was later revised for public performance, around 1601. Another story gained popularity in the eighteenth century. Supposedly, Queen Elizabeth herself, after seeing the history plays, commanded Shakespeare to write a play with Falstaff as the central character. John Dennis declared that the Queen was so eager to see such a play-acted that she commanded Shakespeare to complete its writing in fourteen days. This story cannot be proved, but it is enjoyable to consider as a possibility.

It is factual that in the epilogue of Henry IV, Part 2, a promise is made that the character of Falstaff will be continued. But in Henry IV, the promise is not been kept, and Falstaff is shown dying off-stage. Perhaps, the character of Falstaff remained so popular that Shakespeare may have regretted dispensing with him. This might have induced him to write another play, where a revived Falstaff could be seen, cavorting and playing his usual role. This could be one of the reasons for the writing of The Merry Wives of Windsor.


The theatrical history of The Merry Wives of Windsor in Shakespeare's own day is hard to trace. The title page of the 1602 Quarto does reference that the play was acted both for the Queen and in other theaters, but no specifics have been maintained. After the Restoration, The Merry Wives of Windsor was one of the first plays to be acted, probably in 1660. Another special performance was recorded at the court of King James in 1704.

Though most theater-goers prefer Shakespeare's more somber plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor has proved that even a sophisticated audience can be delighted when Shakespeare is presented as a light-hearted comedy, bordering on farce. This play has been highly effective on the stage and has enjoyed a more continuous life in legitimate theatres than most of Shakespeare's comedies, largely due to the humorous role of Falstaff, one of Shakespeare's most memorable comic characters.

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