The Merry Wives of Windsor
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
Mistress Page reads Falstaff’s dorky letter, is outraged, and wants to get even for this cheesiness. Mistress Ford arrives with allusions to being propositioned, and Page shows her the identical letter delievered to her: “Letter for letter; but that the name … differs! … I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with a blank space for different names (sure, more!); and these are of the second edition” (II.i.70-77). This is intriguing material if Shakespeare did indeed renovate an old play to force in the beloved characters here.
Mention of the clash of trying to sing “the hundred Psalms to the tune of ‘Greensleeves'” (II.i.62-63) may connect with A Handfull of Pleasant Delites wherein appears an anonymous lyric to be sung to the Greensleeves tune (Ogburn and Ogburn 745).
Mistress Quickly comes to visit Anne. Meanwhile, Pistol and Nym have informed the husbands of Falstaff’s plans, and although Page properly dismisses the nonsense, Ford is troubled and insecure. Pistol worsens his fear: “Prevent; or go thou like Sir Actaeon he, with Ringwood at thy heels — O, odious is the name!” (II.i.117-119). Golding’s Metamorphoses specifies that dog name.
Ford will disguise himself as a man named Brooke in order to find out more. The assuming the name Brooke by [Ox?]Ford is intriguing, considering the speculations that Romeus and Juliett may be Oxford’s, written under the Brooke pen name. The First Folio censors and changes the name to Broome, ruining many puns (Farina 33).
Shallow reports that Caius and Evans have been sent to two different places for their duel.
When Pistol makes his report, he alludes to the myth of Actaeon and mentions the name of “Ringwood” (II.i.118), one of the dogs given a name that appears only in Arthur Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Brazil 124; Farina 31).
Pistol wants money from Falstaff but gets none. “Why then the world’s mine oyster / Which I with sword will open” (II.ii.3-4). Mistress Quickly visits and tells Falstaff that both ladies are interested; Mrs. Ford is particularly in a tizzy. Alone on stage afterwards, Falstaff conceitedly struts about a bit. Bardolph announces Master Brook (Ford in disguise) who wants to fund Falstaff’s pursuit of Mistress Ford in order to confim, he says, his suspicions and discover if he might therefore also have her. (This is something like the dynamics of Roderigo’s hopes about Desdemona, and Iago convincing him that her having an affair with Cassio is in Roderigo’s best interest, in Othello.) Falstaff insults Master Ford, forcing “Brook” to laugh at his own expense. Ford starts to go mad with jealousy over his ostensible cuckoldry. “My bed shall be abus’d, my coffers ransack’d, my reputation gnawn at” (II.ii.292-294). Thus “De Vere also satirizes his own jealous obsessions” (Anderson 147). Ford will be “punningly labeled an ‘ox'” (Anderson 147). The connection between “ford” and “brooke” shows Oxford punning on his name (Ogburn and Ogburn 390). In “Bolbeck” (Oxford’s Viscount title), “beck” = brook (Ogburn and Ogburn 744).
Doctor Caius, ready to duel, awaits Evans in a Windsor field. Shallow and others arrive, and the host of the Garter Inn derives enjoyment from helping Caius butcher his English. Eventually it comes out that Evans is waiting near the village of Frogmore. Caius and the rest set off.