The Merry Wives of Windsor
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
Evans and Simple await the duel. When the others arrive, he tries to dissuade Caius, but it takes the host’s flattery, apparent jolliness, admission that he set this up, and a promise of alcohol, to turn the scene merry. But alone, Evans and Caius conspire to be revenged on the host of the Garter.
Hugh Evans at one point here breaks into song: “To Shallow Rivers,” which is a garbled version of Marlowe’s poem “Come Live With Me,” “Ignoto’s” reply (sometimes attributed to Raleigh) contained in a 1600 collection called England’s Helicon, and Psalm 137 (Brazil 122). It has been speculated that the “Ignoto” poem is de Vere’s.
Ford is suspicious of Mistress Page speaking with Robin, Falstaff’s young pageboy. Another Actaeon reference appears (III.i.43) as he anticipates being able to say I told you so to Page. The Frogmore contingent arrives and Page backs Slender as suitor to daughter Anne while his wife favors Caius. The host asks about Fenton and Page wants nothing to do with him. Fenton “kept company with the wild Prince and Poins” (III.ii.72-73). Here then “is the only reference in the play to Prince Hal and it serves but poorly to set the scene near 1400, for everything else in the play … sets it near 1600” (Asimov 437). It “takes for granted the audience’s familiarity with events from Henry the Fourth, Part One” (Wells 185). One of the problems is that Falstaff in this play does not know Mistress Quickly.
Fenton is also of enviable status, apparently, as he is described as a gentleman and a nobleman here and in scene iv (Brazil 127). He sounds like de Vere: “He capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth; he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May” (III.ii.67-69), that is, Spring, or Ver. Fenton’s detractor Page also, nevertheless seems to describe Oxford: “he is of too high a region, he knows too much” (III.ii.73-74). Still, “No single character in Merry Wives is exclusively Oxford. As a suitor he is Fenton; as a jealous husband he is Ford/Brooke; as a weary philosopher and bawd, he speaks as Falstaff” (Brazil 128). Ford drums up an audience to accompany himoff to catch his wife in adultery.
Mistress Ford and Mistress Page prepare for Falstaff’s visit. He begins wooing Mistress Ford: “Have I caught thee, my heavenly jewel?” (III.iii.43) — “This is a quotation from one of the sonnets in Astrophel and Stella, a collection of poems by Sir Philip Sidney written about 1584 or slightly earlier” (Asimov 438; Ogburn and Ogburn 745). But Mistress Page, as arranged, interrupts with news of Ford being on the way. Mistress Ford frets, “I had rather than a thousand pound he were out of the house” (III.iii.123-124). Falstaff must hide in a basket of dirty laundry and be carried out as Ford does arrive, expecting to find Falstaff there and ransacking his own house along with the witnesses he brought. Mistress Ford is especially delighted, and she and Mistress Page will plan another event. Evans and Caius remind us of their plan of revenge on the host.
“You can cram any fat man into a basket and get a laugh. He does not have to be Falstaff, nor need his creator be Shakespeare” (Bloom 317).
The reference to Falstaff as “fox” (III.iii.164) indicates to the elder Ogburns that at some early point, Oxford may have had Burghley in mind as this character. Later we will hear about plucked geese, one of Cecil’s early professions (V.i.25) (Ogburn and Ogburn 740). But Falstaff may occasionally give off glimpses of Oxford — “the bohemian, the dramatist, aspect of Oxford” (Ogburn and Ogburn 742).
Fenton tells Anne to ignore her father, who will never approve of him: instead, “thou must be thyself” (III.iv.3). Daddy Page scorns “My riots past, my wild societies” (III.iv.8). He admits to Anne that her family’s money was the first impetus for his wooing, but now he truly loves her. Slender attempts some small talk, confusing “will” meaning desire with the legal document, until Mistress Page and Quickly join in. Anne is horrified at her mother’s choice of Caius: “I had rather be set quick i’ th’ earth, / And bowl’d to death with turnips!” (86-87). Mistress Quickly tells us she’ll continue to operate for all three wooers.
Falstaff gripes about his foul experience being carried off among greasy laundry and thrown into the Thames: “and I be serv’d such another trick, I’ll have my brains ta’en out and butter’d, and give them to a dog for a new-year’s gift” (III.v.6-9). But it’s a good excuse for drinking.
Ford disguised as Brook visits again and finds out why he couldn’t discover Falstaff last time, and Falstaff explains what happened after they “spoke the prologue of our comedy” (III.v.74-75). But he will try again, having been sent for between 8:00 and 9:00. It’s already after 8:00, so Falstaff hurries off. Ford rages afterwards.