The Merry Wives of Windsor

by: William Shakespeare

Act V, Scenes i-v

Yet Page invites him that evening to the feast at his house in honor of his daughter's wedding. Just then, Slender enters. He's upset to have arrived at his country church destination only to discover he had eloped with a boy. Page scolds him for not finding his daughter correctly during the evening. Mistress Page says it's her fault, as she made Anne wear green for Caius. Then Caius enters, and announces that he has married a boy! Ford wonders who ended up with Anne.

Fenton enters with Anne. Anne's parents ask her why she disobeyed them, but Fenton explains that they should be ashamed for wanting to marry her to men she didn't love. He and Anne have long been in love, he explains, and now the tie is finalized. Ford tells Page and his wife that love guides the turn of events, so they should be glad. Falstaff says that he's delighted that the evening, planned to humiliate him, didn't turn out quite as planned for Page and his wife. Page embraces Fenton and Mistress Page welcomes him. And as they depart for a feast, Ford comments to Falstaff that his promise to Brooke will come true, for Brooke will get to seduce Mistress Ford.

Commentary

The first four scenes of the act pass quickly, in preparation for the events at Herne's oak. When Falstaff arrives, the wheels are set turning. The other characters frighten him and abuse him; then Page and Ford and their wives enter, having caught him at last. Falstaff's humiliation is complete, for now they can spread the story in town.

Meanwhile, the final wedding plot comes to its complex conclusion. Fenton arrives with Anne as his wife and scolds the Pages for having consented to marry their daughter into a loveless union. Having no alternative, they accept him and learn their lesson, and the comedy concludes with its conventional wedding party.

Falstaff, who has become a kind of scapegoat by the conclusion, is not exiled as his final punishment. Instead, he is brought back into the fold and invited to the feast. Plus, he gets to see the Pages' plans for their daughter thwarted and their humiliation at the revelation of the array of suitors and their plots against each other. Thus, by the end, the dupers are duped, and the conclusion is fully inclusive, despite the various conflicts between townspeople throughout the play.

Meanwhile the ends of Slender and Caius are quite clever. A theater audience of Shakespeare's time would have seen all the parts of women performed by young boys. Therefore, the fact that Slender and Caius mistakenly go off to marry two young boys reflects the theatrical reality of the pairing between Fenton and the young boy who played Anne. Shakespeare brings a level of self-referentiality to this marriage scene, which both celebrates and teases the Elizabethan theatrical illusion. The boy gets the girl, just as the audience would want; at the same time that Shakespeare reminds the audience that they have been willfully deceived into precisely the same falsehood accepted by two of the play's most foolish characters.


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