What flaw does each husband (and one wife) have that they must overcome by the conclusion of the play? What are the negative implications of these flaws? How do they learn their lesson?
Ford's flaw is his jealousy of his wife. In some ways he is right to be jealous, because Mistress Ford does invite Falstaff to her house, but not for the reason he imagines. His suspicions weaken the basis of their marriage, and he must learn not to be jealous of a woman who may be merry and fun-loving, but who would never dishonor him or herself. After Ford assaults his wife in his house on two occasions when he thought Falstaff was there (and he was), Mistress Ford finally tells him of her schemes to humiliate Falstaff, and he sees that he was wrong to doubt her. But just for good measure he wants to humiliate Falstaff one more time!
Page and his wife suffer from the inability to listen to their daughter Anne. Though Page seems a kinder husband than Ford because he trusts and believes in his wife, the generous basis of this relationship is weakened when each plots against the other to choose the right husband for their daughter. Convinced that they are each right, Mistress Page and Page ignore their daughter's romantic desires, preferring to see her in a financially expedient marriage than one based on love. Finally, they learn their lesson when their daughter elopes and marries the man she loves, and they are able to see how their blindness threatened their daughter's happiness.
Does the conclusion affirm or disavow the various schemes that took place during the scope of the play? Why or why not?
Most of the characters spent the whole play trying to demarcate the differences between them. The Host made fun of Evans and Caius, and they plotted to get back at him; Page and his wife selected and rejected various suitors for their daughter's hand; and, most of all, Falstaff was tormented and humiliated. Yet the end brings them all together at a wedding feast--even Falstaff. Much of the play involved separating out any who weren't middle-class or who weren't locals, yet at the end all are drawn together, and to some degree, everyone becomes a middle-class local.
What kind of representation of England are we given by this play?
For the first time in Shakespeare's works, kings or soldiers do not solely represent England, which is quite a change. While the "real" people seem to be less bloodthirsty than many of their kings, we still see a relatively ungenerous populace. Englishmen pick on foreigners and make fun of their command of the language; men of higher class try to take advantage of middle-class women; various groups try to humiliate and make fun of others; and practically everyone seems to be plotting against someone else. But by the end, everyone is alive, no wars have been fought, and everyone goes together to celebrate a wedding. Despite the array of potentially serious issues in the English country village, a spirit of goodwill nevertheless finally prevails. Plebian England, like the "merry wives" of the title, is shown to be good-humored and, at the last, surprisingly virtuous. It's a refreshing contrast to bloody kings and scheming royal families.
Consider the role of social class in this play. How are characters marked as lower-, middle-, or upper-class? What happens to this hierarchy as the play progresses? Is class dealt with differently here than in other Shakespeare plays you have read?
Consider nationality in this play. How are some characters marked as being different than others? How are they treated? Is the distinction fair? How is nationality dealt with differently than in other Shakespeare plays you have read?
Comment on trickery in this play. Does every schemer win one round, only to lose another one later? Does any scheme really pay off? Done any scheme always fail?
Discuss the women in this play, including Mistress Ford, Mistress Page, Mistress Quickly, and Anne Page. What kind of freedom or autonomy do they have? What do the "merry wives" teach us?
Consider marriage as it is portrayed in this play. Discuss the range between proposals of marriage to long-standing relationships. Is there an overarching theme to the idea of marriage here represented?
Think about instances of cross-dressing and gender confusion in this play. What role do you think these scenes play in terms of themes of the play?
Act 1 Scene 1 Slender. In the county of Gloucester, justice of peace and 5
Robert Shallow. Ay, cousin Slender, and 'Custalourum.
Slender. Ay, and 'Rato-lorum' too;
three veneys for a
dish of stewed prunes; 265
Act 1 scene 3
be cheater to them both, and they shall be
exchequers to me; they shall be my East and West
Indies, and I will trade to them both.
Act 1 scene 4
shent - put to shame