The Merry Wives of Windsor

by: William Shakespeare


Summary Analysis

A pattern of sexual allusion develops in events, as well as language. Falstaff has to escape his second visit to Mistress Ford's house in disguise as a fat aunt of a servant. Ford's hatred of this aunt brings him to beat Falstaff as he flees. This moment of transvestitism looks ahead to the conclusion, where Slender and Caius both elope mistakenly with young boys instead of with Anne, as they had intended. These silly suitors are punished for their behavior by finding themselves in scenarios that suggest a threat of homosexuality, which, like adultery or financially-motivated arranged marriages, falls outside the alleged norm of a happy romantic wedding at a comedy's conclusion.

Additionally, this cross-dressing gives Shakespeare a chance to poke fun at the theatrical conventions of his day. In Elizabethan times, young boys played the roles of women on-stage. So in fact Fenton, though he is leaving with the real Anne, goes off at the end with a boy who is dressed as a girl, because the actor who played Anne would have been a boy; Fenton is, in the eyes of the audience, in exactly the same position as Slender and Caius. The boy gets the girl in an audience-pleasing fashion, yet at that same moment Shakespeare reminds the audience that they have willfully believed the same falsehood accepted by some of the play's most foolish characters.

By the end of the play, the efforts of the main plot to humiliate and expose Falstaff have unraveled. The predatory character is not ejected from the unified town; rather, Ford and Page decide to humiliate Falstaff one more time, even though they believe he is already harmless, and then invite him to their wedding feast. The Pages have managed to humiliate Falstaff, but they too are humiliated in his presence when they find that Anne has married neither of their choices for her husband. The tricksters have been tricked, bringing about a kind of moral leveling. Hierarchies are resolved, ending in a universally inclusive conclusion. The middle class cheerfully absorbs all comers, despite the conscious efforts of most of the leading characters, and the final unity is felt to be more profound than the various conflicts throughout the play.

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