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The Merry Wives of Windsor

Shakespeare’s Windsor-based comedy is the only one of his to be set in England, and locations in the play can still be found in Windsor.

Falstaff, known from the plays Henry IV part 1 and part 2, comes to Windsor where he attempts to seduce both Mistress Page and Mistress Ford in hope that at least one of them will share her husband’s wealth with him. He writes each wife an identical letter, but the two women, who are close friends, immediately show each other their letters and are outraged.

Bound copy of the Merry Wives of Windsor, with an image of Windsor Castle on the cover

Copy of the Merry Wives of Windsor, with embroidered cover showing Windsor Castle ©

The Merry Wives decide to teach Falstaff a lesson, and pretend to lead him on while planning his downfall. He is dumped from a laundry basket into the River Thames, beaten while disguised as the Old Woman of Brentford, and finally, dressed as the ghost of Herne the Hunter and waiting at Herne’s Oak, he is pinched by children pretending to be fairies.

Since the eighteenth century it has been rumoured that The Merry Wives of Windsor was written after Elizabeth I commanded Shakespeare to write a play featuring the character of Falstaff and showing him in love. This is now thought to be unlikely, but we do know that Elizabeth I watched the play.