Shakespeare's Staging
The Merry Wives of Windsor
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Friday, 22 April 2005 06:14


The Merry Wives of Windsor, II.i: Ada Rehan (1860-1916) as Mistress Ford; Virginia Dreher (d. 1898) as Mistress Page.


This modest but deft play has often been underestimated by critics, though it has attracted many distinguished performers (3.2.27, 3.2.29). This may be because reviewers tend to see its use of Falstaff as trivialising a major Shakespearean creation, or because of the story that it was merely a command performance by Queen Elizabeth, who specified a play about "Falstaff in love"—perhaps for some Windsor Palace celebration of the Order of the Garter. Certainly, the play's allusions to the latter group are distracting and often successfully cut. However, as a realistic, largely prose comedy, the play works well, and the lively character of the wives is well presented, to the disadvantage of a wide range of male stereotypes, particularly the obsessively jealous Ford. Its value is confirmed by its inspiration of one of Verdi's most enticing operas: Falstaff. It is purely contemporary in style and can be updated readily and plausibly (Gallery 1.5; clip 1 and clip 2). Its use of folklore is also effective (Gallery 10.f). See the Edwardian characters evoked by the opening of our production in the Video Gallery. HMR


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