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Augusts' Play of the Month: The Merry Wives of Windsor August 1, 2012 12:00 AM | Tagged as Merry wifes, Utah Shakespeare
Tradition states that Sir John Falstaff, featured in the Henry IV and V plays, was Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite character, so she asked Shakespeare to write a comedic play about Falstaff falling in love. She may have commissioned part if not all of it for the Garter Feast, which celebrates her knights, and which was held at Westminster on April 23, 1597. 
It is the only Shakespeare play that takes place entirely in England. There are many comparisons between the Falstaff of the Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor, because Falstaff and his friends are completely different when taken from the battle fields, and into the town of Windsor, where the wives are chaste and the husbands are outsmarted. 
It is also the first notable play in the English language where we can engage in the middle class lives of the main characters. Chaucer did it in his narrative The Canterbury Tales, two hundred years before this, but in plays, the lower born classes usually played a secondary role to the nobles or aristocrats in plays. Also, there are actual locations in the play that existed in Windsor at the time the play was written. 
The characters and action may have been drawn from real Elizabethan Windsor, but be careful; the drama should not be mistaken at historical! While these middle class residents of Windsor may seem quite immature to us, their amusing antics are justified in a neat moral conclusion to the play. This play shows that housewives can have fun and still be honest. But Falstaff is never completely domesticated which isn’t the real point of this enjoyable play anyway. 
There is no known source for the play but Shakespeare most likely drew plots and settings from various short and crude stories called fabliaux (pronounced fab-lee-OH). These French stories were full of jealous spouses, surprised lovers, and outrageous sexual exploits. These first appeared in the 13th century but gained more popularity, first in Italy where they made their way into plays, and that may have been the inspiration for Shakespeare in his play. However, the wives of Shakespeare’s play do not have the enormous sexual appetites and guilt-free consciences like those of their French counterparts. The Windsor wives stay chaste and merry even in the face of many opportunities to make fools of their husbands. 
This play has been set is every time-frame that is possible; from post-Civil War North Carolina, Eisenhower’s suburban America during the 1950’s, to Margaret Thatcher’s. It has been adapted to film, including 2 silent films, and television productions. There has also been two Italian Operas and one Viennese operetta based on the play. 
The charm that repersents The Merry Wives of Windsor is the oyster with a pearl inside, and the quote is:
 “Why, then the world's mine oyster. Which I with sword will open.” (a2s2)
Take the opportunity to find a company performing this play. The Utah Shakespeare Festival is showing it this summer and I will be reviewing it next week after I see it. Let me know if it is showing in your area and I will share it with our followers. Thanks!