The Merry Wives of Windsor - Theme Analysis

The Merry Wives of Windsor:
The Merry Wives of Windsor: "Falstaff in the Washbasket" by Henry Fuseli. Public Domain

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a real romp of a Shakespeare comedy and is characterized by a feminist theme throughout.

The women of the play win over the men, and the poorly-behaved Falstaff is made to pay for his treatment of women.

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, theme is incredibly important, as our analysis reveals.

Theme One: Celebration of Women

The premise of the play is that wives are permitted to be strong, spirited and merry.

They can lead full and vivid lives and can simultaneously be virtuous and faithful to their husbands. Ironically the women are the most morally righteous having been accused by Ford of adultery his wife cures her husband of his jealousy. Meanwhile Anne teaches her father and mother about marrying for love as opposed to status.

Theme Two: Outsiders

The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of Shakespeare’s most Middle Class plays. Anyone coming from outside that social structure or from outside the confines of Windsor are viewed with suspicion. Caius is from France and Sir Hugh Evans has a welsh accent, both are mocked for their pronunciation and their point of difference. Both Shallow and Slender’s  high minded pretentions in relation to the monarchy are mocked.

Aristocracy is resented by many of the characters in the play. Fenton is penniless but high born. He is not considered to be worthy of Anne because of his background and his supposed desire for Anne’s money.

Falstaff has become the town’s scapegoat due to his financially motivated plans to seduce the two mistresses. The town’s opposition to his links with aristocracy are evident in their support of Falstaff’s humiliation. However, this divide between the aristocracy and the middle classes is reconciled with the union of Anne and Fenton.

Falstaff is encouraged to dress as one of the Mistresses Aunts and is beaten by Ford. Not only humiliated by tranvestisism but also beaten down by a man. This echoes the elopement of Caius and Slender at the end of the play who are paired off with two young boys who they mistakenly believe to be Anne. This hint at homosexuality and cross dressing also threatens the middle class world that is created in and is against the norm of a romantic wedding that forms the conclusion of the play. In the same way that financially orchestrated marriages and adultery also threaten the normality of Middle Class existence.

Having said this, the cross dressing in the play where Caius and Slender are paired off with two young boys is paralleled with the fact that Anne would have actually been played by a boy in Shakespeare’s time and so the audience have had to suspend their disbelief in the same way that Caius and Slender were willing to.

Theme Three: Jealousy

Ford is desperately jealous of his wife and is willing to dress in disguise as ‘Brooke’ to catch her out. She teaches him a lesson by allowing him to believe for a while that she is cheating. She eventually lets him in on the plot to humiliate Falstaff and he realizes the error of his ways.

That said, we are unsure as to whether Ford really is cured of his jealously. He is apologetic at the end of the play but he now knows that no one is in pursuit of his wife any longer.

Equally Falstaff is jealous of the wealth enjoyed by the Fords’ and the Pages’ and he sets out to destroy them by ruining their marriages and their reputations. He is taught his lesson by the women in the play and suitably humiliated but not completely shunned as he is invited to join in with the revelry. Jealousy is treated in the play as a thing to be cured by humiliation. Whether this is a successful tactic remains to be seen.

As a moral leveler, the Pages’ are taught a lesson by their daughter and the middle classes absorb the outsiders in the spirit of inclusivity despite their initial resistance. The idea of acceptance and inclusivity reign at the end of the play.