The Merry Wives of Windsor
Not yet 18 years old, Anne Page is the cute girl-next-door. Since being a teenager never stopped anyone from getting married in a Shakespeare play, Anne is pursued by three different guys all looking to make her a bride. (Brain snack: despite all the married teens in Shakespeare, people didn't actually marry super early. Men and women tended to marry in their mid-twenties, just like they do today.)
Windsor's Most Eligible Bachelorette
We know what you're probably thinking. What makes Anne such a great catch that three men are falling all over themselves to marry her? Since we hear about Anne more than we hear from her, let's ask the group of guys who stand around talking about her in the play's opening scene:
[...] There is Anne Page, which is daughter
to Master George Page, which is pretty virginity.
Did her grandsire leave her seven hundred pound?
Ay, and her father is make her a petter penny.
I know the young gentlewoman; she has good gifts.
Seven hundred pounds and possibilities is good gifts. (1.1.38-52)
Okay, we think we've got it. When Evans calls her the poster girl for "pretty virginity," he means that she's the quintessential fair maiden. More importantly, Anne's got some other "good gifts," which include the following: 1) she's the daughter of a prosperous citizen and 2) she's going to inherit a boatload of money. In other words, when wife-hunting men look at Anne Page, they think "jackpot!" more than "sexpot!" Even Fenton (the guy who ends up falling in love with and marrying Anne) admits that he pursued her for her money at first (3.4.13).
But is Anne Page just a meal ticket? Well, Shakespeare doesn't really give us a chance to get to know her all that well. Even though she's at the center of the play's marriage sub-plot, she only appears in three scenes and speaks less than 100 lines. Truth be told, we spend most of our time in the play getting to know the buffoonish guys who want to marry her.
Being One of Shakespeare's Daughters
That said, Anne's definitely got a mind of her own and she's not afraid to speak up. Check out what she says about the fact that her dad wants her to marry Master Slender: "Good mother, do not marry me to yond fool" (3.4.80). When her mom proposes that she marry Doctor Caius, Anne declares that she'd "rather be set quick i' the earth / And bowl'd to death with turnips!" (3.4.84-85).
Nope. Our girl's not afraid to tell us what she does and doesn't want. The problem is that Anne's parents just don't care what she thinks. Anne wants to marry Fenton because she's in love with him, but her parents want her to marry for money.
It's not easy being a daughter in one of Shakespeare's plays. (Just ask Desdemona or Kate.) In Elizabethan England, daughters were treated like their fathers' property. (Psst. That's why Iago tells Brabantio that "thieves" have "robb'd" him when his daughter Desdemona elopes with Othello. It also explains why Baptista Minola arranges his daughter's marriage to Petruchio without consulting her.)
So, what's a strong-minded girl to do when her parents butt into her personal life? Well, Anne does what a lot of Shakespeare's young women do—she runs away and elopes with the man she wants to marry. Pretty gutsy, don't you think? Despite her parents' meddling and scheming, Anne manages to slip away with Fenton and get hitched (5.5). At the end of the day, young love wins out and we learn that Anne Page is a pretty clever girl, just like her witty, prank-loving mom.
If this play were a tragedy, Anne would probably end up on the wrong side of a dagger in the family crypt. Fortunately, Queen Elizabeth wanted a laugh, so Anne is forgiven for being rebellious and gets a happily ever after. Or, at least she gets Shakespeare's version of happily ever after. (Read: a happy marriage to a charming, good-looking husband who appreciates her for herself. Hey, we'll take it.)