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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

As we know, Falstaff is interested in getting two things from our "merry wives": 1) money and 2) sex. It turns out that Shakespeare uses some pretty colorful metaphors to show us that Falstaff is a serious gold-digger.

You probably noticed how Mistress Page and Mistress Ford are often compared to ships. Mistress Page says that if Falstaff knew how faithful she was, "he would never have boarded [her] in this fury" (2.1.77-78) and Mistress Ford promises that she'll make sure she keeps Falstaff "above deck" (2.1.79-80). Later, when Page finds out that Falstaff wants to seduce the Mrs., he refers to it as "this voyage toward my wife" (2.1.160-161).

Gee. All this talk makes it sound like Falstaff is a pirate trying to loot a ship full of treasure and precious cargo, right? Right.

At other times, Falstaff portrays himself as a merchant or an explorer in search of wealth. Check out how he describes his efforts to seduce the housewives in order to get at their husband's money:

[...] She
bears the purse too; she is a region in Guiana, all gold and
bounty. I will be cheater to them both, and they shall be
exchequers to me; they shall be my East and West Indies, and
I will trade to them both.

Wow. That Falstaff has quite an imagination. Here, he compares the merry wives to "Guiana" and the "East and West Indies." Crazy, right? Sounds like Falstaff has been reading his fair share of 16th-century travel literature. After all, the play takes place during the "Age of Exploration" and the 16th century was all about England's global expansion and maritime trade. In fact, Shakespeare's monarch (that would be Queen Elizabeth I) encouraged privateers (aka professional pirates) to loot Spanish treasure ships full of "new world" treasure.

Obviously, Falstaff likes to think of his scheming ways as an exciting sea adventure but, the truth is that this guy is just a down-and-out knight who's trying to exploit a couple of local housewives. (Go to "Themes: Marriage and Wealth" for more on this.)

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