The Merry Wives of Windsor
How we cite our quotes:
You are afraid, if you see the bear loose,
are you not?
Ay, indeed, sir.
That's meat and drink to me, now. I have seen Sack-
erson loose twenty times, and have taken him by the chain;
but, I warrant you, the women have so cried and shrieked at it,
that it passed: but women, indeed, cannot abide 'em; they
are very ill-favored rough things. (1.1.246-251)
Here, Slender tries to impress Anne by acting like a macho man when he brags that he's not afraid of the bears used in local bear-baiting tournaments, popular Elizabethan sport where they chained a bear to a pole and set a pack of dogs on it. Good times. Like a lot of dudes, Slender associates masculinity with bravery and a high tolerance for violence. But is he right?
Now, the report goes she has all the rule of her husband's purse: he hath a legion of angels. (1.3.45-46)
Anne's not the only female character that's viewed as a meal ticket in this play. Here, we see that Falstaff wants to seduce Mistress Ford because she's in charge of managing her husband's household property and money. (The same goes for Mistress Page.) What does this tell us? That housewives are powerful figures in Shakespeare's world. Check out "Themes: Marriage and Wealth" for more on this.
Nay, I will consent to act any villainy against him, that may not sully the chariness of our honesty. (2.1.86-87)
Here's where Mistress Ford and Mistress Page both decide they want revenge against Falstaff for (1) trying to seduce them and (2) assuming that they're easy. But there's a problem: Mistress Ford is concerned that someone might think she's not an "honest" woman (aka a woman who's faithful to her husband) if she "consent[s] to an act of villainy" against Falstaff. In other words, the "merry wives" want the world to know that they're just a couple of pranksters who use deception to teach Falstaff a lesson. So? Well, it seems to us that Shakespeare is talking to the people who think all wives are untrustworthy. Guess what? They're not.