Look. We're not going to argue with you if you want to say that The Merry Wives of Windsor is just like your favorite TV sitcom or a classic "farce." We won't even argue with you if you say it's like a trashy "fabliau," aka a short story with boatloads of dirty jokes. (Think Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale.")
But, when it comes down to it, we think you should know why Merry Wives is like Shakespeare's other "comedies." To help get our point across, we've whipped up this snazzy checklist of rules and conventions for the genre of Shakespearean Comedy. Check it out:
Light, Humorous Tone
Check. This is probably Shakespeare's "lightest" play. Sure, it explores the theme of jealousy but Shakespeare handles it with comedic flare and a laid-back attitude.
Clever Dialogue and Witty Banter
Check. From start to finish, Merry Wives is chock full of clever word play like punning and innuendo. Falstaff, the Pages, and the Fords are especially good at witty banter. (FYI—in Shakespeare's day, people said they were going to "hear" a play, not just see it. Shakespeare's language and dialogue is that good.) Go to "Writing Style" and we'll tell you more about this.
Deception and Disguise
Check. We triple-dog dare you to count the number of times characters get tricked in this play. We also dare you to count the number of times characters wear disguises. Go on. Get busy.
Check. When you've got Falstaff running around disguised as "the old woman of Brentford," Mistress Quickly dressed up as the "Fairy Queen," and Master Ford parading around as some guy named "Brooke," cases of mistaken identity are bound to happen. And don't forget that Caius and Slender think they're eloping with Anne Page but wind up running off with two little kids disguised as fairies. (Yeah, that's creepy all right.)
Multiple Plots with Twists and Turns
Check. This play's got one main plot and two subplots so there are lots of twists and turns. Here's what you need to know:
Main plot: Falstaff tries to get busy with the housewives but gets punk'd... repeatedly.
Subplot 1: Three suitors try to get with Anne Page and two of them get punk'd. Also, Anne's parents get punk'd when she elopes with Fenton.
Subplot 2: The Host of the Garter Inn punks Caius and Evans, who turn around and try to punk him back.
Shakespeare's parents are always butting their noses into their kids' love lives. Here? Anne Page's mom wants her to marry Caius and her dad wants her to marry Slender. Did we mention that Anne's in love with Fenton (a guy her parents hate)? At one point, Anne even throws a tantrum and says she'd rather be buried alive than get hitched to a guy of her parents' choosing. So, yeah, there's definitely some family drama up in here. Check.
Love Overcomes Obstacles
Check. You know how Anne's parents want her to marry someone with money? Well, Shakespeare's a sucker for happy endings so he lets Anne elope with Fenton—a guy who's completely broke but whom she actually loves.
Check. Shakespeare's comedies always, always, always end in one or more marriages (or the promise of marriage). Like we just said, Anne runs off and gets hitched to Fenton.
(Re)unification of Families
Check. Okay. So, Anne's parents aren't crazy about their daughter running off with Fenton but they're not about to disown her for it. Instead, they welcome Fenton into the family, hire a DJ, and throw a big wedding celebration that unites their family and the entire community of Windsor. (Hey. Even Falstaff gets invited over for wedding cake.)
P.S. Some literary critics like to classify this play as a "city comedy" (or "citizen comedy"). We can see their point, even though "city comedies" are set in cities (like London) and Merry Wives is set in the rural town of Windsor.
Come to think of it, Merry Wives does share some important things in common with the genre of "city comedy." (It features a jealous husband, a young woman that everyone wants to hook up with, and a bunch of characters who are always talking about money). But, here's the thing. "City comedy" was mostly written by a bunch of guys who were a little bit younger than our favorite playwright, so Shakespeare was kind of old-school and this the genre wasn't really his thing.