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Themes

Watching The Merry Wives of Windsor is like channel surfing between back-to-back episodes of Punk'd! and Cheaters. In other words, when people get duped in this play, they often end up looking like chumps in front of a very large audience of people. When a lusty knight tries to seduce two "honest" housewives, they stage a series of elaborate pranks designed to teach him a lesson in front of the entire community. The tricks are also designed to punish a pathologically jealous husband, who thinks his wife is messing around behind his back. Meanwhile, just about every other minor character in the play engages in some sort of scheme or deception that's designed to make a victim look foolish in front of an audience. Shakespeare doesn't stop there. When it comes to pranks and intrigue, another pattern emerges in this play—the would-be trickster is usually the one who winds up getting duped in the end. All in all, pranking seems to be a way to work out social tensions and power struggles between various groups: husbands and wives, parents and children, middle-class citizens and aristocrats, Englishmen and foreigners, and so on. Hey, it's better than domestic violence.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. Why do the "merry wives" want to punish Falstaff? Why does their method of punishment seem particularly fitting?
  2. How do the wives teach jealous Master Ford a lesson? Do you think he's really going to change his ways?
  3. Why does the Host of the Garter Inn want to embarrass Caius and Evans at the duel in Windsor Park? How does he do it?
  4. What happens when Caius and Slender try to elope with Anne Page? What kind of lesson does this teach them?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, deception and deceit always, always, always lead to public humiliation.

In the play, humiliation is an Olympic sport. Every character is always trying to outdo someone else.

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