The Merry Wives of Windsor
Society and Class Quotes Page 1
How we cite our quotes:
Sir Hugh, persuade me not; I will make a Star-chamber matter of it: if he were twenty Sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, Esquire. (1.1.1-3)
When the play opens, Shakespeare tells us right away there's going to be some major social tension in this play. The tiff between Falstaff and Shallow comes down to one thing: class differences. Falstaff is a knight. Shallow is a step below a knight, which is why he's always referring to himself as "Robert Shallow, Esquire" (1.1.89). Doesn't seem like a big deal? Well, to Elizabethans, distinctions of rank were like designer tennis shoes: they may not look different to the untrained eye, but there was a major difference between "sir" and "esquire."
Now, Master Shallow, you'll complain of me to the king?
Knight, you have beaten my men, killed my deer, and
broke open my lodge. (1.1.91-93)
Shallow is irate because Falstaff has strolled into town and thinks he can do whatever he wants, like poach deer and slap other peoples' servants around. But Shallow's not the only character who sees Falstaff as an outsider and a threat. The citizens of Windsor aren't about to let some "fat" aristocrat come in and trample all over them—they're going to teach him a lesson.
I will answer it straight; I have done all this.
That is now answered.
The council shall know this.
'Twere better for you if it were known in counsel:
you'll be laughed at. (1.1.97-101)
Falstaff basically dares Shallow to tattle on him to the "king," who would do absolutely nothing to punish Falstaff for disrespecting Shallow. You know what's weird? Even though the town of Windsor is right next to Windsor Castle, this play goes out of its way to avoid showing us life at the royal court. Here, Falstaff mentions "the king" and later on in 5.5 there's a reference to Shakespeare's monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, but the play sticks to portraying the everyday lives of ordinary people.