The Merry Wives of Windsor
Society and Class Theme
Ever read this play and thought, "Gee, Windsor seems like an Elizabethan version of Wisteria Lane"? You're not alone, because plenty of scholars agree that this is Shakespeare's take on middle-class domesticity. In other words, the play portrays the day-to-day lives, activities, interests, and moral values of England's middle class. In fact, Shakespeare goes out of his way to try to define what it means to be a member of this new socio-economic group—neither members of the aristocracy nor the peasantry (source). They were mostly merchants and businessmen who were making big bucks in commerce and maritime trade. All those aristocrats and servants running around Windsor? Outsiders who threaten the middle-class way of life.
Questions About Society and Class
- How would you compare the values of middle-class characters (like the Pages and the Fords) to the values of upper-class characters (like Falstaff) or lower-class characters (like Pistol and Mistress Quickly)?
- How are the lives of middle-class women different from their male counterparts? Do we learn anything about the day-to-day lives of the men?
- Read the play's ending where Falstaff and Fenton are welcomed into the middle-class community of Windsor. What is the overall significance of this? What does it say about the play's middle-class characters?
- Literary critics are always saying that Merry Wives is Shakespeare's most middle-class play. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Even though the middle-class characters in this play know they're not as powerful as the aristocracy, they definitely know that money equals power. That's why they try to guard their wealth from gold-diggers like Fenton and Falstaff.
When the middle-class citizens of Windsor welcome two aristocrats into the community at the play's end, Shakespeare suggests that the middle class is a good-natured and welcoming group.