Study Guide

The Merry Wives of Windsor Quotes

  • Marriage and Wealth

    SIR HUGH
    It is that fery person for all the 'orld, as just
    as you will desire. And seven hundred pounds of
    moneys, and gold and silver, is her grandsire upon
    his death's-bed (Got deliver to a joyful resurrections!)
    give, when she is able to overtake seventeen
    years old. It were a goot motion if we leave our
    pribbles and prabbles, and desire a marriage between
    Master Abraham and Mistress Anne Page. (1.1.49-56)

    Ah, young love. Here, Evans is acting as matchmaker for Slender and Anne—or at least, a matchmaker for their wallets. Hey, hers is full and his is empty: they're made for each other.

    SLENDER
    Did her grandsire leave her seven hundred
    pound?
    SIR HUGH
    Ay, and her father is make her a petter
    penny.
    SLENDER
    I know the young gentlewoman. She has
    good gifts.
    SIR HUGH
    Seven hundred pounds and possibilities is goot
    gifts. (1.1.57-64)

    Not only has Anne's grandfather left her a nice inheritance, but her dad is also rich, which means that Anne will have a big dowry when she gets hitched. (A "dowry" is just the money, goods, and/or property a woman brings to her husband when she's married.) Also, check out the repetition of "good gifts." Normally, when we say a person has "good gifts" we mean that he/she has good qualities (nice, pretty, smart, kind, etc.). When Evans says Anne's got "goot gifts" (in his thick Welsh accent), he's talking about the big, fat dowry her future husband will be gifted with.

    SLENDER
    I will marry her, sir, at your request. But if
    there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven
    may decrease it upon better acquaintance, when
    we are married and have more occasion to know
    one another. I hope upon familiarity will grow
    more contempt. But if you say, "Marry her," I will
    marry her. That I am freely dissolved, and dissolutely. (1.1.240-247)

    Here, Slender is grudgingly agreeing to marry Anne. And, whoops, we think he meant to say that heaven might "increase" (not "decrease") his "love" for Anne over time. Calling One Direction: we've got your next love song right here. Not.

    FALSTAFF
    Now, the report goes, she has all the rule of
    her husband's purse. He hath a legion of angels. (1.3.51-52)

    Oh, that Falstaff. When he talks about wanting to seduce Ford's wife, he emphasizes the fact that she's got access to her husband's "purse" (a.k.a. bank account). And the quickest way to a man's bank account is through his wife's—er, look away kids, this is about to get less than PG.

    FORD
    Page
    is an ass, a secure ass. He will trust his wife, he will
    not be jealous. I will rather trust a Fleming with
    my butter, Parson Hugh the Welshman with my
    cheese, an Irishman with my aquavitae bottle, or
    a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife
    with herself. Then she plots, then she ruminates,
    then she devises;
    [...]
    God be praised for my jealousy! (2.2.307-314; 316)

    We know that Mistress Ford has no intention of ever cheating on her husband but Master Ford sure doesn't. He trusts his wife about as far he could throw her, which we're guessing isn't much. Not only that, but he sees his wife as his personal property, so Ford thinks that if she sleeps with another guy, it's the same thing as her stealing his "butter," his "cheese," or his "gelding" (horse). What's so weird about this is how Ford views his wife as both a thief and as stolen goods. Why is it that every time we turn around, this play links the threat of a woman's sexual infidelity with the threat of household theft? Check out Mistress Ford's "Character Analysis" for some of our thoughts on that.

    SHALLOW
    Master Page is an honest man. Never a wife in
    Windsor leads a better life than she does. Do what
    she will, say what she will, take all, pay all, go to
    bed when she list, rise when she list—all is as she
    will. And, truly, she deserves it, for if there be a
    kind woman in Windsor, she is one. (2.2.116-121)

    Okay, okay, but not all husbands are bad. Here, Mistress Quickly gushes about what an awesome husband Master Page is to his wife: he gives his wife a lot of personal freedom, trusts her with money, and so on. Awesome, right? Well, we can't help but notice that Mistress Quickly describes "honest" Master Page as the exception rather than the rule.

    FENTON
    Why, thou must be thyself.
    He doth object I am too great of birth,
    And that, my state being galled with my expense,
    I seek to heal it only by his wealth.
    Besides these, other bars he lays before me—
    My riots past, my wild societies—
    And tells me 'tis a thing impossible
    I should love thee but as a property. (3.4.4-11)

    This is where Fenton tells us that Anne's father doesn't want her to marry him for the following reasons: (1) he's an aristocrat and therefore above Anne's social class, (2) he is now broke because he was (3) a rowdy teenager and got into a lot of trouble back in the day, and (4) it seems likely Fenton just wants to marry Anne for her money.

    As it turns out, Anne's dad wants her to marry Slender. As we know, Slender is definitely interested in Anne's money and hasn't been shy about it. So, what's the difference between Slender and Fenton? In Master Page's mind, Fenton is a typical spoiled aristocrat (aristobrat?) who blew through all his family money and now wants to hook up with a girl from a wealthy family. Slender, on the other hand, can "maintain [Anne] like a gentlewoman" and offers "a hundred and fifty pounds jointure" (3.4.43; 46-47). A jointure is a widow's settlement so, Anne would get 150 pounds if Slender died while they were married.

    Apparently, in Shakespeare's day, plenty of broke aristocrats were trying to hook up relationships with rich girls from non-aristocratic households. Sound familiar? That's basically what Falstaff is trying to do. Check out "Themes: Society and Class" for more on this.

    FENTON
    Albeit I will confess thy father's wealth
    Was the first motive that I wooed thee, Anne,
    Yet, wooing thee, I found thee of more value
    Than stamps in gold or sums in sealèd bags.
    And 'tis the very riches of thyself
    That now I aim at. (3.4.14-19)

    Hey, look, someone is finally being honest. Here, Fenton admits that he was initially motivated by money when he first pursued Anne. (Kind of like fortune-hunter Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew.) Things are different now: he's grown to "value" her for her inner "riches" and doesn't care about her money. Okay, but are we the only ones a little concerned that he's still talking about her in terms of money?

    FENTON
    You would have married her most shamefully,
    Where there was no proportion held in love.
    The truth is, she and I, long since contracted,
    Are now so sure that nothing can dissolve us.
    Th' offense is holy that she hath committed,
    And this deceit loses the name of craft,
    Of disobedience, or unduteous title,
    Since therein she doth evitate and shun
    A thousand irreligious cursèd hours,
    Which forcèd marriage would have brought upon her. (5.5.228-237)

    When Fenton lectures Anne's parents for trying to force her into loveless marriage, he says that marrying for anything other than love is unholy and "irreligious." Notice how nobody argues with Fenton on this point? Even Anne's parents accept that their daughter has married (behind their backs) for love. In fact, they throw a big wedding feast in the couple's honor and invite the whole community to celebrate as a way to accept Fenton into their family. Score one for love.

    FORD
    In love the heavens themselves do guide the state.
    Money buys lands, and wives are sold by fate. (5.5.239-240)

    Here, Ford suggests that matters of the heart are governed by "fate." What's a little weird is that Ford uses the same economic language we've seen throughout the play: wives are still sold.

  • Jealousy

    NYM
    My humor shall not cool. I will incense Ford to
    deal with poison; I will possess him with yellowness,
    for this revolt of mine is dangerous. That is
    my true humor. (1.3.102-105)

    That Nim is more dramatic than a Glee season finale. After learning that Falstaff plans to seduce Ford's wife, Nim tells us he's going to "poison" Ford against Falstaff and fill him with jealousy ("yellowness"). We know that Nim's overly dramatic speech is meant to be funny (and it is). After all, this is a light-hearted comedy and nobody will ever be in any real danger in this play. But we can't help but think that Nim sounds an awful lot like a silly version of Othello's Iago. It's a good thing The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy.

    MISTRESS QUICKLY
    If he
    had found the young man, he would have been
    horn-mad. (1.4.48-51)

    This is where Mistress Quickly says her master, Doctor Caius, would have been upset if he had found Simple hiding in the closet. When Mistress Quickly says the doctor would be "horn-mad," she means that he'd be as mad as a bull. But, we also know that "horns" are a classic symbol of cuckoldry (when a guy gets cheated on by his wife). Mistress Quickly isn't married to Caius but we get the point—the guy would be crazy jealous. Check out "Symbols" for more on all this "horn" business.

    DOCTOR CAIUS
    I will cut his troat in de park, and I will
    teach a scurvy jack-a-nape priest to meddle or
    make. You may be gone. It is not good you tarry
    here.—By gar, I will cut all his two stones. By gar,
    he shall not have a stone to throw at his dog. (1.4.114-118)

    Yikes! Doctor Caius is pretty ticked off when he finds out that he's got some competition in his pursuit of Anne Page. Here, he threatens to cut off Evans' "two stones" for helping Slender woo Anne. As scary as that sounds, we're not ever really worried that Caius will cut off anyone's genitals. Caius's speech is so over-the-top and ridiculous that we just don't take him seriously. In other words, this play is a comedy and it treats male jealousy as something to be giggled at, not feared.

    MISTRESS PAGE
    Let's be revenged on him.
    [...]
    MISTRESS FORD
    ...I will consent to act any villainy
    against him that may not sully the chariness of our
    honesty. (2.1.93; 98-100)

    In case you need evidence that the wives aren't cheating on their husbands with Falstaff, here you go. When Falstaff puts the moves on them, they pretend to be interested so they can embarrass him in public. That's why Mistress Page says "[w]ives may be merry, and yet honest, too" (4.2.89). In other words, a sense of humor never hurt anyone. (We think Ford should look into that.)

    MISTRESS FORD
    O, that my husband saw this letter! It
    would give eternal food to his jealousy.
    MISTRESS PAGE
    Why, look where he comes, and my
    good man too. He's as far from jealousy as I am
    from giving him cause, and that, I hope, is an
    unmeasurable distance. (2.1.100-105)

    Now this is interesting! Apparently, Master Ford has had a history of jealousy, long before Falstaff came along. It's almost as if Ford's mistrust of his wife is like some kind of weird medical condition or something. But check it out: Page trusts his wife, and she deserves it. It's almost like they're partners or something. Isn't that a novel ideal?

    FORD
    Though Page be a secure fool, an stands so
    firmly on his wife's frailty, yet I cannot put off my
    opinion so easily. She was in his company at Page's
    house, and what they made there I know not. (2.1.229-232)

    Jealous Master Ford thinks Page is an idiot for trusting a woman who is obviously "frail" (aka was born with a weakness of moral character). Ford isn't alone. A lot of people in the 16th and 17th centuries thought that all women were born flawed, so they were prone to cheating on their husbands. Fun fact: one dominant theory of gender at Shakespeare's time didn't think of men and women as separate sexes. Women were just like men, only defective.

    FORD
    I think if your husbands were
    dead, you two would
    marry.
    MISTRESS PAGE
    Be sure of that—two other husbands. (3.2.13-15)

    Okay. We already knew that Ford was irrational in his fear that his wife will sleep with other men. But when he implies that the two women have a naughty relationship, we also see that he's jealous of his wife's relationship with her BFF, Mistress Page. But Mistress Page isn't having any of this. Her snappy comeback puts jealous Ford in his place.

    FORD
    ...I will take him, then torture my wife, pluck
    the borrowed veil of modesty from the so-seeming
    Mistress Page, divulge Page himself for a secure
    and willful Actaeon, and to these violent proceedings
    all my neighbors shall cry aim.
    [...]
    I
    shall be rather praised for this than mocked... (3.2.38-42; 44-45)

    Yikes! Not only does Ford want to catch his wife cheating, he wants to "torture" her and humiliate her publicly in front of all the "neighbors." (Maybe he should star in an episode of Cheaters.) The irony of this is that Ford is the one who looks like a fool in front of the entire community, right? After all, he's always inviting his buddies over to his house to try to catch his wife with Falstaff but he just ends up embarrassing himself in front of his neighbors. Fun times.

    MISTRESS FORD
    Why, what have you to do whither they
    bear it? You were best meddle with buck-washing!
    FORD
    Buck? I would I could wash myself of the buck.
    Buck, buck, buck! Ay, buck! I warrant you, buck,
    and of the season too, it shall appear. (3.3.153-157)

    Gee, why does Ford go berserk when his wife says that he's got no business worrying about "buck-washing" (aka laundry that needs to be bleached)? Because he hears the word "buck" and immediately thinks of an animal with horns, that's why, and horns are a symbol for cuckolds. Since Ford suspects his wife is cheating on him he's feeling a little sensitive about the subject. The great thing about this scene is that Falstaff is actually hiding in the buck-basket (laundry basket) this very moment, but Ford doesn't know it. What's the effect of all this? Well, it makes us feel like we're in on the joke with the "merry wives."

    FORD
    To Master Brook you yet shall hold your word,
    For he tonight shall lie with Mistress Ford. (5.5.253-254)

    By the end of the play, Ford realizes he's been acting like a fool and promises to never mistrust his wife again. He even manages to crack a joke about his jealous ways when he tells Falstaff that "Master Brooke" is going to sleep with Mistress Ford tonight. Remember, Ford disguised himself as a guy named "Brooke" earlier in the play in an attempt to catch his wife cheating. We've just got one question, Shmooperinos: does this weird joke make you feel as uncomfortable as it makes us?

  • Lies and Deceit

    FALSTAFF
    There is no remedy. I must cony-catch, I
    must shift. (1.3.31-32)

    Falstaff's solution to being broke is to seduce and swindle (aka cony-catch) a couple of rich housewives. But, as we know, things don't exactly work out as Falstaff plans. In the end, Falstaff the swindler is the one who gets duped when the housewives pull off a series of embarrassing pranks. Luckily for Falstaff, he's not alone. The same pattern happens to everyone who engages in shady behavior.

    MISTRESS FORD
    ...take this basket
    on your shoulders.
    [...]
    and there empty it in the muddy ditch close
    by the Thames side. (3.3.11-12; 14-15)

    Need ideas for your next April Fools? Here, Mistress Ford orders her servants to empty the family laundry basket in the local river when she gives the signal. In the following moments, Mistress Ford tricks Falstaff into climbing into said laundry basket by telling him that her jealous husband will go nuts if he catches her with another man. Of course, Mistress Ford timed the whole thing so her husband would show up when Falstaff was in the house. A few moments later and right on cue, the servants carry Falstaff and the basket outside and dump him in the water. Good times.

    MISTRESS PAGE
    Is there not a double excellency in this?
    MISTRESS FORD
    I know not which pleases me better—
    that my husband is deceived, or Sir John. (3.3.173-175)

    Mistress Ford can't decide which is more fun—teaching Falstaff a lesson or making her jealous husband look like a chump. This is one of Shakespeare's most important points, so pay attention: both Falstaff and Master Ford need to learn a thing or two about how to behave toward women.

    MISTRESS FORD
    I am half afraid he will have need of
    washing, so throwing him into the water will do
    him a benefit. (3.3.178-180)

    Uh-oh. According to Mistress Ford, Falstaff was afraid of being caught by her husband and probably peed his pants (or worse) in the laundry basket. So, he'll probably "have need of washing." She means that literally but, we've also noticed how there's a lot of talk in this play about Falstaff needing a moral cleansing. Every time we turn around someone is calling this lusty guy a "greasy" knight and Mrs. Page even refers to him as an "unclean knight" (4.5.56). So, dunking Falstaff in the river with a bunch of dirty laundry has a symbolic function. By teaching him a lesson, the wives cleanse him of his immoral ways.

    SIR HUGH
    This is well! He has made us his vloutingstog.
    I desire you that we may be friends, and let
    us knog our prains together to be revenge on this
    same scall, scurvy, cogging companion, the Host of
    the Garter. (3.1.117-121)

    Making fun of someone is a lot more fun with an audience. That's why reality TV exists. Here, Evans eventually figures it out and says the Host "has made us his "vlouting-stog" (aka "flouting stock" or laughing stock). In other words, the Host has made them objects of ridicule in a very public setting. By the way, the term laughing stock comes from the practice of putting people in the "stocks." (That's when a victim's ankles and/or wrists were put between two boards in the middle of town so everyone could walk by and ridicule them.) Hey, the threat of public humiliation would keep us on the straight-and-narrow.

    FORD
    Well, I will take him, the torture my wife, pluck
    the borrowed veil of modesty from the so-seeming
    Mistress Page, divulge Page himself for a secure
    and willful Acteon, and to these violent proceedings
    all my neighbors shall cry aim.
    [...]
    I
    shall be rather praised for this than mocked (3.2.38-42; 44-45)

    Master Ford doesn't just fantasize about catching his wife having sex with another guy. He imagines catching her in front of an audience so she will be humiliated in public. Not only that, but Ford imagines all of his "neighbors" congratulating him. Crazy, right? No wonder he's always inviting his friends over when he thinks his wife is at home hooking up with Falstaff—Master Page wants an audience. We're a little disturbed by all this, guys.

    MISTRESS FORD
    I would my husband would meet him
    in this shape. He cannot abide the old woman of
    Brentford. He swears she's a witch, forbade her my
    house and hath threatened to beat her. (4.2.84-87)

    Before you start getting too excited about how Shakespeare is just like us, let us share this quote: the merry wives plot to dress Falstaff up like an old woman so Master Ford can beat her. Hilarious! Except not. Don't beat up old ladies, Shmoopers. It's really not cool, even if it's for a good cause.

    MISTRESS FORD
    Sir John? Art thou there, my deer, my
    male deer? (5.5.17-18)

    Here, Falstaff is duped into wearing horns and dressing up like "Herne the Hunter" so the women can embarrass him in front of the whole community of Windsor. Funny thing is, some towns actually punished men whose wives cheated on them by putting a set of horns in the guy's front yard—you know, for not keeping their wives under control. So, we might say that Shakespeare gives the popular form of punishment an ironic twist here.

    SLENDER
    I came yonder at Eton to marry Mistress
    Anne Page, and she's a great lubberly boy. If it had
    not been i' th' church, I would have swinged him,
    or he should have swinged me. (5.5.191-194)

    Slender thinks he's going to pull a fast one by sneaking off with Anne during the confusion of the fairy dance in the woods but he's the one who ends up getting duped. (Along with Caius, who also winds up eloping with a "boy.")

    ANNE
    Pardon, good father! Good my mother, pardon.
    PAGE
    Now, mistress, how chance you went not with
    Master Slender?
    MISTRESS PAGE
    Why went you not with Master Doctor, maid? (5.5.223-226)

    Both Mr. and Mrs. Page have been conspiring behind each others' backs in hopes that Anne would marry a man of their own choosing. But Anne manages to slip away with Fenton and get hitched, in spite of her parents' scheming. At the end of the day, young love wins out and we learn that Anne Page is a clever girl. Hey, no wonder: her mom is a pretty smart lady, herself.

  • Society and Class

    SHALLOW
    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. (1.1.1-4)

    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."

    FALSTAFF
    Now, Master Shallow, you'll complain of me
    to the King?
    SHALLOW
    Knight, you have beaten my men, killed my
    deer, and broke open my lodge. (1.1.108-111)

    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.

    FALSTAFF
    I will answer it straight: I have done all this.
    That is now answered.
    SHALLOW
    The Council shall know this.
    FALSTAFF
    'Twere better for you if it were known in
    counsel. You'll be laughed at. (1.1.114-118)

    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.

    SLENDER
    Ay, and Ratolorum too; and a gentleman born,
    Master Parson; who writes himself 'Armigero'
    in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation—
    'Armigero!'
    SHALLOW
    Ay, that I do, and have done any time these three
    hundred years. (1.1.8-13)

    Slow down there, Shallow. Here, he makes a big deal out of the fact that he was born a "gentleman" and that his family has had the right to bear a coat of arms for over three generations. (That's what the term "armigero" refers to.) It seems like Shakespeare's having a big laugh at people who think they're awesome just because they were born into high-ranking families.

    FALSTAFF
    Now, the report goes, she has all the rule of
    her husband's purse. (1.3.51-52)

    Guess what? These merry wives ladies don't spend their time eating bon-bons and getting mani-pedis. They oversee the servants and do a lot of the housework themselves. And we're not talking pressing some buttons on a washing machine. We're talking lugging around heavy baskets of dirty, dripping laundry. Plus, they oversee large household budgets and keep a watchful eye on their husbands' property—we're thinking more CEOs than ladies of leisure.

    FALSTAFF
    She bears the purse
    too; she is a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty.
    I will be cheater to them both, and they shall be
    exchequers to me; they shall be my East and West
    Indies, and I will trade to them both. (1.4.69-73)

    Once again, Falstaff tells us that he wants to seduce the housewives in order to get at their husbands' money. Here, he compares the merry wives to "Guiana" and the "East and West Indies." Crazy, right? Falstaff sees himself as some kind of merchant or an explorer in search of wealth. In reality, he's just a down-and-out knight who's trying to prey on a couple of middle-class women. See what we mean when we say the play is distrustful of aristocrats and portrays them as immoral outsiders?

    PISTOL
    Why then, the world's mine oyster, which I
    shall with sword open. (2.2.2-3)

    Aristocrats like Falstaff aren't the only threat to middle-class values and everyday life in Windsor. Here, lower-class Pistol declares that he'll use his sword to make his fortune in the world.

    FENTON
    He doth object I am too great of birth,
    And that, my state being galled with my expense,
    I seek to heal it only by his wealth.
    [...]
    And tells me 'tis a thing impossible
    I should love thee but as a property. (3.4.5-7; 10-11)

    Just because a character is an aristocrat, that doesn't mean he's got money. Here, we learn that Fenton is from a noble family and has been looking for a rich wife. Poor members of the aristocracy often set their sights on women from rich, non-aristocratic families as a way to generate income, but people were wise to this: Anne's father does everything he can to prevent an outsider from swooping in and using his daughter to gain access to his money.

    MISTRESS PAGE
    Sir Hugh, my husband says my son
    profits nothing in the world at his book. I pray you,
    ask him some questions in his accidence. (4.1.14-16)

    Act 4, scene 1 is made up entirely of little William's hilarious Latin lesson. This scene says something about middle-class values in the play. It's important to Mistress Page that her son get a good education, and middle-class families like the Pages demonstrate that they have enough money and resources to send their sons to school. And check out how Mistress Quickly reacts during William's lesson. As an uneducated servant, Quickly doesn't understand Latin so she misinterprets the entire language lesson and thinks that Evans is teaching little William a bunch of dirty words.

    MISTRESS PAGE
    Good husband, let us every one go home
    And laugh this sport o'er by a country fire—
    Sir John and all. (5.5.249-251)

    Despite Falstaff's disregard for their values and way of life, the middle class characters decide to invite him to Anne Page's wedding feast at the play's end. Is it Shakespeare's way of portraying the middle class as a warm and welcoming group that's willing to forgive, forget, and embrace outsiders into their communities? Maybe. After all, the Page's end up welcoming Fenton into their family even though he's an aristocrat. But notice that Anne Page ends up marrying a nobleman so, Fenton the aristocrat basically wins out in the end. What do you think?

  • Gender

    The Merry Wives of Windsor (Title Page)

    Okay. When merry Wives was published in the first folio (1623) edition of Shakespeare's works, it was the only play in which the female characters didn't share the title with their male counterparts. Unless you count The Taming of the Shrew, which sort of implies that it's about a "shrewish" woman and her "shrew taming" husband. In any case, here's the point we want to make: The Merry Wives of Windsor is unique among Shakespeare's plays because it celebrates a couple of clever housewives who manage to turn the tables on men (a jealous husband and a predatory knight). Check out "What's Up With the Title" for more about this.

    SIR HUGH
    There is Anne Page which is daughter to Master
    Thomas Page, which is pretty virginity.
    [...]
    And seven hundred pounds of
    moneys, and gold, and silver, is her grandsire upon
    his death's-bed (1.1.45-46; 50-52)

    So, Shakespeare celebrates a couple of strong women who end up on top in this play, right? Well, one of those women has a daughter (Anne Page) who is sought after by three different suitors. As we can see here, a lot of men see Anne as an object—a pretty girl who's about to inherit a bunch of money, which makes her an attractive candidate for marriage. Not too promising here—but just wait until the end. Little Anne is going to turn out to have a mind of her own, just like her mom.

    SHALLOW
    Well, let us see honest Master Page. (1.1.65)

    After it's decided that Slender should go after Anne Page for her money, Slender and his pals set off to talk to… Master Page, Anne's father. So, why doesn't Slender talk to Anne about a possible marriage? Because in Shakespeare's day, marriages where business deals between men, that's why. Ah, the good old days.

    SLENDER
    You are afraid, if
    you see the bear loose, are you not?
    ANNE
    Ay, indeed, sir.
    SLENDER
    That's meat and drink to me, now. I have
    seen Sackerson 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. (1.1.285-293)

    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?

    FALSTAFF
    Now, the report goes she has all the rule of
    her husband's purse. He hath a legion of angels. (1.3.51-52)

    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.

    MISTRESS FORD
    Nay, I will consent to act any villainy
    against him that may not sully the chariness of our
    honesty. (2.1.98-100)

    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.

    FORD
    Page
    is an ass, a secure ass. He will trust his wife, he will
    not be jealous. I will rather trust a Fleming with
    my butter, Parson Hugh the Welshman with my
    cheese, an Irishman with my aquavitae bottle, or
    a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife
    with herself. (2.2.307-313)

    Here's our evidence for saying that guys like Ford think that all wives are untrustworthy. Ford says he doesn't trust his "wife with herself" and also says that Page is an "ass" for trusting Mrs. Page. What's really odd about this passage is how Ford compares his wife to both a thief and his own personal property (like his "butter," his "cheese," and his "gelding," or horse).

    FALSTAFF
    Come, I cannot cog and say thou art this and that
    like a many of these lisping hawthorn buds that
    come like women in men's apparel and smell like
    Bucklersbury in simple time. I cannot. But I love
    thee, none but thee; and thou deserv'st it. (3.3.70-74)

    Falstaff's approach to seducing the "merry wives" reveals his ideas about masculinity. According to Falstaff, guys who speak pretty words, wear cologne, and get dressed up for dates are big dummies. But the joke's on him, because Falstaff does actually end up being emasculated when he tries to romance the wives—especially when they humiliate him by tricking him into dressing up as the "old woman of Brentford."

    ANNE
    Good mother, do not marry me to yond fool.
    [...]
    Alas, I had rather be set quick i' th' earth
    And bowled to death with turnips! (3.4.86; 89-90)

    When Anne's parents try to force her into a loveless marriage, we get the impression that Anne doesn't have a lot of power. But then Shakespeare gives us a glimpse into our girl's character. Turns out that Anne is kind of feisty and has a mind of her own. Here, she says she'd rather be buried alive than marry Slender or Caius (her parents' two choices). Eventually, she flat out refuses to let her parents dictate her future when she runs off and elopes with the man she loves—or at least the best option of the three (5.5). That's pretty gutsy, don't you think?

    FORD
    A witch, a quean, an old cozening quean! Have
    I not forbid her my house? She comes of errands,
    does she? We are simple men; we do not know
    what's brought to pass under the profession of
    fortune-telling. She works by charms, by spells, by
    th' figure, and such daubery as this is, beyond our
    element. We know nothing.—Come down, you
    witch, you hag, you! Come down, I say! (4.2.171-178)

    Yikes! By now, it's pretty clear that Ford hates women. When he hears that the "old woman of Brentford" is visiting his house, he flips out, calls her a bunch of insulting names, and then proceeds to beat her. Of course, "the old woman" isn't actually a woman at all. It's Falstaff, who's been tricked into dressing up as an old lady. When this scene is staged right, the effect is supposed to be comedic. (Kind of like watching Mrs. Doubtfire's bosom catch on fire.) But, Ford doesn't know he's not actually beating a woman and neither do his friends, who stand around and watch.

    ANNE
    Pardon, good father! Good my mother, pardon. (5.5.223)

    We have a confession, Shmoopers. When Anne returns from eloping with Fenton, we were sort of hoping she'd speak up for herself and defend her actions to her parents. But this is all she says before Fenton steps in and starts explaining why Anne shouldn't get in trouble for being a disobedient daughter. Sigh. Oh, well. At least Anne didn't let her parents bully her into marrying Slender or Caius, right?

  • Language and Communication

    SLENDER
    I had rather than forty shillings I had my
    book of Songs and Sonnets here. (1.1.193-194)

    When it comes time to woo Anne Page, Slender's got absolutely no game. Think about it. Slender is so bad at hitting on Anne that his friends try to do it for him, prompting Anne to tell them to "let him woo for himself" (3.4.48). No wonder Slender says he wishes he had his nifty book of love poetry with him when he shows up at Anne's house. Why does any of this matter? Well, if you're going to have any street cred in one of Shakespeare's play, you've got to be able to master the English language.

    PAGE
    If he should intend this voyage
    towards my wife, I would turn her loose to him;
    and what he gets more of her than sharp words, let
    it lie on my head. (2.1.180-183)

    When Page finds out that Falstaff wants to hook up with his wife, he isn't at all worried that his wife will cheat on him. Here, Page says something like "Fine, let him have her and her big mouth." Basically, Page repeats an age-old stereotype about women being sharp-tongued and shrewish—in other words, women's weapon is words. (How's that for some alliteration?)

    FALSTAFF
    Good morrow, goodwife.
    MISTRESS QUICKLY
    Not so, an 't please your Worship.
    FALSTAFF
    Good maid, then.
    MISTRESS QUICKLY
    I'll be sworn—as my mother was,
    the first hour I was born.
    FALSTAFF
    I do believe the swearer. What with me? (2.2.34-39)

    Shakespeare sure has a lot of fun at Mistress Quickly's expense. When Falstaff addresses Mistress Quickly as a "good maid" (maid being an unmarried virgin), Mistress Quickly tries to swear that, yep, she's a virgin all right. But, that's not actually what she ends up saying. When she declares that she's a "maid" just like her mom was at the "hour" her mom gave birth to her, Mistress Quickly ends up saying that she's not a virgin, since obviously her mom couldn't have been a virgin if she was pregnant and giving birth. Oops. Words matter.

    HOST
    A word,
    Monsieur Mockwater.
    DOCTOR CAIUS
    'Mockvater'? Vat is dat?
    HOST
    'Mockwater,' in our English tongue, is 'valor,'
    bully.
    DOCTOR CAIUS
    By gar, then, I have as much mockvater
    as de Englishman. (2.3.57-63)

    When the Host calls Doctor Caius "Monsieur Mockwater," he's basically saying that Caius is sterile, and therefore lacks courage. The Host is also having fun with the fact that Doctor Caius is a Frenchman who isn't familiar with a lot of English slang. That's why the Host lies and is all "Mockwater just means that you're courageous!" (And Doctor Caius falls right into his trap when he declares that he's full of "mockvater.") In fact, the Host uses a bunch of slang terms throughout this entire scene in order to make Caius look like a fool.

    HOST
    Let them
    keep their limbs whole and hack our English. (3.1.76-77)

    Obviously, the Host thinks it's more fun to listen to the two foreigners (Caius and Evans) butcher the English language than it is to watch them "hack" into each with their swords. That's why he prevents them from fighting a duel. The Host figures, hey—why let them kill each other when it's so much more fun to mock them every time they speak? See what we mean when we say this play has got a thing for ragging on foreigners?

    CAIUS
    If there be one or two, I shall make-a the turd. (3.3.200)

    There are a couple of things Shakespeare just can't seem to resist: 1) potty humor and 2) making the French look/sound silly. That's why we're not really surprised when Doctor Caius accidentally refers to himself as a "turd" instead of the "third" member of a bird-hunting party.

    MISTRESS QUICKLY
    Alas the day! good heart, that was not her fault:
    she does so take on with her men; they mistook their erection.

    FALSTAFF
    So did I mine, to build upon a foolish woman's promise. (3.5.33-35)

    Okay. We've seen how Shakespeare mocks foreigners in this play by making them "hack" the English language to bits with their "funny" accents and their tendency to use the wrong words when they talk. But the play is also full of English characters that have some language issues. Here, Mistress Quickly is trying to say that the servants mistook their "directions" from Mistress Page but she ends up cracking a dirty joke without realizing what she's done. Whoops. Of course, Falstaff can't resist cracking a dirty joke of his own when he says "So did I mine, to build upon a foolish woman's promise." (Translation: Falstaff regrets being sexually aroused by Mistress Page's promise to have an affair with him.) By the way, it's pretty obvious that Falstaff is the character with the best command of the English language in this play. So maybe he really is the protagonist, after all.

    You do ill to teach the child such words: he teaches him to hick and to hack, which they'll do fast enough of themselves, and to call "whorum." Fie upon you! (4.1.54-56)

    We've already seen how Mistress Quickly tends to talk dirty unintentionally. Here, we see that she also has a habit of mishearing filthy words in other peoples' language. When Evans gives little William a Latin grammar lesson, Mistress Quickly misunderstands the entire event and accuses Evans of teaching Willy a bunch of dirty words while encouraging him to "hick and hack" and call "whorum" (drink and have sex). But what little Willy is actually learning is pretty basic Latin pronouns: "hic" and "haec" for "this" and "that," and "horum" meaning "of these" or "of this." Not too dirty.

    I will never mistrust my wife again until thou art able to woo her in good English (5.5.128-129)

    Translation: the day Evans will be able to seduce his wife with "good English" is the day when pigs fly. I.e., never.

    SIR HUGH EVANS
    Seese is not good to give putter; your belly is all putter.

    FALSTAFF
    'Seese' and 'putter'! have I lived to stand at the
    taunt of one that makes fritters of English? This
    is enough to be the decay of lust and late-walking
    through the realm. (5.5.134-136)

    Falstaff takes a lot of pride in his speech, which is why he can't stand the fact that a foreigner who makes "fritters" of the English language is talking smack to him. For Falstaff (and Shakespeare, too), being a master of English language is a matter of national pride.

  • Love

    Mistress Anne Page? She has brown hair, and speaks small like a woman? (1.1.40-41)

    So much for romance. Is this the best Slender can do when he describes Anne Page (the girl he's going to try to marry)? This isn't exactly the kind of talk that's going to sweep someone off her feet. Don't go anywhere, because it only gets worse.

    SHALLOW
    [...] Can you love the maid?

    SLENDER
    I will marry her, sir, at your request: but if there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance, when we are married and have more occasion to know one another; I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt: but if you say, "Marry her," I will marry her; that I am freely dissolved, and dissolutely.

    Oh, dear. Slender is pretty clueless. First of all, there's zero passion when he talks about Anne. Instead, he's all, "Sure, Evans, if you say I should marry her, I will." Second, there are two interesting slips of the tongue here. What Slender means to say is that he hopes heaven will "increase" his love for Anne and make him grow "content" as he gets to know her. But what he accidentally says is that he hopes heaven will "decrease" his love and fill him with "contempt." Hmm. We wonder what a good psychotherapist would have to say about this?

    I have writ me here a letter to her: and here another to Page's wife, who even now gave me good eyes too, examined my parts with most judicious oeillades; sometimes the beam of her view gilded my foot, sometimes my portly belly. (1.3.49-53)

    Wow. Falstaff thinks he's quite the Leon Phelps. When Falstaff tries to convince himself that the housewives are always undressing him with their eyes and checking out his "portly belly" and his sexy "foot," we're reminded that this guy knows nothing about romance.

    [...] they shall be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both. Go bear thou this letter to Mistress Page; and thou this to Mistress Ford: we will thrive, lads, we will thrive. (1.3.58-64)

    Gee. Why does Falstaff describe his pursuit of the housewives as though it's kind of financial venture? Oh, we know. Because it is a financial venture. Falstaff wants to hook up with Mistress Page and Mistress Ford so he can get access to their rich husbands' money. This guy might be interested in a sexual relationship with the women, but he's definitely not interested in love.

    Ask me no reason why I love you; [...] You are not young, no more am I; [...] you are merry, so am I; ha, ha! [...] you love sack, and so do I; (2.1.4-8)

    Seriously, Falstaff? We've read better pick-up lines on the walls of public restrooms. Although, we've got to admit that Falstaff's attempt to seduce the merry wives is pretty entertaining.

    [...] I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with blank space for different names—sure, more,—and these are of the second edition: he will print them, out of doubt; for he cares not what he puts into the press, when he would put us two. I had rather be a giantess, and lie under Mount Pelion. (2.1.65-71)

    Oh, snap! When the "merry wives" find out that Falstaff has sent them the exact same love letter, they compare his writing to the kind of romantic literature that's mass-produced by the printing press (a fairly recent invention when Shakespeare wrote the play). Their point? The love letters are identical rather than original and therefore, can't possibly be sincere. In fact, they say, Falstaff doesn't care what he "puts into the [printing] press" just like he doesn't care who he "presses" to his body during sex. Very punny, ladies.

    PISTOL
    Sir John affects thy wife.

    FORD
    Why, sir, my wife is not young.

    PISTOL
    He wooes both high and low, both rich and poor, Both young and old, one with another, Ford; He loves the gallimaufry: Ford, perpend.

    FORD
    Love my wife! (2.1.97-103)

    At first, Ford thinks it's impossible for another man to fall for his wife because she's "not young" (aka she's too old for romance). Obviously, Ford is a jerk. But, this raises an interesting question: is romance really a young person's game? According to this play, it is. Fenton and Anne are the only ones who get a happily ever after. Middle-aged women have to resign themselves to playing tricks.

    What say you to young Master Fenton? he capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth, he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May: he will carry't, he will carry't; 'tis in his buttons; he will carry't. (3.2.56-60)

    The Host thinks Fenton is the best candidate for Anne and we have to agree. What's not to like about a guy who's young, likes to dance, writes poetry, is fun to talk with, and smells yummy?

    Albeit I will confess thy father's wealth Was the first motive that I woo'd thee, Anne: Yet, wooing thee, I found thee of more value Than stamps in gold or sums in sealed bags; And 'tis the very riches of thyself That now I aim at. (3.4.13)

    Anne Page is quite the meal ticket. Both Slender and Fenton have already told us they want to marry Anne because she's rich. (This is a lot like what goes down in The Merchant of Venice, where Bassanio goes after wealthy Portia.) But here, Fenton confesses that he's actually fallen in love with Anne and "values" her more than her dad's cash. This is the first time we've seen anything that remotely resembles romantic love. Although it's still not as catchy as "Baby."

    In love the heavens themselves do guide the state; Money buys lands, and wives are sold by fate. (5.5.209-210)

    Throughout the play, we heard a lot of talk about the economic aspects of Anne's potential marriage. We've also heard a lot of talk about Falstaff wanting to get with the rich housewives to solve his financial troubles. But, by the play's end, the characters finally acknowledge that love should be the only thing that motivates marriage.