Study Guide

The Merry Wives of Windsor Love

By William Shakespeare

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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.

[...] Can you love the maid?

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.

Sir John affects thy wife.

Why, sir, my wife is not young.

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

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.

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