Study Guide

The Merry Wives of Windsor Marriage and Wealth

By William Shakespeare

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.

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