A bawdy and riotous romp, The Merry Wives of Windsor stars the most beloved comic characters of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Falstaff, an impoverished knight, decides to simultaneously pursue two of the town’s wealthy wives. This eventually leads to chaos for Windsor and repeated embarrassment for Falstaff.
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Later, at the Garter Inn, Falstaff announces his plans to seduce Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. His men refuse to help him and decide to reveal his plot to the women’s husbands. At her house, Mistress Quickly promises Simple that she will encourage Anne Page to marry Slender. Doctor Caius, her master, demands to know Simple’s business there. Since Caius is also in love with Anne, he sends Evans a challenge to fight. After he leaves, Master Fenton arrives to beg Quickly’s help in wooing Anne. Quickly realizes she has promised to help all three men.
Mistress Page enters, reading Falstaff’s love letter. Appalled, she vows revenge. Mistress Ford arrives with an identical letter and they decide to punish him and withdraw to discuss. Their husbands, Ford and Page, speak with Pistol and Nim, who divulge Falstaff’s plan. Mistresses Page and Ford return and seeing Mistress Quickly choose her to be their messenger to Falstaff. Shallow and the Host of the Garter Inn appear announcing the imminent fight between Evans and Caius. Though Page trusts his wife, Ford resolves to uncover Mistress Ford’s infidelity by talking to Falstaff in disguise.
Quickly brings Falstaff an invitation to visit Mistress Ford. She leaves and Ford arrives in disguise, calling himself Brook. He offers to pay Falstaff to seduce Mistress Ford. Falstaff agrees, revealing he already has plans to meet her. Enraged, Ford vows to catch them in the act.
Out in a field, Caius waits for Evans to arrive for their duel. Shallow and the Host try to persuade him to forget the challenge. The Host promises to bring him to Anne Page and he consents. At the same time, Evans wanders through the fields with Simple. Finally encountering each other, they almost fight but soon agree the Host has plotted against both of them.
Ford encounters Shallow, Page, Slender, Caius, Evans and the Host, who are discussing Anne’s possible marriage. Page is for Slender but Mistress Page prefers Caius. They both think Fenton is unsuitable. Mistress Ford instructs her servants to be ready to take the laundry basket and empty it into the Thames. Mistress Page hides as Falstaff arrives. He pledges his love to Mistress Ford until Mistress Page bursts in heralding Ford’s return. They hide Falstaff in the laundry basket and call the servants to take him away.
Ford arrives, convinced he will find his wife with Falstaff, but discovers no one. Gleefully, the wives resolve to call Falstaff back for more. Anne encourages Fenton to keep seeking her father’s approval. Shallow and Slender arrive and do their best to court Anne. Anne’s parents send Fenton away, despite his pleading.
Soaked and groaning, Falstaff returns to the Inn. Quickly arrives, inviting him back to Mistress Ford’s. He reluctantly agrees. Ford returns as Brook and Falstaff recounts for him his adventure and reveals that he is already late for his next date. He rushes out.
Quickly and Mistress Page walk to Mistress Ford’s house. Falstaff is already there and Mistress Page again announces Ford’s arrival. They decide to dress Falstaff like the fat woman of Brentford. Mistress Ford hopes that Ford will see Falstaff in disguise, because Ford swears the woman is a witch and despises her. As predicted, Ford sees the veiled Falstaff and flies into a rage. He chases him out, beating him as he goes.
The wives tell their husbands of their plots against Falstaff. Ford asks forgiveness for his jealousy and Page suggests one more public humiliation of Falstaff. Mistress Page suggests that they disguise Falstaff as a spirit that is said to haunt the woods and ambush him with public mockery. Page hopes that during the confusion, Slender and Anne can elope. Mistress Page makes the same plan for Caius.
At the Inn, Quickly apologizes to Falstaff on behalf of Mistresses Page and Ford and invites him to meet them again. Fenton asks for the Host’s help in finding a vicar, as Anne and Fenton mean to trick both parents and be married that evening. Falstaff returns, having agreed to meet the women in disguise at
Herne’s oak. Ford, disguised as Brook, enters and Falstaff bids him follow him to the oak that evening.
That night everyone hides in the woods. Mistresses Page and Ford greet Falstaff but, hearing a noise, quickly flee. Children dressed as fairies spring out of hiding, along with Mistress Quickly dressed as the fairy queen. Falstaff cowers and they burn him with candles. In the chaos, Caius steals a boy in green and Slender a boy in white. Both assume the boys are Anne, while Fenton flees with the real Anne. As the children withdraw, the couples enter and tease Falstaff, who admits his misdeeds. Page invites Falstaff to a wedding feast for his daughter, divulging the elopement. Slender returns, admitting he stole a boy by mistake. Mistress Page assures her husband that she thwarted the plan and Anne has married Caius, until Caius enters and reveals he also stole a boy. Fenton and Anne arrive, married, and Page and Mistress Page surrender to the course of love. Happily, they all return to Windsor to feast.
Sir Hugh Evans
Mark J. Sullivan*
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers.
+Acting Fellow of the Shakespeare Theatre Company
Daniel Lee Conway
Composer and Sound Designer
McCorkle Casting, Ltd.
Resident Casting Director
Voice and Text Coach
Production Stage Manager
Christi B. Spann*
Assistant Stage Manager
^Directing Fellow of the Shakespeare Theatre Company
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