Aug 08, 12
Read in July, 2011
I adore Shakespeare. I’ve read at least half of his works. I’ve seen dozens of his plays performed. In college I took a class completely devoted to learning how to read and interpret his writing. I’ve visited the Globe in England and every time I read a new play of his I find a new reason to love his work.
His writing isn’t perfect. He ripped story lines from others and his plays can be repetitive. He can be long-winded when he wants to, but all-in-all, there’s more brilliance than hot air there. When Shakespeare ran out of words to express what he was feeling, he invented them! That’s just amazing. Not only did he invent words, but they are ones that stuck and that we still use today.
I love his wit. He was incredibly funny. Many of his jokes were topical, so they aren’t nearly as amusing to us as they were to audiences that lived during his lifespan. It’s like someone watching an episode of Saturday Night Live from 30 years ago and expecting to catch every joke from the weekend update.
On to the The Merry Wives of Windsor. This isn’t my favorite play, it isn’t even my favorite comedy by the Bard, but it is entertaining. It’s well-known purely because it brought back a fan-favorite, Sir John Falstaff (from the Henry IV history plays).
The basic plot is as follows, that well-loved pompous old fool, Falstaff, decides to seduce two of the married ladies in the town of Windsor. The confusion that ensues is almost like a French farce. People run in, doors slam, identities are mistaken, etc. In other words, good times.
Always the idiot, Falstaff makes the mistake of wooing two women who happen to be best friends. Mistress Ford and Mistress Page both receive love letter from the fat knight and devise a plan to trap and mock him. Mistress Ford’s husband ends up as collateral damage when he’s led to believe his wife is actually cheating on him.
What sets this play apart from his many others is the fact that it’s the only one set in contemporary (for Shakespeare) England. Most of his other plays either took place in the past or in another country. The subplot involves a husband and wife (the Pages) who are trying to marry their daughter off to men she doesn't love. The clever daughter evades her parents' wishes by coming up with a tricky solution of her own to get the man she truly loves.
If you're new to Shakespeare, see it live first! It's a play, it was meant to be seen and not just read. Once you've done that, explore the beauty of his writing. Much Ado About Nothing is a great place to start in the comedies and Hamlet remains my favorite tragedy... so far.
---One side note, if you’re looking for a definitive edition of Shakespeare, I would highly recommend the The Riverside Shakespeare. It is massive (like five inches thick), but I love it.