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Reaction to The Merry Wives of Windsor

The first thing that struck me about The Merry Wives of Windsor was the appearance of some characters from Henry VI: Falstaff, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol.  The second thing that struck me was the complexity of the plot.  Shakespeare is tough enough for me to understand on its own, without the introduction of a plots that twist and turn, and entwine each other like snakes.

I wish I could see the play performed, because it seems like a delightful comedy, and I feel that seeing actual players going through the motions presented to me in the text would do wonders for my comprehension.  This is my first play read outside of class, with no real discussion to help me through the parts that dont make a lot of sense the first time around.  Fortunately, I found some resources on the web that provided synopses of Shakespeares plays, and really aided my understanding of the play.

The aforementioned plots reminded me of the plots common to Seinfeld, quite possibly the most glorious of television shows.  Seinfeld always had at least two plots going per episode, and the outcome of one always seemed to have some effect on the outcome of the other.  It seems that the original recipe for sitcoms is this: get two plots going side by side, near the end of the piece, smash them into each other, and then tie up all of the loose ends.  This recipe is followed in The Taming of the Shrew (the two plots being the marriage of Petruchio and Katherine, and the wooing of Bianca), and again appears in the Merry Wives of Windsor (Falstaffs attempted wooing of the wives being one, and the impending marriage of Anne being the other.)  It would be interesting to see if all of Shakespeares comedies follow this same pattern, and if so, to see if previous playwrights used the same formula.

The appearance of the characters from Henry VI, especially Falstaff, was also quite interesting.  For some reason, seeing the other characters shared by the plays didnt do quite as much for me as seeing Falstaff.  Perhaps I identify with Falstaff more than the others (a rather damning proposition, considering what Im about to write), but I think its more likely due to the fact that Falstaff is more prominent that the others.  Knowing that Falstaff was a gay lover in Henry VI, and seeing him involved in obviously heterosexual pursuits, I was reminded of our conversation in class concerning the views of sex in Elizabethan times, compared to our current views on the subject.

I feel that seeing Falstaff in this play gives me a lot more insight into the character Shakespeare was trying to create for his audiences than Falstaffs appearances that we have seen in class.  Falstaff really gave me the impression of being a scoundrel in this play, plotting to commit adultery, and then add insult to injury by stealing money from the husbands of the adulterous wives.  Hes accused at the beginning of the play for getting Slender drunk to pick his purse, and he hires off his friend Bardolph as a bartender.  Finally, as a result of all of this, Falstaff ends up the butt of a practical joke.  Everyone ends up forgiving everyone else, and they all go home to live happily ever after, and laugh about the events they have just gone through.

If that last sentence seems lacking, its with reason.  I was relatively disappointed with the way the play ended.  It seemed to me like Shakespeare decided he was finished writing, and looked for the quickest way to end his play.  It was one step better than the Greeks method of having one of the Gods come down from Olympus, and decide who married who, who died honorably, and who was damned to Hades.  I felt that The Taming of the Shrew ended much more cohesively.

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