The Merry Wives of Windsor
In 1702 the poet and critic John Dennis rewrote The Merry Wives of Windsor with the title The Comical Gallant: or, the Amours of Sir John Falstaff. Dennis claimed that the original Shakespearean play was a particular favourite of Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, he reported, ‘This comedy was written at her command, and by her direction, and she was so eager to see it acted that she commanded it to be finished in fourteen days; and was afterwards, as tradition tells us, very well pleased at the representation.’ A few years later, the story was elaborated in the biography appended to Nicholas Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare: the Queen was so well pleased ‘with that admirable character of Falstaff in the two parts of Henry the Fourth’ that she commanded Shakespeare ‘to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love’.
Sir John Falstaff, staying in Windsor and down on his luck, decides to restore his fortunes by seducing the wives of two wealthy citizens. He sends Mistress Page and Mistress Ford identical love letters, but they discover his double dealing and set about turning the tables, arranging an assignation at Mistress Ford’s house.
SHALLOW: Sir Hugh, persuade me not. I will make a Star
Chamber matter of it. If he were twenty Sir John Falstaffs,
he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, esquire.
SLENDER: In the county of Gloucester, Justice of Peace, and Coram.
SHALLOW: Ay, cousin Slender, and Custalorum.
SLENDER: Ay, and Ratolorum too; and a gentleman born,
master parson, who writes himself Armigero in any bill,
warrant, quittance, or obligation, Armigero.
SHALLOW: Ay, that I do, and have done any time these three
SLENDER: All his successors — gone before him — hath done't,
and all his ancestors — that come after him — may. They may
give the dozen white luces in their coat.
SHALLOW: It is an old coat.
Introduction to The Merry Wives of Windsor