The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy by William Shakespeare, first published in 1602, though believed to have been written prior to 1597. It features the character Sir John Falstaff, the fat knight who had previously featured in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. It has been adapted for the opera on several occasions, the play is one of Shakespeares lesser-regarded works among literary critics. In all other respects, the play implies a contemporary setting of the Elizabethan era, Falstaff arrives in Windsor very short on money. He decides, to financial advantage, that he will court two wealthy married women, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. Falstaff decides to send the women identical love letters and asks his servants – Pistol, when they refuse, Falstaff sacks them, and, in revenge, the men tell Ford and Page of Falstaffs intentions. Page is not concerned, but the jealous Ford persuades the Host of the Garter Inn to introduce him to Falstaff as a Master Brook so that he can find out Falstaffs plans, meanwhile, three different men are trying to win the hand of Pages daughter, Anne Page. Mistress Page would like her daughter to marry Doctor Caius, a French physician, Anne herself is in love with Master Fenton, but Page had previously rejected Fenton as a suitor due to his having squandered his considerable fortune on high-class living. Hugh Evans, a Welsh parson, tries to enlist the help of Mistress Quickly in wooing Anne for Slender, the Host of the Garter Inn prevents this duel by telling both men a different meeting place, causing much amusement for himself, Justice Shallow, Page and others. Evans and Caius decide to work together to be revenged on the Host, when the women receive the letters, each goes to tell the other, and they quickly find that the letters are almost identical. This all results in embarrassment for Falstaff. Mr. Ford poses as Mr. Brook and says he is in love with Mistress Ford and he offers to pay Falstaff to court her, saying that once she has lost her honour he will be able to tempt her himself. Falstaff cannot believe his luck, and tells Brook he has arranged to meet Mistress Ford while her husband is out. Falstaff leaves to keep his appointment and Ford soliloquises that he is right to suspect his wife, when Falstaff arrives to meet Mistress Ford, the merry wives trick him into hiding in a laundry basket full of filthy, smelly clothes awaiting laundering. When the jealous Ford returns to try and catch his wife with the knight, the wives have the basket taken away, although this affects Falstaffs pride, his ego is surprisingly resilient. He is convinced that the wives are just playing hard to get him, so he continues his pursuit of sexual advancement, with its attendant capital. Again Falstaff goes to meet the women but Mistress Page comes back and they try to think of ways to hide him other than the laundry basket which he refuses to get into again. They trick him again, this time into disguising himself as Mistress Fords maids obese aunt, Ford tries once again to catch his wife with the knight but ends up beating the old woman, whom he despises, and throwing her out of his house
The title page of the 1619 quarto (the False Folio): A most pleasant and excellent conceited comedy, of Sir John Falstaffe, and the merry wiues of Windsor.
A watercolor of Act III, Scene iii: Falstaff wooing Mistress Ford.