`Merry Wives of Windsor' Is Earthy Delight

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 12, 2008 | Go to article overview

`Merry Wives of Windsor' Is Earthy Delight


Byline: Richard Leinaweaver For The Register-Guard

William Shakespeare's fat, funny knight, Sir John Falstaff, is appearing weekends at Amazon Park. It is the annual summer Free Shakespeare in the Park production.

Falstaff is one of the favorite characters of Shakespeare, appearing in three of his plays, originally as the carousing companion to Prince Hal in "Henry IV." Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth enjoyed him so much that she requested Shakespeare write another play about him, this time with Falstaff in love. The theory follows that Shakespeare wrote "Merry Wives" hurriedly, resulting in this Falstaff being the least of the "Henriad Trilogy."

Eugene's Free Shakespeare in the Park follows the Elizabethan tradition of performing in daylight only. Thus the weekend shows begin at 6 p.m. and finish at dusk, necessitating cutting to a slightly shorter version of the play. At 5 p.m. there is an introduction for children who hear storyteller Sarah Cassady relate major plot developments to help the kids follow the play.

We first discover Falstaff lamenting that he is getting low on money. Having researched the local gentry, he determines that he will "woo" the wives of two wealthy citizens since they handle the accounts in their houses, and should be easy gulls.

He sends identical letters of love and introduction to Mistress Ford and Mistress Page (the very Merry Wives) who just happen to be friends, who just happen to share their outrage at the audacity of the fat knight's proposition, and who decide to lead him on while setting him up for a beating or humiliation. No polite shrinking violets these, they demonstrate the wit and confidence of quite modern woman.

Their husbands learn of Falstaff's stratagem, and react differently: Page with indifference, certain of his wife's fidelity, but Ford succumbs to the green-eyed monster and concocts a plot to discover his wife's betrayal.

So that's the setup. Falstaff trying to gull the wives out of their money while enjoying their "gifts," the wives turning his gulling into his own humiliation, a jealous husband spying and setting traps for his faithful-but-suspected wife, and a romantic subplot with three suitors pursuing daughter Anne Page. …

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