First published in 1602 by William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor features the popular figure Sir John Falstaff, who first appeared in Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2. Some speculate that Merry Wives was written at the behest of Queen Elizabeth I, who wanted to see Falstaff in love; and that Shakespeare was forced to rush its creation as a result, and so it remains one of Shakespeare’s lesser-regarded plays.
The play revolves around two intertwined plots: the adventures of the rogue Falstaff who plans to seduce several local wives, and the story of young Anne Page who is being wooed by prominent citizens while she has her sights set on young Fenton. The wives come together to teach Falstaff a lesson, and in the end love triumphs.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is believed to have been first performed in 1597 and was subsequently published in quarto in 1602, in a second quarto in 1619, and then in the 1623 First Folio. Despite holding a lesser place in Shakespeare’s canon, it was one of the first Shakespearean plays to be performed in 1660, after the reinstatement of Charles II and theatre once again was permitted to be performed in London.