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Cressida (Carolyn Holding) and Troilus (Christopher Joel Onken) from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of Troilus and Cressida.

I’m alive, but just barely. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind – I wrote a massive report, moved to San Diego, and took an exhausting week-long stem cell handling course at the Scripps Research Institute. And now I’m here to talk to you about Troilus and Cressida.

I will say, for the record, that I wanted to love this play. I don’t hate it, but I certainly don’t feel passion for it the way I do for Richard III, Henry V, and more recently, Julius Caesar. Troilus and Cressida is a strange play. It feels out of place, like it doesn’t belong with the other plays I’ve read.

I found a copy of The Meaning of Shakespeare by Harold C. Goddard at a used bookstore, and he believes that this play was written for a different audience. He writes: “The author of the preface to the Second Quarto indeed says that the play was ‘never staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar…[nor] sullied with the smoky breath of the multitude,’ which at the very least implies that the play was not produced on the popular stage.” So if this is true, then this play wasn’t made for the common viewer. Which means it wasn’t made for me or you – and maybe that’s why it’s so strange to read. Shakespeare usually writes for all of us, but not today.

We are in the midst of the Trojan War, where Troilus is refusing to fight because he’s too busy being madly in love with Cressida. Pandarus, Cressida’s uncle, has been trying to bring them together.

O, Pandarus! I tell thee, Pandarus:
When I do tell thee there my hopes lie drowned,
Reply not in how many fathoms deep
They lie indrenched. I tell thee I am mad
In Cressid’s love. Thou answer’st she is fair;
Pourest in the open ulcer of my heart
Her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice;
Handlest in thy discourse – O – that her hand,
In whose comparison all whites are ink
Writing their own reproach, to whose soft seizure
The cygnet’s down is harsh, and spirit of sense
Hard as the palm of plowman. This thou tell’st me,
As true thou tell’st me, when I say I love her.
But, saying thus, instead of oil and balm
Thou lay’st in every gash that love hath given me
The knife that made it.

This love-sick lamenting reminds me a lot of Romeo. But, unlike Romeo, I don’t like Troilus one bit. We will see later that he is incredibly self-absorbed. He knows how to use his words, but does he actually truly love and know Cressida outside of her beauty?

Before we move on, we need to refresh ourselves on what exactly is happening outside of Troilus’ feelings. Paris, Troilus’ brother, has taken the beautiful Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. A bloodbath (AKA the Trojan War) broke out in response to this, of course.

Larger issues aside, Pandarus is annoyed with Troilus for being impatient. He leaves Troilus, who continues to complain.

Sound alarum.

Peace, you ungracious clamors! Peace, rude sounds!
Fools on both sides! Helen must needs be fair
When with your blood you daily paint her thus.
I cannot fight upon this argument;
It is too starved a subject for my sword.
But Pandarus – O gods, how do you plague me!
I cannot come to Cressid but by Pandar,
And he’s as tetchy to be wooed to woo
As she is stubborn-chaste against all suit.
Tell me, Apollo, for thy Daphne’s love,
What Cressid is, what Pandar, and what we.
Her bed is India; there she lies, a pearl.
Between our Ilium and where she resides,
Let it be called the wild and wand’ring flood,
Ourself the merchant, and this sailing Pandar
Our doubtful hope, our convoy, and our bark.

Troilus knows he needs Pandarus if he’s ever going to win Cressida. He knows this, and can’t help but be ungrateful and impatient anyway. I really don’t like how entitled Troilus feels to Cressida. Up until now, all we know about her is that she’s beautiful and stubborn. What else is there, Troilus?

We cut to Cressida, who is gossiping with her man Alexander. Apparently, Hector (Troilus’ older brother) was knocked down in the field by Ajax, his nephew. Ajax, despite having Trojan blood, is fighting for the Greeks. Hector is very upset about being knocked down, apparently.

Pandarus enters and attempts to talk to Cressida about Troilus.

[Helen] praised his complexion above Paris’.

Why, Paris hath color enough.

So he has.

Then Troilus should have too much. If she praised him above, his complexion is higher than his. He having color enough, and the other higher, is too flaming a praise for a good complexion. I had as lief Helen’s golden tongue commended Troilus for a copper nose.

I swear to you, I think Helen loves him better than Paris.

Then she’s a merry Greek indeed.

Cressida is wonderful, much like Shakespeare’s other heroines. Cressida is spunky, and has a sharp tongue. She’s my kind of girl, that’s for sure. Pandarus seems to be trying to make her jealous, but she pays him no mind. I wonder how much of the Dark Lady’s personality is in Cressida…?

Cressida acts very disdainful of Troilus, and yet…

Words, vows, gifts, tears, and love’s full sacrifice
He offers in another’s enterprise;
But more in Troilus thousandfold I see
Than in the glass of Pandar’s praise may be.
Yet hold I off. Women are angels, wooing;
Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.
That she beloved knows naught that knows not this:
Men prize the thing ungained more than it is.
That she was never yet that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue.
Therefore this maxim out of love I teach:
Achievement is command; ungained, beseech,
Then though my heart’s content firm love doth bear,
Nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear.

Cressida loves Troilus, but she refuses to see it. She needs to protect herself, and to protect herself, she needs to protect her virginity. Once women are possessed, they become nothing more than things. Poor Cressida. I am sorry that she lives in this world, and I am sorry that her virginity is what makes her valuable. She is courageous and witty, but none of that seems to matter to anybody.

This play tells two stories: the story of Troilus and Cressida, and the larger story of the war. They are very loosely interwoven, and I have some of Goddard’s insight to share about what they might have in common later. But, for the most part, I’d rather we skip through the long, rambling passages about slaughter and focus on the more interesting bits. If I didn’t, we’d be here all day.

After so many hours, lives, speeches spent,
Thus once again says Nestor from the Greeks:
“Deliver Helen and all damage else –
As honor, loss of time, travel, expense,
Wounds, friends, and what else dear that is consumed
In hot digestion of this cormorant war –
Shall be struck off.” – Hector, what say you to ‘t?

Cassandra enters. She is the daughter of Priam, and therefore sister to Troilus, Hector, and Paris.

Virgins and boys, mid-age and wrinkled elders,
Soft infancy, that nothing canst but cry,
Add to my clamors. Let us pay betimes
A moiety of that mass of moan to come.
Cry, Trojans, cry! Practice your eyes with tears.
Troy must not be, nor goodly Ilium stand.
Our firebrand brother Paris burns us all.
Cry, Trojans, cry! A Helen and a woe!
Cry, cry! Troy burns, or else let Helen go.

Cassandra’s prophecies are true, but everybody dismisses her as a raving lunatic. This is her curse. But she is like every other woman in this play, really. Nobody pays them any mind, even though they speak the most sense.

They decide to let the war continue.

Hector, who is still salty, decides that he wants to challenge a Greek soldier to battle so he can prove himself. Achilles, objectively, is the best soldier in the Greek camp. He has been acting out, however, and refuses to speak to the Greek leaders. They choose to heap praise onto Ajax instead, to give him enough confidence to accept Hector’s challenge.

Why should a man be proud? How doth pride grow? I know not what pride is.

Your mind is clearer, Ajax, and your virtues the fairer. He that is proud eats up himself. Pride is his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle; and whatever praises itself but in the deed devours the deed in the praise.

I do hate a proud man as I hate the engendering of toads.

NESTOR, [aside]
And yet he loves himself. Is ‘t not strange?

Most of this is just silly – what’s more important is that Achilles is refusing to go to the field.

On the Trojan side, meanwhile, Pandarus has finally brought Troilus and Cressida together.

TROILUS, [to Cressida]
You know now your hostages: your uncle’s word and my firm faith.

Nay, I’ll give my word for her too. Our kindred, though they be long ere they are wooed, they are constant being won. They are burrs, I can tell you; they’ll stick where they are thrown.

Boldness comes to me now and brings me heart.
Prince Troilus, I have loved you night and day
For many weary months.

Troilus asks her why she was so hard to win, and she tells him. But there is absolutely no way he understands. Troilus is so caught up in his own passions. He really does not understand the risk Cressida is taking by giving herself to him like this.

Tina Packer compares this play to Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet, but a big difference between those plays and Troilus and Cressida is that the two main characters are not equals to one another. Mark Antony and Cleopatra certainly are, and so are Romeo and Juliet. But Cressida is nothing compared to Troilus – by giving herself to him, she is giving him everything. If he leaves her, she is left with absolutely nothing. She knows this. Troilus cannot possibly understand – he is one of Priam’s sons, and a great warrior. He is losing nothing here, and that is incredibly frustrating to realize.

In any case, they promise to be true to each other. A pretty promise, but one that will prove difficult to keep.

The Trojan leader Antenor has been captured by the Greeks, and in exchange for him, Cressida’s father is willing to give her up to the enemy camp. Here it is: this is what will truly test the love between Troilus and Cressida.

Achilles, meanwhile, is still stirring things up in the Greek camp. The Greek leaders are tired of him, and so is everyone else.

To this effect, Achilles, have I moved you.
A woman impudent and mannish grown
Is not more loathed than an effeminate man
In time of action. I stand condemned for this.
They think my little stomach to the war,
And your great love to me, restrains you thus.
Sweet, rouse yourself, and the weak wanton Cupid
Shall from your neck unloose his amorous fold
And, like a dewdrop from the lion’s mane,
Be shook to air.

Shall Ajax fight with Hector?

Ay, and perhaps receive much honor by him.

I see my reputation is at stake;
My fame is shrewdly gored.

Why is Achilles behaving this way? He clearly loves his fame and notoriety. Ulysses calls him out for being in love with one of Priam’s daughters. Could this be true?

Troilus and Cressida have spent all night making love, and now morning is here. Cressida has truly made the ultimate sacrifice: she has given up everything for love. Everything hangs on Troilus being faithful to her. But, like I said, I don’t think he understands. I think that, more than anything, Cressida is a prize to him. I’m not sure how much her personality plays into his intense feelings.

Pandarus enters, and a very awkward exchange ensues.

How now, how now? How go maidenheads? Here, you maid! Where’s my Cousin Cressid?

Go hang yourself, you naughty mocking uncle. You bring me to do – and then you flout me too.

To do what, to do what? – Let her say what. – What have I brought you to do?

You have to very consciously stop reading this play through a modern lens sometimes, that’s all I’m going to say. This is probably normal Trojan behavior that my 2017 mind just can’t comprehend.

But Pandarus has bad news.

Good uncle, I beseech you, on my knees I beseech you, what’s the matter?

Thou must be gone, wench; thou must be gone. Thou art changed for Antenor. Thou must to thy father and be gone from Troilus. ‘Twill be his death; ’twill be his bane. He cannot bear it.

O you immortal gods! I will not go.

But she has to go. Cressida has no say, what she wants doesn’t matter. She and Troilus exchange love tokens, and once again promise to be true to each other.

Diomedes has been sent to fetch Cressida, and he immediately begins to speak in the language of courtly love. Right in front of Troilus.

Fair Lady Cressid,
So please you, save the thanks this prince expects.
The luster in your eye, heaven in your cheek,
Pleads your fair usage, and to Diomed
You shall be mistress and command him wholly.

Ballsy move, Diomedes. I immediately felt uneasy about Diomedes, though. He clearly has other plans for Cressida.

When poor Cressida is brought to the Greek camp, the leaders each kiss her in turn. It’s a very uncomfortable scene, rape-but-not-rape. As always, Cressida has no say. She cannot fight or use more than her words. And even then she is walking on eggshells. Oh, poor Cressida. It is so difficult to be a woman.

Hector and Ajax fight, but neither of them is declared a winner. Instead, they acknowledge their familial ties to each other. Hector then meets Achilles, who is sure that he would have won the fight.

Tell me, you heavens, in which part of his body
Shall I destroy him – whether there, or there, or there –
That I may give the local wound a name
And make distinct the very breach whereout
Hector’s great spirit flew. Answer me, heavens!

It would discredit the blest gods, proud man,
To answer such a question. Stand again.
Think’st thou to catch my life so pleasantly
As to prenominate in nice conjecture
Where thou wilt hit me dead?

I tell thee, yea.

Proud is probably the best word to describe Achilles. His pride alienates everybody else, and he comes off as being a caricature of the person he is supposed to be. We never even get to see him be a great warrior on the field, and it’s a shame. He does challenge Hector though, because of course he does. This is Achilles we’re talking about.

Achilles receives a letter from Hecuba, the Trojan queen.

My sweet Patroclus, I am thwarted quite
From my great purpose in tomorrow’s battle.
Here is a letter from Queen Hecuba,
A token from her daughter, my fair love,
Both taxing me and gaging me to keep
An oath that I have sworn. I will not break it.
Fall, Greeks; fail, fame; honor, or go or stay;
My major vow lies here; this I’ll obey.

So Ulysses was right – Achilles is in love with a Trojan princess. And with Patroclus. I can’t shame him for loving people. He probably shouldn’t have challenged Hector though, since he’s supposed to be keeping peace with the Trojans.

We move back to poor Cressida, who has been reduced to Greek property.

How now, my charge?

Now, my sweet guardian. Hark, a word with you.

[She whispers to him.]

TROILUS, [aside]
Yea, so familiar?

ULYSSES, [aside to Troilus]
She will sing any man at first sight.

Cressida calls Diomedes her guardian – she hopes he will guard her and protect her, I’m sure.

Will you remember?

Remember? Yes.

Nay, but do, then, and let your mind be coupled with your words.

TROILUS, [aside]
What should she remember?

ULYSSES, [aside to Troilus]

Sweet honey Greek, tempt me no more to folly.

THERSITES, [aside]

Nay, then –

I’ll tell you what –

Foh, foh, come, tell a pin! You are forsworn.

In faith, I cannot. What would you have me do?

THERSITES, [aside]
A juggling trick: to be secretly open!

What did you swear you would bestow on me?

I prithee, do not hold me to mine oath.
Bid me do anything but that, sweet Greek.

If it isn’t clear, Diomedes is pressuring Cressida into having sex with him. There is something so irritating about having men listen in on this exchange, about having them judge her. Does it looks like she has any choice? Cressida is stuck, she is splintering.

She tries to appease Diomedes, to keep him happy. He asks her for a token, and she gives him Troilus’ sleeve. But she snatches it back immediately. She is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She cannot antagonize Diomedes, but she can’t force herself to betray Troilus.

Has Cressida broken her promise to remain true?

No. Troilus has.

Troilus has the reputation of being true, but he is the one who breaks his promise to Cressida. She has no choice – she is a woman of no rank, and she is no longer a virgin. She gave Troilus everything. Everything. And Troilus? He could have stepped in to defend her. Being true does not only mean remaining faithful sexually. To be true is to  remain loyal – outside of the bedchamber, I mean. Troilus is not loyal. He does not think to ask Cressida about her feelings, or ask her about why she did what she did. He simply storms off. Cressida was nothing but a prize to him – a beautiful husk.

Later, the men ignore warnings from Hector’s wife Andromache and Cassandra, and Hector is sent off to battle. Pandarus gives Troilus a letter from Cressida. A letter that he tears to shreds. Troilus is so caught up in his own heartbreak that he can’t see things from Cressida’s side. This romance was doomed from the beginning – not because of the war, but because of who Troilus is.

Achilles comes upon an unarmed Hector and takes him down. There is no honor in that, no honor at all. Achilles should be ashamed. Is this what it means to be a great warrior?

The Trojans march back to Troy, and the play ends very abruptly. Cressida is abandoned, by Troilus and by Shakespeare. We don’t know what happens to her. All we know is that she is to remain at the Greek camp. Spunky, brave Cressida is gone – she is a shadow of her former self. All she needed was for a man to stand up for her. As a woman in her position, that was the only thing that could have helped. But she was left behind.

There are a lot of storylines in this play, and far too many characters. A lot of the storylines seem to be unrelated, but if we are to take this play at face value, then we aren’t giving it the thought it deserves. “What the author is saying,” according to Goddard, “is that the problem of lust and the problem of violence, and so of war, are the same problem seen from different angles.”

When you think about Troilus and Cressida this way, a lot of things start to make sense. The problem wasn’t Cressida’s unfaithfulness, but the fact that Troilus only felt lust for her at the end of the day. And when women are seen as objects, things can only end in tears.



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Mistress Page (Serena Evans), Falstaff (Christopher Benjamin), and Mistress Ford (Sarah Woodward) in the Globe’s 2010 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

I have to be honest and say that I was dreading reading The Merry Wives of Windsor. Why should I have looked forward to it? Every single critical text I’ve read has torn this particular play to shreds. I’ve seen it called Shakespeare’s absolute worst play.

Despite all of this, I’m here to tell you that The Merry Wives of Windsor is not as bad as people make it out to be. The wordplay is unsophisticated and simple at best, and the plot is basic. There is nothing special about this play, but there’s nothing terrible about it either. I feel like it is unfair to expect Shakespeare to deliver perfect poetry all the time – not every play is going to be a Hamlet or a King Lear. Sometimes, plays and words are (and should be) simple. And simple language suits the plot of The Merry Wives of Windsor best.

Harold Bloom claims that this play is the one that Shakespeare himself “seems to hold in contempt.” We’ll have to ignore for a moment that most of what Bloom says is stuffy nonsense, and think about this statement seriously for a minute. I don’t think Shakespeare held any of his own work in contempt. I think he was a businessman as well as a playwright, and was bringing Falstaff back to the masses that loved him. Stunning poetry is all well and good, but it doesn’t always put money in your pockets. All I’m saying is that it’s okay that Shakespeare wrote this, it’s okay that his poetic switch was turned off for a moment, and it’s okay that this play is about Falstaff.

I’ve mentioned before how people spend way, way too much time and energy on Falstaff when they read the Henriad. Bloom is obsessed with Falstaff – to the point where someone once told me it made them hate Falstaff before they picked up Henry IV, Part One. A lot of people hate The Merry Wives of Windsor because Falstaff doesn’t have the same sparkle and wit he has in the Henriad – they claim it isn’t Falstaff. But, you know what? I think it is Falstaff. This is Falstaff out of the spotlight – our sparkling masters of wits are the titular wives. I didn’t think Falstaff did much of anything that was out of character for him. His language has changed, but if Shakespeare was allowed to turn off his poetry for a minute, then Falstaff is allowed to do so as well. Maybe this vacationing-in-Windsor-Falstaff doesn’t feel the need to shine and drown us in complicated wordplay because he’s miles away from the person (Hal) that he’s spent his life trying to impress. But I digress.

I’m defending this play to death, I know, and maybe it doesn’t deserve it. But I love the Henriad, and seeing a few characters I know of made this play feel cozy. I felt like I was coming home, in a sense. So forgive a young woman her nonsense, and let’s get into this play.

We open in…Windsor, obviously. Justice Shallow, his nephew Slender, and Sir Hugh Evans the parson are on their way to the Page residence. As it happens, Mistress and Master Page have a daughter that everybody is dying to marry.

Mistress Anne Page? She has brown hair and speaks small like a woman?

It is that fery person for all the ‘orld, as just as you will desire. And seven hundred pounds of moneys, and gold, and silver, is her grandsire upon his death’s-bed (Got deliver to a joyful resurrection!) give, when she is able to overtake seventeen years old. It were a goot motion if we leave out pribbles and prabbles, and desire a marriage between Master Abraham and Mistress Anne Page.

I do love Sir Hugh’s exaggerated Welsh accent. Anyway, Anne is going to be loaded one day, so Slender had better get on that ASAP.

Falstaff is at the Page residence, and Shallow has a bone to pick with him. Apparently, Falstaff killed his deer.

Now, Master Shallow, you’ll complain of me to the King?

Knight, you have beaten my men, killed my deer, and broken open my lodge.

But not kissed your keeper’s daughter.

I spent a long time trying to figure out when this play is taking place. I now think that it is somewhere in the middle of Henry IV’s reign. My copy of this play suggests it could be during the reign of Henry V, but I don’t think so. There is just something about the mood of this play that makes it fit into the timeline of Henry IV, Part One more than anything else.

Slender, meanwhile, accuses Falstaff’s men of robbing him. Bardolph does have sticky fingers…! In any case, this is a regular Boar’s Head reunion. And, as I mentioned, that’s exactly what makes this play feel so homey.

Mistress Anne Page enters, and she’s a catch. Sir Hugh and Shallow struggle to figure out if Slender is up to the task of wooing her. This shouldn’t be a struggle but, well, Slender is an idiot.

But can you affection the ‘oman? Let us command to know that of your mouth, or of your lips; for divers philosophers hold that the lips is parcel of the mouth. Therefore, precisely, can you carry your good will to the maid?

Cousin Abraham Slender, can you love her?

I hope, sir, I will do as it shall become one that would do reason.

Sir Hugh is seconds from losing it, and who can blame him? Slender is incredibly dense, and certainly no match for this Windsor girl. Sir Hugh and Shallow eventually decide that Slender’s nonsensical ramblings indicate that he’s up to the marriage. Slender then tries to woo Anne, but it is incredibly clumsy. But I’m sure Anne is used to this. There’s no way she hasn’t dealt with her fair share of idiots, being as desirable as she is.

Mistress Quickly is apparently the best way to get to Anne, because she is asked to speak with Anne on Slender’s behalf. Oh, Mistress Quickly. She means well, but she agrees to do what everybody asks of her. This leads to a lot of mix-ups.

Falstaff, meanwhile, is on a firing spree. He’s going a bit broke. The Host of the Garter offers Bardolph a job.

Bardolph, follow him. A tapster is a good trade. An old cloak makes a new jerkin, a withered servingman a fresh tapster. Go. Adieu.

It is a life that I have desired. I will thrive.

You sure will, Bardolph. I have to say that Bardolph is my favorite of Falstaff’s men. He is incredibly loyal to Falstaff, and a bit dim, but good-natured. Sticky fingers and permanently drunk state aside, of course.

Pistol and Nym enter, and Falstaff reveals his master plan.

No quips now, Pistol. Indeed, I am in the waist two yards about, but I am now about no waste; I am about thrift. Briefly, I do mean to make love to Ford’s wife. I spy entertainment in her. She discourses; she carves; she gives the leer of invitation. I can construe the action of her familiar style; and the hardest voice of her behavior, to be Englished rightly, is “I am Sir John Falstaff’s.” […] Now, the report goes, she has all the rule of her husband’s purse. He hath a legion of angels.

Oh, Falstaff. No.

FALSTAFF, [showing two papers]
I have writ me here a letter to her; and here another to Page’s wife, who even now gave me good eyes too, examined my parts with most judicious oeillades. Sometimes the beam of her view gilded my foot, sometimes my portly belly. […] O, she did so course o’er my exteriors with such a greedy intention that the appetite of her eye did seem to scorch me up like a burning-glass. Here’s another letter to her. She bears the purse too; she is a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty. I will be cheaters to them both, and they shall be exchequers to me; they shall be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both. Go bear thou this letter to Mistress Page – and thou this to Mistress Ford. We will thrive, lads, we will thrive.

Shockingly, Pistol and Nym refuse. Falstaff dismisses them from his service immediately and gives the letters to his page, Robin. Pistol and Nym, of course, immediately decide they need to take revenge.

Falstaff’s plot is so silly. He means to sleep with both Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, in hopes that he’ll have access to their purses. Silly man. But not entirely out of character.

We are introduced to another of Anne’s suitors, the dramatic Dr. Caius. Mistress Quickly works for him, for whatever reason. He is French – yes, this play has two funny accents for us to enjoy. Shakespeare really went all out. Sarcasm aside, Dr. Caius loses his mind when he intercepts the letter that Sir Hugh wrote on Slender’s behalf. He decides to challenge…Sir Hugh to a duel? You’d think he’d challenge Slender, but alright. We’ll go with it.

We are also introduced to Fenton, another one of Anne’s gentleman callers. Good grief! This girl is like honeycomb to flies.

What news? How does pretty Mistress Anne?

In truth, sir, and she is pretty, and honest, and gentle; and one that is your friend, I can tell you that by the way, I praise heaven for it.

Shall I do any good, think’st thou? Shall I not lose my suit?

Troth, sir, all is in His hands above. But notwithstanding, Master Fenton, I’ll be sworn on a book that she loves you.

This is great and all, but Mistress Quickly more or less assures every one of Anne’s suitors that they’re still in the game at some point. But, I will say that Fenton is the least offensive of them. Funny how nobody thinks to ask Anne’s opinion, hmm?

We return to Falstaff’s plot again. He definitely didn’t think any of this through, because it turns out that Mistress Page and Mistress Ford are best friends. We’re treated to a dramatic reading of Falstaff’s letter.

What, have I ‘scaped love letters in the holiday time of my beauty, and am I now a subject for them? Let me see.

[She reads.]

‘Ask me no reason why I love you, for though Love use Reason for his precisian, he admits him not for his counselor. You are not young; no more am I. Go to, then, there’s sympathy. You are merry; so am I. Ha, ha, then, there’s more sympathy. You love sack, and so do I. Would you desire better sympathy? Let it suffice thee, Mistress Page – at the least, if the love of soldier can suffice – that I love thee. I will not say pity me – ’tis not a soldier-like phrase – but I say love me. By me,

Thine own true knight,
By day or night,
Or any kind of light,
With all his might
For thee to fight,

John Falstaff.’

You have got to be kidding me. This is the letter that Falstaff believes will woo a married woman?! Even Doll Tearsheet would mock him for this. But forget my reaction to this – Mistress Page has an even better one:

What a herod of Jewry is this! O wicked, wicked world! One that is well-nigh worn to pieces with age, to show himself a young gallant! What an unweighted behavior hath this Flemish drunkard picked – with the devil’s name! – out of my conversation, that he dares in this manner assay me? Why, he hath not been thrice in my company! What should I say to him! Why, I’ll exhibit a bill in the Parliament for the putting down of men. How shall I be revenged on him? For revenged I will be, as sure as his guts are made of puddings.

I realized a few sentences into this that Falstaff has no idea who he’s dealing with. There is something to be said about how ‘merry’ women were seen when compared to their more silent, conservative companions. Falstaff genuinely thought this would work, which is just crazy. Apparently, he’s been in her company only three times. What can I say, Mistress Page? That’s men for you. I do love the line about the bill in the Parliament, though. Very Beatrice-esque!

Mistress Ford comes in and – lo and behold! – she has a letter too. The same letter. The same letter.

Letter for letter, but that the name of Page and Ford differs! To thy great comfort in this mystery of ill opinions, here’s the twin brother of thy letter. [She gives a paper to Mistress Ford, who reads it.] But let thine inherit first, for I protest mine never shall. I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters writ with blank space for different names – sure, more – and these are of the second edition. He will print them, out of doubt; for he cares not what he puts into the press, when he would put us two. I had rather be a giantess and lie under Mount Pelion. Well, I will find you twenty lascivious turtles ere one chaste man.

God, I love Mistress Page. The modern equivalent of this situation would be a man sending a group text to multiple women, thinking that they wouldn’t know he was addressing six of them at once. For shame, for shame. Falstaff’s laziness is really going to bite him in the ass. As it should.

Pistol and Nym go spill the beans to Ford and Page. Ford is incredibly jealous, and is in a constant state of losing his mind during this play. I really do not like him – his jealousy isn’t charming in the slightest. His wife is far too good for him, really. But he’ll get what he deserves in time.

[…] Does [Falstaff] lie at the Garter?

Ay, marry, does he. If he should intend this voyage toward my wife, I would turn her loose to him; and what he gets more of her than sharp words, let it lie on my head.

I do not misdoubt my wife, but I would be loath to turn them together. A man may be too confident. I would have nothing lie on my head. I cannot be thus satisfied.

Master Page is where it’s at, really. He knows that all Falstaff would get from Mistress Page is a sound verbal beating. Page comes off as being very secure in his relationship. Meanwhile, Master ‘I-do-not-misdoubt-my-wife-but’ Ford leaves much to be desired.

The Host of the Garter, meanwhile, has been going to great lengths to keep Sir Hugh and Dr. Caius apart. You’ll recall that Dr. Caius wants to kick Sir Hugh’s ass for trying to win Anne on Slender’s behalf. Page sets off with the Host and Shallow to enjoy this meaningless subplot. Ford, meanwhile, is left to stew in his jealousy. He decides to appear to Falstaff under the guise of Brook.

Ford/Brook goes to Falstaff (who has just been invited to the Ford residence by its Mistress!), and gives him a big old bag of money. Falstaff is delighted, naturally.

FALSTAFF, [taking the bag]
Master Brook, I will first make bold with your money; next, give me your hand; and last, as I am a gentleman, you shall, if you will, enjoy Ford’s wife.

Oh, Falstaff, you fool. Ford is playing him like a fiddle. Acting as Brook, he asks Falstaff to help him get to Mistress Ford. Falstaff, who must be high to still call himself a gentleman, agrees.

Want no Mistress Ford, Master Brook; you shall want none. I shall be with her, I may tell you, by her own appointment. Even as you came in to me, her assistant or go-between parted from me. I say I shall be with her between ten and eleven, for at that time the jealous, rascally knave her husband will be forth. Come you to me at night. You shall know how I speed.

With every word, Falstaff digs a deeper grave for himself. Ford is sure he’ll catch his wife and Falstaff in the act. His mood is quite explosive right now – but when isn’t it?

Dr. Caius and Sir Hugh, meanwhile, are wandering all over Windsor in search of one another. The Host purposely misdirected them, and when they finally come together he tells them just that. Instead of laughing this entire thing off, they decide to take revenge on the host. They end up deciding to steal his horses. The men in this play all need to calm down, really. But I guess there’s not much to do in a small town like Windsor.

Ford gathers men and goes to his house in order to catch his wife with Falstaff. He runs into Mistress Page.

Well met, Mistress Page. Whither go you?

Truly, sir, to see your wife. Is she at home?

Ay, and as idle as she may hang together, for want of company. I think if your husbands were dead, you two would marry.

That would be a blessing to Mistress Ford, that’s for sure. Mistress Page leaves, and Ford goes on another one of his tirades.

Has Page any brains? Hath he any eyes? Hath he any thinking? Sure they sleep; he hath no use of them. Why, this boy will carry a letter twenty mile as easy as a cannon will shoot point-blank twelve score. He pieces out his wife’s inclination. He gives her folly motion and advantage. And now she’s going to my wife, and Falstaff’s boy with her! Good plots they have laid, and our revolted wives share damnation together. Well, I will take him, then torture my wife, pluck the borrowed veil of modesty from the so-seeming Mistress Page, divulge Page himself for a secure and willful Acteon, and to these violent proceedings all my neighbors shall cry aim. [A click strikes.] The clock gives me my cue, and my assurance bids me search. There I shall find Falstaff. I shall be rather praised for this than mocked, for it is as positive as the earth is firm that Falstaff is there. I will go.

I understand why Shakespeare felt the need to make Ford such a jealous lunatic, but it doesn’t mean I have to like him for it. In addition to wanting to shame his wife, he decides he’s going to expose Mistress Page as well. Not that it’s any of his business what Mistress Page is up to. If anything, it’s between her and her husband. And Master Page trusts her. He probably expends the least amount of energy out of everybody in this play, which I appreciate. He’s just in a constant state of, ‘yeah, that’ll never happen,’ which contrasts sharply with Ford.

There is still the question of who is going to marry Anne Page. Will it be Slender? Dr. Caius? Fenton?

HOST, [to Page]
What say you to young Master Fenton? He capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth, he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May. He will carry ‘t, he will carry ‘t. ‘Tis in his buttons he will carry ‘t.

Not by my consent, I promise you. The gentleman is of no having. He kept company with the wild Prince and Poins. He is of too high a region; and knows too much. No, he shall not knit a knot in his fortunes with the finger of my substance. If he take her, let him take her simply. The wealth I have waits on my consent, and my consent goes not that way.

Fenton is clearly the best out of all the suitors, but Page is having none of it. Go figure – hanging out with Hal and Poins (who, objectively, does suck) gave him a bit a reputation. But now I like him even more.

Over at the Ford residence, the plot thickens. Mistress Page interrupts Mistress Ford’s ‘tryst’ with news that Ford is on his way. Everybody begins to panic – what are they supposed to do with Falstaff?!

For shame! Never stand “you had rather” and “you had rather.” Your husband’s here at hand. Bethink you of some conveyance. In the house you cannot hide him. O, how have you deceived me! Look, here is a basket. If he be of any reasonable stature, he may creep in here; and throw foul linen upon him, as if it were going to bucking. Or – it is whiting time – send him by your two men to Datchet Mead.

Falstaff gets tossed into the laundry basket, and is carried out of the house. Ford, meanwhile, arrives to see that his wife is alone with Mistress Page. No Falstaff or foul play in sight.

Is there not a double excellency in this?

I know not which pleases me better – that my husband is deceived, or Sir John.

I don’t know what pleases me better either, Mistress Ford. I truly adore these women – they’re delightful! This play is a simple as can be, but it made me laugh so many times. You don’t need sharp puns to get your point across – Mistresses Page and Ford certainly don’t.

Falstaff is dumped out with the rest of the laundry – right into the river. Serves him right.

All of this commotion, and Fenton is courting Anne.

I see I cannot get thy father’s love;
Therefore no more turn me to him, sweet Nan.

Alas, how then?

Why, thou must be thyself.
He doth object I am too great of birth,
And that, my state being galled with my expense,
I seek to heal it only by his wealth.
Besides these, other bars he lays before me –
My riots past, my wild societies –
And tells me ’tis a thing impossible
I should love thee but as a property.

Maybe he tells you true.

No, heaven so speed me in my time to come!
Albeit I will confess thy father’s wealth
Was the first motive that I wooed thee, Anne.
Yet, wooing thee, I found thee of more value
Than stamps in gold or sums in sealèd bags.
And ’tis the very riches of thyself
That now I aim at.

I really appreciate Fenton’s honesty here. Yes, Page’s wealth is what brought him to Anne, but now he genuinely loves her. Goodness knows that nobody is allowed to shake off a riotous past (see: Henry V) in these plays. How will Fenton win Master Page over?

Falstaff, despite having been tossed in the river, is invited back to the Ford residence. He tells Ford/Brook all about this, of course, and the plot repeats itself. He goes to Mistress Ford, is told of Master Ford’s coming, and a panic erupts. This time, however, our merry wives decide to dress him up as a woman, so that he may sneak out undetected.

I would my husband would meet him in this shape. He cannot abide the old woman of Brentford. He swears she’s a witch, forbade her my house, and hath threatened to beat her.

That’s right – Falstaff is now dressed as somebody that Ford absolutely despises.

Ford arrives and, having heard of last time’s laundry basket trick, has the men dump out all the laundry.

Here’s no man.

By my fidelity, this is not well, Master Ford. This wrongs you.

Master Ford, you must pray and not follow the imagination of your own heart. This is jealousies.

Well, he’s not here I seek for.

I really enjoyed Ford’s embarrassment here. Having the men around him telling him that he’s making a fool of himself is a wonderful touch. He decides to look through the house – and he does indeed come across Falstaff…except he thinks it’s the old woman of Brentford. He beats the stuffing out of Falstaff, who makes a narrow escape.

Mistress Page and Mistress Ford decide that it’s finally time to let their husbands in on this whole Falstaff nonsense.

Pardon me, wife. Henceforth do what thou wilt.
I rather will suspect the sun with cold
Than thee with wantonness. Now doth thy honor stand,
In him that was late an heretic,
As firm as faith.

That’s right, you jealous fool. He’s still being dramatic though, so Page tells him to calm down. A final prank is planned: Mistress Ford and Mistress Page will lure Falstaff to the woods at midnight with the promise of a tryst. They’ll have children and the others dress as fairies and goblins to fright Falstaff out of his wits. Anne is to be the Queen of the Fairies, dressed in white.

Speaking of Anne…Master Page decides that she should be married to Slender, and so tells her to dress in white so that Slender can steal her away during the fairy trick. Mistress Page, however, decides that Dr. Caius is the better choice, so she tells Anne to dress in green so that the good doctor can whisk her away. We still don’t know what Anne wants to do, however.

In the woods at midnight, the prank commences. Falstaff is absolutely disgraced, and tries to escape all of the fairies and goblins that are poking at him for being such a sinful disgrace.

PAGE, [to Falstaff]
Nay, do not fly. I think we have watched you now. Will none but Herne the Hunter serve your turn?

I pray you, come, hold up the jest no higher. –
Now, good sir John, how like you Windsor wives?

I don’t know about Falstaff, but I’m rather partial to Windsor wives at the moment.

I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass.

Ay, and an ox too. Both the proofs are extant.

And these are not fairies. I was three or four times in the thought they were not fairies; and yet the guiltiness of my mind, the sudden surprise of my powers, drove the grossness of the foppery into a received belief, in despite of the teeth of all thyme and reason, that they were fairies. See now how wit may be made a Jack-a-Lent when ’tis upon ill employment.

Sir John Falstaff, serve Got and leave your desires, and fairies will not pinse you.

Well said, Fairy Hugh.

And leave you your jealousies too, I pray you.

Way to call Ford out, Sir Hugh. But where is Anne?

Dr. Caius and Slender apparently took boys to the church! Anne, meanwhile, took matters into her own hands and married Fenton. Phew! She and I were of the same mind when it came to her suitors, clearly.

All is well: Falstaff has been thoroughly punished, Anne is happy, and Ford knows now to trust his wife.

Well, I will muse no further. – Master Fenton,
Heaven give you many, many merry days. –
Good husband, let us every one go home
And laugh this sport o’er by a country fire –
Sir John and all.

Let it be so, Sir John.
To Master Brook you yet shall hold your word,
For tonight he shall lie with Mistress Ford.

Very suggestive of you, Master Ford. Hooray for happy endings! I’m glad they invited Falstaff back to the Page house – it’s a good-natured ending for a good-natured play.

And that’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. It’s a fine play, and one that I’d just love to see on stage. I laughed despite myself. I think we all so often fall into the trap of regarding Shakespeare as a sophisticated hobby. A hobby for clever folk, for those of us that like to spend time thinking about humans and souls and whatnot. But it doesn’t have to be so high brow. Sometimes you just need a cup of tea and a silly play like The Merry Wives of Windsor to make you smile.






Today I found myself at Filipponi Ranch, a small winery in San Luis Obispo, California. Unbeknownst to me, this little town that I’ve called home for the past two years does have a Shakespeare festival. I suppose calling one play an entire festival is a bit much, but San Luis Obispo is a small town with a small population. One play is enough for us, thank you very much.

In any case, one of my friends saw an ad for the festival at a Starbucks. She texted me a picture, because I am everybody’s resident Shakespeare friend. I decided to give it a shot, and paid only $7.50 for the entire experience. My brief review is: it was alright. If I had paid more than $7.50, I would probably be a little salty. But I didn’t, and I laughed a few times, so it was alright.

This production of Much Ado About Nothing was set post-WWI. All of our male leads were in crisp sailor’s outfits, and the concept of them having come from war was quite fitting. But, of course, I would have preferred for the play to have been put on in period. That is a personal preference of mine, though. Regardless, I would definitely see a professional production set post-WWI, because I think it’s interesting stylistically.

The very first thing I noticed – and the thing that would bother me for the rest of the production – was how smiley Beatrice was. I love when Beatrice is played as deadpan, with a sharp, dry wit that Benedick just cannot match. But all of her jabs were said jokingly and, in a sense, it took away from the chemistry that she is supposed to have with Benedick. I know Beatrice is described as a merry lady many times, but merry doesn’t have to equal smiley and giggly. Or at least it doesn’t to me. I was a bit disappointed because I love Beatrice. She and I are so eerily similar to one another. Truly, Shakespeare accidentally wrote me into Much Ado About Nothing 417 years ago.

I kid, I kid. But my criticism still stands. Beatrice and Benedick work best when they fall into the enemies-turned-lovers trope. Ignore that trope, and almost all tension between them melts away.

Benedick, however, was an absolute charmer. He fled into the audience to eavesdrop on Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato and – wouldn’t you know it! – it was my chair that he chose to crouch next to. I love little details like that. The Globe puts those little touches in their plays quite often, and I think it’s very engaging. The entire baiting scene was done very well, and the audience was in hysterics. I think my favorite part was the fact that they had Leonato reading from cue cards, as if he was unable to improvise the conversation. It added a few funny pauses to an already hilarious scene.

I did have one gripe about Benedick, and it concerned the delivery of the line, “I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?” This is one of my absolute favorite lines. It’s so tender, so tender – and yet the latter half was played for laughs. For shame! And Beatrice abandoned her sobbing for laughs and smiles when she responded. But why? The confession of love in this play happens when Beatrice is at the height of vulnerability, and I truly think she should stay in that state throughout. It gives the words weight. This is a comedy, yes, but romance still has its place in a comedy.

Let’s talk about Claudio. The love between Claudio and Hero was appropriately sweet and innocent, but I was totally unconvinced that this Claudio would shame Hero in front of her wedding party. There was something missing from Claudio. I don’t know what, exactly, but it was something crucial. He had no strength, no presence. I couldn’t even imagine him as a war hero, as bad as that sounds. But something interesting did happen during the play – when Hero fainted after being accused, he tried to rush to her…only to be stopped by Don John. I thought this was an interesting choice, because it was clearly an attempt to make Claudio a bit more likeable. It didn’t work on me, because I have ridiculously strong opinions, but it was a good attempt nonetheless.

Shockingly, I loved Dogberry and Verges best in this production. Which is almost unbelievable, because I pay them very little mind usually. But the actors had excellent comedic timing, and they garnered the most applause.

I probably sound like such a stick-in-the-mud, but believe me, I did have a good time. It was nice to be out in the open air, and it was nice to chitchat with other Shakespeare lovers. I really don’t get to do that often – though I can’t tell you how often I have to deal with people’s surprise when they find out that I’m an engineer and not a literature student.

Overall, I’m glad I went. It was a good break from the monotony of my current project. It was an amateur production, no doubt, but Shakespeare is Shakespeare. I’m leaving town for good in a week and a half. How nice of Shakespeare to say goodbye, hmm?