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There are several Themes running through the fabric of the play, each theme tied to the others in a uniform pattern.
The first theme of the play is that unacceptable behavior will be punished, or sin has its retribution. Falstaff is the character that needs to be punished, for he always tries to take advantage of others. When he does wrong, he feels no remorse for his ill deeds. Injuring Justice Shallow and stealing money from him are just preludes to Falstaff's true wickedness. His main plot is to seduce Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page in order to gain some money from these wealthy wives of Windsor. The well-known theme of the would-be lover (Falstaff) outwitted and tricked by his intended conquest (the wives of Windsor) is an ancient literary device used by many writers and staged in the plots of many comedies. Falstaff is seen falling readily into all the schemes and traps that Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford devise. He is easily duped by the wives and totally humiliated by them in the forest gathering. In the end, he receives his just punishment for his folly.
The Themes of jealousy and marital infidelity are brought out in the character of Mr. Ford, who so fears being a cuckold that he suspects his innocent wife of being unfaithful.
The theme of courtship is given almost as much treatment as the theme of Falstaff's humiliation. This theme is linked to a sub- plot, the rivalry of the three men for the hand of 'sweet Anne Page.' Since Slender, the father's choice, is an undeniable fool, and Dr. Caius, the mother's choice, is a ridiculous middle-aged French physician, the audience approves of the girl's elopement with her own choice, Fenton.
The Character of Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV
The reasons given for Falstaff's revival in The Merry Wives of Windsor were numerous, one of them being that Queen Elizabeth I had ordered Shakespeare to produce another Falstaff play. Whatever the reason may be, most critics feel that the Falstaff of The Merry Wives of Windsor cannot compete with the Falstaff of Henry IV. The Falstaff of the earlier play is the best of comical characters. He was so well known in the seventeenth century that he became a national figure. Today, most students of literature still find Falstaff a memorable character.
Although the same lively, obnoxious character is revived in The Merry Wives of Windsor, there seems to be something lacking in the new version of Falstaff. Wit, which was the earlier Falstaff's prized quality, seems to be almost absent from the Falstaff in Windsor. In Henry IV, Falstaff is a coward, but the audience still loves him because of his wit. He seems to be a symbol of Elizabethan spontaneity and naturalness. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff comes across as much too egocentric and extremely foolish, writing the same love letter to two friends. It is hard to explain why Shakespeare so drastically changed the nature of his own great comic creation in the character of Falstaff.