The Oxford Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor

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The Merry Wives of Windsor was almost certainly required at short notice for a court occasion in 1597: Shakespeare threw into it all the creative energy that went into his Henry IV plays. Falstaff is here, with Pistol, Mistress Quickly, and Justice Shallow, in a spirited and warm-hearted 'citizen comedy'. Boisterous action is combined with situational irony and rich characterization. In his introduction T. W. Craik discusses the play's probable occasion (the Garter Feast of 1597 at court), its relationship to Shakespeare's English history plays and to other sources, its textual history (with particular reference to the widely diverging 1623 Folio and 1602 Quarto), and its original quality as drama. He assesses various interpretations of the play, topical, critical, and theatrical. In the commentary he pays particular attention to expounding the literal sense (he proposes some new readings) and evoking the stage business.