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Windsor , to be exact. This is kind of a big deal since Shakespeare's other comedies are always set in a foreign city like The Merchant of Venice or some royal court like the imaginary dukedom of "Illyria" in Twelfth Night. But this isn't just a play about English life—it's about middle-class life. Sure, there are aristocratic characters and also servants in the play but, The Merry Wives of Windsor is interested in the day-to-lives of ordinary citizens.
At the time Shakespeare was writing, England's social and economic structures were changing pretty quickly and Europe saw the rise of what we now call the "middle class. Some critics think Shakespeare probably drew on his own experiences growing up as a middle-class kid in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
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There's even a hilarious scene where a young boy named "William" gets grilled by his Latin language teacher. Did we mention that Shakespeare loves cracking jokes about his old school days? Did we already mention that Merry Wives is the great, great grandfather of the modern TV sitcom? Oh, we did? Did we also mention that long before anyone ever thought it was a good idea to put a camera in Bethenny Frankel's face, Shakespeare took it upon himself to show the world what it was like to be a "real housewife"?
Well, did we mention that when you combine The Merry Wives of Windsor and dairy cows, you get a boatload of milk? We couldn't make this up.
You're still not impressed? Let's talk about why Shakespeare thinks you should care about this play.
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Here's the deal: in late 16th and early 17th century Europe, a lot of men like the character "Master Ford" thought that all women were "frail" a. They also thought that all of these "frail" women who got married would eventually cheat on their husbands.
That's why so much literature of the period especially Shakespeare's is obsessed with sexual infidelity. Ever read Othello? The Merry Wives of Windsor is basically Shakespeare's answer to all those sexist guys who don't trust women. When Mistress Page and Mistress Ford are propositioned by a lusty knight, they don't hop in the sack with this guy.
They remain faithful to their husbands and even come up with a series of pranks to teach the lusty knight a lesson. The whole point of the play is to show that "wives may be merry and yet honest too" 4. In other words, just because our housewives are fun-loving and mischievous, that doesn't automatically mean they're promiscuous.