The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of William Shakespeare's plays, first published in 1602, and believed to have been written some time before that. It is a comedy about Sir John Falstaff, a character first introduced in the historical plays Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2.

In a tangent of the plots of the historical plays, Sir John Falstaff, the self-important and gluttonous character from those plays, visits the country town of Windsor, and meets two married women, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. He plans to seduce them as a way to get money, sex, and just for the amusement of it. He writes almost identical love letters to both of them. They compare notes, and both offended and amused, decide to get revenge on Falstaff by convincing him that Ford is interested, and then arranging a series of humorous rejections. In a subplot, Ford's daughter is being wooed by three suitors, and must choose between them despite her parents' interference.

And that is pretty much the sum and substance of the play. Falstaff makes pompous speeches and then has to take a ride in a laundry hamper and dress as a woman to escape, and then at the end, everyone learns their lesson. It is a pretty thin basis for a play. There has been some critical debate about the origin and purpose of the play: one theory states that Queen Elizabeth I asked that Shakespeare write a comedy about Falstaff, and that this play is Shakespeare attempting to please the queen. However, that story is not definite. However, it is clear that the play was based around attempting to take a side character in a drama and writing a comedy around him: a modern comparison might be if, shortly after the success of the Godfather movies, Francis Ford Coppola had released a slapstick comedy about Fredo Corleone's life as a brothel owner. "The Merry Wives of Windsor" comes across as a concept that doesn't quite work, and can't quite be executed.

On paper. With Shakespeare's reputation for being the single greatest English language writer, the dialogue of a fat man cowering under a pile of dirty laundry might seem trivial. And this is the problem with studying Shakespeare as literature, because it makes people ignore the plays as theater. Perhaps this explains why the play was written: many of the scenes might have been written with a specific actor, or group of actors in mind. For us, four hundred years later, trying to understand Shakespeare's intent in writing this play would be like people four hundred years from now reading the script to The Naked Gun and trying to figure out why Leslie Nielson as Frank Drebin was so funny. I think that "The Merry Wives of Windsor" might have been written as a slapstick comedy that was very specifically tailored to his actors and audience, and we are left with the least important part of the performance---the script.