The Merry Wives of Windsor

by William Shakespeare

directed by Harry Tuffill

Performed to full houses in the Open Air at

Motisfont Abbey

on

Wednesday 14th to Saturday 24th July 2004 (except Monday 19th July)

The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of Shakespeare’s so-called Garter plays. It was written in 1597 and was probably performed at the Garter Feast on April 23rd. The general opinion is that George Carey, the second Baron Hunsdon who was one of the five newly elected Knights of the Order of the Garter, commissioned it. On April 17, 1597 George Carey was appointed Lord Chamberlain so it would have been appropriate that he should ask Shakespeare to write a new play. He had also inherited the position of patron of the company of players to which Shakespeare belonged. The company was known as The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

There is also rather flimsier evidence that the Queen “was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in the two parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to shew him in love.” So we find a number of characters from these other plays appearing once again, including Bardolph, Pistol, Nim, Mistress Quickly and Robert Shallow.

The play is set in and around Windsor with many topical references. One aspect of the play that was also topical is the reference to the German Duke of Wurttemburg who was appointed a Knight of the Garter in absentia in 1597. The audience would have been well aware of the significance of the three mysterious Germans who are staying at the Garter Inn. There is also Caius saying to the Host “it is tell-a me date you make great preparation for a duke de Jarmany, by my trot.”

There are two aspects that differentiate The Merry Wives from other Shakespeare plays. The first is that around eighty percent of the text is in prose, rather than the verse that we usually associate with Shakespeare. The exceptions are Fenton, who always speaks in verse, Pistol, who appears to aspire a bit of a poet, and Act 4, Scene IV where the Fords and Pages are plotting Falstaff’s final downfall. The second aspect of note is that the play is so contemporary. The Fords and Pages in particular may well be drawn from acquaintances of Shakespeare. We could even imagine that Anne (with the same name as his wife) may also have some of the characteristics of Shakespeare’s older daughter Susanna, who would have been fourteen at the time. In Shakespearian England William and his wife may well have been contemplating the marriage of their daughter.

1597 must have been a turbulent time for Shakespeare. He was at his most successful as a writer and during the year he bought New Place, which was said to be the grandest house in Stratford. During the previous year his father had been granted arms, and so recognised as a gentleman. Between these two successes his twin son Hamnet had died, aged eleven.

Some critics suggest the play was written in fourteen days. We can imagine that Shakespeare collected plots and ideas for future plays so that once he started writing he had all the outline of the play clearly established. There is an earlier story by Fiorentino called Il pecorone in which a young student asks his professor to teach him the art of seduction and then sets about the task and reports his progress to the professor. The professor suspects the woman is his wife, which it is. He follows the student to his house but does not find him because his wife has hidden the student under a heap of washing. With that plot in mind and the other major plot of the three suitors for Anne, Shakespeare was in a position to intertwine these two plots with his usual skill until all is satisfactorily resolved in the final scene.

Cast
Citizens of Windsor
Mistress Alice Ford Hazel Burrows
Master Frank Ford (her husband) Richard Hackett
John and Thomas (their servants) Ken Hann, John Carrington
Mistress Margaret Page Maria Head
Master George Page (her husband) Alan Watson
Anne Page (their daughter) Catherine Andrews
William Page (their son) One of the children of Windsor
Doctor Caius (a French Doctor) Ian Morley
Mistress Quickly (his housekeeper) Jenni Watson
Jane Rugby (her servant) Mini Mini Setty
Sir Hugh Evans (a Welsh parson) Bruce Atkinson
The Hostess of the Garter Inn Joanna Iacovou
Children of Windsor (and fairies) from Conor Bevan, Molly Bevan, Georgia Hackett, Ben Hughes, Jack Lane, Katherine Leyden, Susanna Leyden, Isabelle Ryan, Juliette Ryan, Katya Sheath, Olivia Thomas, Tom Woods, Lucy Wiggins plus members of the company
Visitors to Windsor
Sir John Falstaff John Souter
Robin his page Michelle Davies
Bardolph Ron Randall
Pistol Adam Taussik
Nim Paul Baker
Master Fenton (a young gentleman) Paul Mills
Master Robert Shallow (a country justice) Albie Minns
Master Abraham Slender (his nephew) Jez Minns
Peggy Simple (servant to Slender) Brenda Atkinson
Royal Party
Queen Elizabeth Molly Manns/ Avril Woodward
Baron Hunsdon David Pike
Lady Hunsdon Moyra Allen
William Shakespeare David Collis
Royal Pages Alex Austin, Rachel Thomas
 
For the Maskers
Director Harry Tuffill
Production Manager Ken Hann
Stage Manager Angie Barks
Marketing/Publicity Angie Stansbridge
Photography Clive weeks
Programme Helen White
Box Office Turner Sims Concert Hall, Heather Christiansen, Helen Officer, Sandy white, Lyn Austin, Kay Hann,  Betty & John Riggs, Sheana Carrington
Front of House Julia Jupp, Julie Baker, Pam & Geoff Cook and team
Lighting Tony Lawther, Clive Weeks, Nathan Weeks, Buzz Askew, Julia Campone, Catriona Burns, Ivan White
Sound Martin Clift, Jai Mitchell, Lawrie Gee, Kathryn Salmon, Ralph Bateman, Nick Browne
Assistant Stage Managers Mark Morai, Simon Procter
Set Design Pete Liddiard
Set Construction David Jupp, Geoff Cook, John Carrington, John Jones
Costume Christine Baker, Kay Hann
Props Gill Buchanan, Ella Lockett, Liz Hill, Alison Tebbatt, Lyn Austin, Margaret Lund
Transport Tony Austin, Martin Hann
FOH Julia Jupp, Geoff Cook
Incidental music played by Patrick Stevens (keyboards) and Paul Mills (recorder)
Rehearsal prompt Nina Jensen, Peggy Souter
Guns John Hamon

 

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