In Shakespeare's comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor, there are two plots that ultimately converge into the concept of marriage; one is the antics executed by the wives, and the other is the marriage of Anne Page. Both of these plots subversively yield a disheartening attitude towards the view of women within the scope of the play. Wives in The Merry Wives of Windsor are not acknowledged as much beyond commodities, not to be entrusted to their own wills, and are considered anonymous, degraded figures by men. By examining the use of the word "wife", the characters who use it most frequently, how it is used, and by examining the surrounding text and context, one can reach these unfortunate conclusions with undoubted certainty.
One quickly perceives this notion in the very first scene of the opening act. Slender and Evan's assess Anne Page's attributes in terms of what monetary value her dowry will endow upon her fortunate husband; both conclude that, "seven hundred pounds and possibilities is good gifts"(1.1.58-9). This attitude sets the stage, so to speak, and is suggestive of what meaning the women in the play shall have. Although it is the wives who are the manipulators of the ensuing pranks, it seems that the men are actually in control; they extend their alacrity for business and judicial affairs (which is established first in Pistol and Falstaff's dispute with the others and later in Ford's settlement against Falstaff for the twenty pounds and the men's pretentious positions in Anne's affairs) to the personal and connubial affairs of the women. In fact, the details driving the main plot of the play can, in themselves, be interpreted as a business transaction. ...
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...also displays this limitation and acknowledges that he once viewed Anne Page as property. Fenton is reformed however, and to Anne admits that he, "...found thee of more value than stamps in gold or sums sealed in bags; and 'tis the very riches of thyself"(3.3.15-17). Considering eccentricity of all the male characters enlivens the plot and augments the depth of comedy. This analysis, by close attention to the use of the word 'wife' by those who use it most and the full context in which it appears, elucidates Shakespeare's conceptualization of the nature of men and marriage and demonstrates that women are appreciated as only anonymous commodities, not entrusted to their own will and judgment in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington. Sixth edition. New York: Harper Collings, 1998.
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