The Merry Wives of Windsor

The Merry Wives of Windsor itself has been seen as a sort of fan service, since it is mainly a vehicle for the Falstaff character.  Thus, in addition to borrowing elements from older stories (as all Shakespeare plays do), Merry Wives is also a sort of sequel to the Henry IV sequence.


There have been at least four opera adaptations of Merry Wives.  Apart from the Verdi, there are:


Falstaff, ossia Le tre burle (Fallstaff, or The Three Jokes), a comic opera by Antonio Salieri (1799).  A DVD of a performance is available at NYPL.  There is also an audio recording on YouTube:


Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, a German-language opera adaptation by Otto Nicolai (1845-9).  Two of the films listed below are based on this opera.  A CD is available at NYPL.


Sir John in Love, an English-language opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which premiered in 1929.  A CD can be had at NYPL.  There is an audio recording of an undated BBC Concert Orchestra performance here:


Merry Wives has been adapted to film a handful of times, although I haven’t had much luck tracking down the films online:


• There was a 1910 silent film directed by Francis Boggs.  It is held by the Library of Congress.


• There was a 1950 adaptation of the Nicolai opera, directed by Georg Wildhagen,  It is available on VHS at Rutgers.


• There was “BBC Sunday Night Theatre” production in 1952, directed by Julian Amyes.  I haven’t been able to locate a copy.


• There was a 1955 BBC TV adaptation directed by Barrie Edgar and Glen Byam Shaw.  I couldn’t find much information about this either.


• In 1965, there was another adaptation of the Nicolai opera, directed by Georg Tressler.  Folger apparently has a book containing “publicity advertisements (pressbook)” for the film.  I haven’t been able to locate a copy.


• In 1980 there was a direct-to-video adaptation directed by Richard E.T. White.  NYPL has it in some sort of cassette format, although I’m not sure if it’s VHS.


• There is also a film of a stage performance of the play directed by Jack Manning.  I am getting conflicting reports about when this film is from, but it was some time around 1980.  This one is actually available on DVD at the NYPL.


• BBC did another TV adaptation in 1982 as part of their recording of Shakespeare’s complete works, this one directed by David Hugh Jones.  It is available on DVD at NYPL.


• There was a 2011 film produced by the Globe Theatre.  It is available on DVD at Fordham and NYU.


The Comical Gallant by John Dennis is a 1702 rewrite of the play.  I haven’t been able to find a free online version of the text (HathiTrust seems to have it, but the scan is copyrighted even though the play isn’t).  A print version is available at CCNY and Lehman.


There have also been a few productions that change the setting of the play.  This version is set in Windsor, Iowa:


This production sets it in Windsor, Ontario:


Finally, there is a brand of beer called “Falstaff”.  Here is an old commercial for it:

4 thoughts on “The Merry Wives of Windsor

  1. Interesting that the place-name “Windsor,” transported from UK to US, is sufficient ground for a sort-of adaptation. The V Williams “Sir John in Love” is (I believe) an unjustly neglected RVWilliams work, though it was done by the Bronx Opera maybe 12-15 years ago. It has some wonderful moments, though EVW must have known he was up against the better-known Verdi. Another sort of adaptation (or free development) of Hen IV/Falstaff is Robert Nye’s quite witty (and very bawdy) novel, “Falstaff,” a first-person narration by Falstaff, who takes issue with Shakespeare’s “misrepresentations,” claiming, for example, that when F refers to “we youth” he is being accurate, and it was false reports by Hal (incorporated by Shak) that corrupted his reputation. Not quite Gardner’s “Grendel,” but in a similar vein. It’s a lot of fun. I’ll see if I can find it. I’m assuming we all know where we are in the great Otello/Falstaff divide.

  2. I’d love to see the silent film and the Iowized version! Falstaff strikes me as one of the most visual of Shakespeare’s characters, at least insofar as being interesting and rather evocative even without his dialogue. He’s in the genealogy of a Fool, but much more memorable individually, and of course his pathos is so much of his draw.

    I’m wondering if, jn a bit of a challenge to Hucheon, we could cast Falstaff himself as an adaptation from his appearance in three of Shakespeare’s plays. He’s more than a borrowed element, after all (and reusing a character strikes me as different then reusing or recasting plot points). In a sense, he’s the Nathan Zuckerman of the Elizabethan theater – he’s more than just a recurring character. I think he functions as a prism through which we can view our own experience of whatever of his fictional contexts we’re viewing. (I’m not sure what to make of the fact that Google suggests Falstaff beer before it suggests the character himself.)

    Anyone want to go see Falstaff at the Met this winter?

    • Thanks Hilarie,

      Yes, you’re right that Falstaff inhabits much more than just his role in the Henries and MWW; that’s in part why I mentioned the Robert Nye novel, which uses a first-person narration to undermine the Shak/Hal presentation of F in those plays. And, yes, planning to do F at the Met.

      See you tomorrow.

  3. Hello! Thanks for the posts, Jeff. I find the description of the recent adaptation of the Merry Wives of Windsor in Windsor, Iowa at the Portland Film Festival very entertaining. Apparently, in this version Falstaff is a politician, not a Knight and has failed the recent Iowan presidential caucuses. In my opinion, this sounds like a wonderful way to have a modern American adaptation of Falstaff’s character, since politicians are basically the “knights” that we have now. And like Falstaff’s character, many politicians do not uphold the level of character that their professions seem to ask for (and conveniently, they are often stereotyped as being money-hungry womanizers.)

    All the characters of this Merry Wives adaptation have slightly new roles- the time period and place obviously change the issues that the play portrays. In the description of this play, Alice Ford is married to a woman, since gay marriage has been legalized and this seems to be an important theme in the play. I wonder, is there confusion in this play regarding the newly passed gay marriage laws and the fact that people can be with the same-sex? For example, there tends to be a lot cross-dressing in Shakespeare’s comedies, which happens in Merry Wives when when Falstaff dresses like a woman and fools Mr. Ford (momentarily). I wonder if gender ambiguity and the wide array of modern gendered bodies is shown in this play as a source of identity confusion, as the cross-dressing is in the Shakespeare plays- and if so, what would this say? This is probably pushing a little too deeply for a comedic adaptation of a comedic adaptation, but I think that the potential is there!

    As a sidenote, I wanted to point out that the colors used in Verdi’s Falstaff adaptation were extremely bright and cartoon-like, which went along with the very over-emphasized character of Falstaff in this version. I agree with you, Hilarie, that we can definitely do a focus on Falstaff’s character in various adaptations and how he changes, especially his appearance. It seems that in the Verdi, his role as a messy, rotund womanizer is really emphasized. It is interesting to me that this one character from Shakespeare went through so many adaptations, but hey, if Queen Elizabeth thought he was hilarious, then I suppose it is warranted!

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