THE SHAKESPEARE PLAY THE SCHOLARS IGNORE. My post here on Shakespeare’s view of marriage touched on a strange omission by Harvard’s Stephen Greenblatt. Greenblatt wrote that Shakespeare only has two examples of “a married couple in a relationship of sustained intimacy”—the Macbeths and Gertrude and Claudius in HAMLET. I noted that Greenblatt ignored the merry wives and husbands in THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. Now I see in the Times Literary Supplement (December 11) a review by Eric Griffiths of Trinity College, Cambridge, who writes that “Shakespeare wrote no play set amid the Reformed world he lived in; the nearest the careful Bard came to his audience’s England was 1534, a lifetime away.” Again, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is forgotten. In MERRY WIVES, a time-traveling Falstaff, a figure from the early 1400’s, shows up in an Elizabethan Windsor. The time period must be later than 1534 because the play refers to “our radiant Queen”, and Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558.
I think Marjorie Garber puts her finger on why MERRY WIVES is passed over by scholars. She notes that the play anticipates in its spirit twentieth century screwball comedy and that the characters are middle-class figures and says: “….at first glance, MERRY WIVES may seem idiosyncratic, playful, and less than profound—not , in short, really “Shakespearean.” Not “Shakespearean”, and so a play about merry husbands and wives and the world Shakespeare lived in can be passed over when scholars write about Shakespeare.