The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy written by William Shakespeare which tradition dictates was composed at the request of Queen Elizabeth I. The play premiered in 1597 with publication occurring in 1602. Were it not for the appearance of King Henry IV, Part I and the introduction of arguably the most beloved comic character in Shakespearean history, there would be no Merry Wives of Windsor. At least not in the condition in which it now exists.
And there is the rub. Like so many others since, Queen Elizabeth I was enthralled by introduction of Sir John Falstaff—tutor to Prince Hall and the anti-Hotspur of the earlier historical drama. Falstaff’s larger-than-life body and spirit infuses that play with much-needed doses of humor as a way of undoing the potential for Hotspur to overshadow as Hal as its hero. In comparison of Prince Hal, Hotspur seems quite clearly the ambitious and rightful heir to the throne; in comparison to Falstaff, Hotspur seems a little too giddily bloodthirsty. Falstaff became so popular that a great many others besides the Queen wanted to see him in a straight-up comedy.
Unfortunately, many scholars and academic point to the fact that the Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor does not seem to be quite the same flamboyant, crafty, and entirely engaging fellow inhabits the world of courtly intrigue. As a result, though not relegated to the world of rarely being produced like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, this play is nowhere near being performed as routinely as Henry IV, Part I or even its sequel, for that matter. Indeed, the prequel to those plays is today generally considered most important in the Shakespeare canon for being the inspiration of Verdi’s opera, Falstaff.