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Revising jealousy in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

THE problem of jealousy is a major theme in Shakespeare's later plays, but the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor (1599-1600), written in the middle of Shakespeare's career, also provides an extended look at a husband's unfounded jealousy and how it comes to be abated. In the later plays, Shake-speare's jealous husbands are murderers in the making: sexual jealousy turns fatal in Othello, and threatens to do the same in Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale. Overcome by their "zealous love," as jealousy was sometimes called in the period, Othello, Posthumus, and Leontes sentence their wives to death with a celerity they later regret. (1) In the romances, however, tragedy is subverted by disguise, hiding, and pretense of death on the part of the unfairly accused wife: in Cymbeline, Immogen's potential killer, hired by her husband Posthumus, cannot go through with the act and helps her to reinvent herself as the page Fidele; and The Winter's Tale's Hermione, declared dead by Paulina, is reintroduced as a statue to her husband sixteen years later. These plays suggest that if a seemingly loving husband can suddenly succumb to violent jealousy, carefully plotted and collectively orchestrated schemes can effectively counteract its impending threat. To avert disaster, both Immogen and Hermione "die," to reemerge, in altered form, once their husbands' jealousies have subsided. The wives' transformations demand that the formerly paranoid husbands literally see them differently, and leave audiences with the sense that the marriages can go forward with a clean slate.

Like Othello, Posthumus, and Leontes, Mr. Ford is an irrational and increasingly desperate jealous husband who eventually regrets distrusting his wife. Yet in The Merry Wives of Windsor, it is not the accused wife who must hide, disguise herself, or otherwise suffer humiliation in order to escape her husband's wrath; rather, such degradation is inflicted on Mrs. Ford's would-be seducer, Falstaff. In the course of the play, Falstaff is hidden in a buck basket and dumped into the river Thames; cross-dressed as the witch of Brainford and pitilessly attacked; and finally publicly embarrassed when he appears before the community dressed as Herne the Hunter and his lechery is revealed to all. It is Falstaff, and not Mistress Ford, who is presented to her husband and other characters anew at the end of the play. Rather than stage a reunion between a once-jealous husband and a wife whose "death" he had a hand in, The Merry Wives of Windsor ultimately reconciles Falstaff with the larger community. Although the play's gender reversal is indicative of the wives' celebrated resourcefulness and their shrewd supervision of the domestic realm, it thus diverges from Shakespeare's larger pattern of representing jealousy and its cure. (2)

The jealous husband plot in The Merry Wives of Windsor has received little critical attention, but it is a particularly interesting example of Shakespearean jealousy because it includes elements that are less humorous in Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale. In The Merry Wives of Windsor the jealous husband makes an exaggerated effort, as Othello does, to find what we could call "ocular proof" Like Leontes' jealousy, Mr. Ford's is self-ignited: rather than encourage his jealous thoughts, those closest to him repeatedly beg him to cease in his suspicions. However, by disguising himself as Mr. Brook and enlisting Falstaff to attain and divulge slanderous information about Mrs. Ford, he also seems to fulfill the instigator role that Don John/Iago/Giacomo occupy in Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, and Cymbeline, respectively. And Falstaff, not knowing to whom he is speaking, can be seen as a precursor to Giacomo when he describes what has (not) transpired between himself and Mrs. Ford. Falstaff's role in the play is also comparable to that of female characters in other plays: like Imogen he disguises in drag as a means of escape, and like Hermione and Much Ado's Hero he is presented in altered form at the play's conclusion. It is also worth noting that in Much Ado, Cymbeline, and A Winter's Tale, the body represented at the end of the play is a noble one, for Hero, Imogen, and Hermione are the daughters of important men; in Merry Wives, Falstaff is one of the play's two aristocrats. Furthermore, though Falstaff never explicitly "plays dead" as Hermione, Hero, and Imogen do (the closest he comes is passing himself off as dirty laundry), it might be relevant, in terms of this larger picture, that the knight does play dead, quite famously, in 1 Henry IV. (3) Rather than see the comparatively lighthearted representation of jealousy in The Merry Wives of Windsor as an anomaly, we could see it as a baseline for what becomes a larger Shakespearean pattern.

That said, The Merry Wives of Windsor appears to be the only instance in Shakespeare's career in which a madly jealous husband is "cured" or "reformed" without the death, reported or real, of the accused wife. (4) Why? And furthermore, why does it work? How does Mrs. Ford manage to escape the violent ends of jealousy so quickly, and with relatively little humiliation? Although I agree with Russ McDonald that "comic law," in Merry Wives, "prevents the would-be scourge from executing his threats," genre alone cannot explain the play's variance from the larger pattern: the comedy Much Ado About Nothing, believed to have been first performed within a year or two after Merry Wives, seems to anticipate the dramatic conclusions of the later romances when the slandered Hero, hidden and reported as dead, is represented to her fiance Claudio as "another Hero" at the play's conclusion. (5)

We could see The Mercy Wives' punishment of Falstaff as generic insofar as it feels in line with the farcical or burlesque aspects of the play, and Ford's about-face is similar to endings in plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries, as I will presently discuss. (6) I also think that class is an important element of the unique treatment of jealousy in Merry Wives: unlike Shakespeare's other jealous husbands, Mr. Ford is neither noble nor explicitly associated with nobility. With this in mind, the wives' remedy of jealousy can be seen as either corresponding to the fictional world of the play--the fact that this is Shakespeare's English comedy might matter here--or as reflecting the cultural climate in which it was performed.

The latter issue is particularly complex, however, because the play exists in two versions: the script that was printed in the First Folio of 1623, almost a quarter century after the play is believed to have been first performed, and the 1602 Quarto, which is much shorter and is clearly an earlier version of the play. (8) Once considered a "bad" quarto of dubious authenticity, scholars have increasingly considered the Quarto Merry Wives as evidence that the play was adapted for different audiences and contexts. (8) In its different versions, the play therefore resists readings that would fix it in a particular place or time.

In terms of its representation of jealousy in particular, The Merry Wives of Windsor presents a double puzzle: both versions of the play differ from the later romances in how they "cure" jealousy, but the Folio and Quarto also, if more subtly, differ from each other in how this cure is represented. This essay explores how the second puzzle may offer clues to the first: although Ford's jealousy is diverted in both versions of the play, he is less definitively cured in the Folio. The later version does reconcile the Fords, but minor changes regarding Ford's jealousy--changes so subtle that they are easily overlooked--cumulatively allow for the possibility that Ford's jealousy could return. The Folio text thus presents a darker, more ambiguous representation of the wives' attempts to reform the green-eyed monster.

This difference supports the theory that the Folio was a revision, and suggests that the play may have been revised for an audience accustomed to later dramatic conventions--an audience who had, perhaps, seen the way jealousy was diverted in the late romances and would not have found Ford's cure as convincing. Although I hesitate to advance an argument based on what can only be estimated dates, my guess is that the Quarto Merry Wives came on the tail end of a Elizabethan comic tradition of the irrationally jealous husband, and that the Folio version was later enough to move it closer to the darker jealous husband that is evident in Shakespeare's later plays. Whereas the Quarto Mr. Ford closely corresponds with other Elizabethan comedic dramatizations of jealous husbands, and Ben Jonson's Every Man in his Humor in particular, the Folio Mr. Ford is more in line with Jacobean romances and tragedies, including Shakespeare's Othello.

The 1602 Quarto Merry Wives was once widely believed to be an inconsistent memorial reconstruction by of one of the players, but the general trend has been shifting away from the memorial reconstruction theory, and critics have come to appreciate the Quarto script as a dramatic achievement in its own right. The Merry Wives of Windsor has been at the center of revisionist recoveries of the "bad" quartos; as Grace Ioppolo puts it: "The texts of Merry Wives of Windsor ... present extremely powerful evidence that Shakespeare considered his plays self-revising works which he could alter and realter throughout their theatrical lives, never producing a 'final' text." (9) Steven Urkowitz, a leading proponent of the revisionist theory, calls for a rejection of "the implicit and explicit Bardolotary that tries imaginatively to remove Shakespeare from his active, craftsmanlike, and proprietary involvement in the day-to-day operations of his commercially successful acting troupe." (10) Ioppolo, Urkowitz, and others have demonstrated that there is much to gain from recognizing the differences between the texts as revisions; they challenge us, for example, to reconsider the material conditions of playacting in Shakespeare's England.

When it comes to The Merry Wives of Windsor in particular, critics have offered a variety of potential motives for revision. Leah Marcus analyzes the change of setting to argue that the versions were intended for different audiences, for the Folio version "is much kinder than the Quarto to figures associated with the court." (11) Others have read changes in the representation of money and to economic themes in the play in general to suggest that the play was altered for a later audience. (12) The major differences between the scripts, which in addition to changes in setting include the Folio's addition of William Page's Latin lesson and the Fairy Queen's blessing of Windsor, are rich grounds for considering what each version might tell us about its audience or cultural moment. The relatively minor tweaks in the plays' depictions of jealousy are also important, for reasons that go beyond this particular play. First, the different Mr. Fords give its a more comprehensive picture of Shakespeare's larger pattern of representing jealousy, and second, the changes in his portrayal support the observations of those who have identified a larger shift, at the dawn of the Jacobean period, in the way jealousy appeared on the English stage. (13)

Before turning to the differences between the plays' depiction of Mr. Ford's jealousy, I want to provide an overview of the Fords' basic storyline, which remains the same in both the Quarto and the Folio, and consider its correspondence with contemporary representations of jealous husbands. In both versions, Mrs. Ford frets upon receiving Falstaff's amorous letter: in the Quarto, she says, "O Lord if my husband should see this Letter, / Ifaith this would euen glue edge to his Iealousie" (5.40-41), and in the Folio, "0 that my husband saw this letter! It would give eternal food to his jealousy" (641-43). (14) We soon see that Mrs. Ford is right to be nervous, for throughout the course of the play her husband's jealousy does intensify, especially after he interviews Falstaff in the disguise of Master Brooke ("Mr. Broome" in the Folio) and acquires more "evidence" of his wife's alleged liaison. Ford then attempts to catch his wife in the act and invites Page and the other men to his house for dinner, promising them that he will show them a "monster" (Quarto 9.26/Folio 1340); ultimately, the monster that is revealed is jealousy itself, and Ford's companions find his behavior misplaced and shameful. (15) Ford then makes another visit to Falstaff in the guise of Master Brooke: this interview stokes his desire to find Falstaff within his household, and he vows to search every nook and cranny; indeed, to look even in "impossible places" (Quarto 11.110/ Folio 1816). When Ford does encounter Falstaff in his house--the wives have dressed the knight as the "the fat woman of Brain-ford"--he attacks him, but fails to recognize him as the very person for whom he has been searching. Once Falstaff is gone, Ford continues to search his home for proof of the knight's visit while his concerned guests watch on. It is at this point that the wives reflect on their mischief, and determine that their revenge has been sufficient; Falstaff will not attempt them again. In both versions of the play the wives agree that they should tell their husbands what they have done, and go on to plan to the Herne the Hunter prank. Audiences then see Mr. Ford extend a reconciliatory gesture to Mrs. Ford, and together they participate in Falstaff's public shame spectacle.

Again, this outcome differs from Shakespeare's other "jealousy" plays, in which the sudden abatement of jealousy happens only upon the accused woman's death, real or pretend, at which point additional information is presented to the husband that exonerates her of the false charge. The situations of the later plays might help us understand why Mrs. Ford does fare better in assuaging her husband's jealousy: for example, it might matter that Mrs. Ford was a participant in the tricks--her deliberate involvement is perhaps more convincing than the flummoxed protests of Desdemona or Hermione, in that she has real information to give her husband to counteract his suspicious assumptions. Another possibility is that Mr. Ford's jealousy, unlike that of Othello or Leontes, simply does not reach the tipping point, in part because of the supervision of his community. In Othello, by contrast, Iago is very conscious that he must inspire a sufficiently intense jealousy in Othello if his plan is to work; he must "put the Moor/At least into a jealousy so strong/That judgement cannot cure" (2.1.286-89). In other words, Ford's jealousy may be curable because it never escalates beyond judgment.

It is also possible, indeed likely, that Ford's swift recovery simply corresponds with Elizabethan dramatic convention, for he is very similar to jealous husbands in the work of Shakespeare's contemporaries. Of particular interest is Ben Jonson's Every Man in his Humor, a play Shakespeare would have known well, as he was among the cast in its 1598 production by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. (16) The jealous husband in Jonson's play, Thorello (Kitely in later productions), has been seen as a model for Shakespeare's future Othello; however, as critics have pointed out, he also resembles Mr. Ford. (17) Like Ford, Thorello

becomes convinced that he is a cuckold, and his jealousy intensifies throughout the course of the play--at one point, his conceit is so intense that his brother-in-law reprimands him, just as the Windsor men reprimand Mr. Ford: "Brother Thorello, what a strange and vain imagination is this! For shame, be wiser" (4.3.31-33). Like Ford, Thorello conducts a frenzied search of his house with a witness in tow, and like Ford, he is reconciled at the end of the play with his wife, who is also jealous:
  Thorello: Do not weep, I pray thee,
  Sweet Biancha. Nay, so, now! By Jesus, I am not jealous,
  but resolved I have the faithful'st wife in Italy.
  For this I find, where jealousy is fed,
  Horns in the mind are worse than on the head.
  See, what a drove of horns fly in the air,
  Wing'd with my cleansed and credulous breath!
  Watch them, suspicious eyes, watch where they fall:
  See, see, on heads that think they have none at all!
  Oh, what a plenteous world of this will come;
  When air rains horns, all men be sure of some.

Although Thorello's jealousy persists a bit longer than his wife's, in this speech he does in fact seem recovered; he explicitly states that he is not jealous, that his breath is now "cleansed" and "credulous." If jealousy is here presented as universal and to some degree unavoidable ("all men be sure of some" horns), Every Man in his Humor, like The Merry Wives of Windsor, also illustrates that a husband's "horns" can be removed, and a loving marriage, once threatened by jealousy, restored. Similar reconciliations take place or are promised in George Chapman's An Humorous Day's Mirth (1597-99) and All Fools (published 1605; probably performed 1598).

In general, jealous husbands in Elizabethan drama do not seem to be incurable: this is true not only in comedy, but also in the unattributed Tragedy of Master Arden of Faversham (entered into the Register of the Stationers' Company in April 1592; a quarto edition was printed that year). The tragedy, based on a sensational real-life 1551 murder, centers on Arden, who (rightly) suspects that his wife is unfaithful to him. Toward the end of the play, Arden draws his sword and wounds his wife's lover Mosby, who has provoked him by kissing his wife and calling him a cuckold. At that point, Alice Arden admonishes her husband his jealousy, she says, has caused him to overreact to her "jest." Arden apologizes to his wife, assists Mosby, and is eventually killed by their machinations. Whereas in Othello tragedy ensues because Othello acts on his jealousy too quickly, the source of tragedy in the Elizabethan play is that the jealous husband is all too easily cured.

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Ford's frenzy to prove that his suspicions are in fact grounded can be seen as an attempt to avoid Arden's fate, and there are notable parallels between the plays: Arden, for example, dreams he is a hunted deer in a park (6.6-31), a passage that Falstaff's experience in Windsor Forest may recall, and Ford's astonishment at Mr. Page's apparent obliviousness echoes the concerns of Arden's Franklin, who appears to have a more accurate perspective of his friend's domestic situation. Given these parallels, it is possible that early productions of The Merry Wives of Windsor would have reminded some audience members of this other dramatic husband, one who was right to be jealous and, to his detriment, ceased to be.

But if the drama of the late Elizabethan period suggests that jealous husbands can in fact reform, for better or worse, more dire perspectives on jealousy were also in circulation: in the early modem period, writers disagreed as to whether or not there was a cure for jealousy's escalating "torment." Ariosto, for example, a major source for early modem treatises on jealousy, presented jealousy as "incurable" in Orlando Furioso. Sir John Harington's popular English translation (1591) of the passage reads:
  This is that cruell wound, against whose smart
  No liquors force prevailes, nor any plaster,
  No skill of stares, no depth of Magick art
  Devised by that great clark Zoroaster:
  A wound that so infects the soule and heart,
  As all our sense and reason it doth master;
  A wound whose pang and torment is so durable,
  As it may right be called incurable. (18)

Benedetto Varchi, on the other hand, whose popular sixteenth-century Blazon of Jealousie was translated into English in 1615, was more hopeful that the "disease" could in fact be helped, if its "cause shall be quite removed." (19) He goes on to explain that just as purgation and expulsion help other diseases, "with Wisedome, Discretion, and Patience, may wee easily drive away and expel the Force and Rage of Jealousie" (59). Although Varchi is somewhat vague about how to actually do this, he is quite clear about the consequences should "discreet" remedies fail: jealousy could easily turn into "extreme hatred," which would in turn lead to "Frensie" (59). This "Madness" is particularly alarming, he continues, because it is not only directed at the loved one or perceived rival, but at all who could be seen as an obstacle--failure to treat it has led, he explains, to "most cruell revengements, and most horrible and savage murthers" (60). In this light, we might see the "deaths" of Hermione, Innogen, and Hero as instances of characters "removing the cause" of jealousy, and Desdemona a tragic example of the savagery that can ensue if the "Force and Rage of Jealousie" is not effectively purged.

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, the degree to which we trust that Ford's jealousy has been effectively purged depends, as I have already suggested, on the version of the play. One of the biggest differences in the scripts' depictions of the jealous husband occurs in the scene in which the wives decide to tell their husbands about their pranks. In the Quarto text, Mrs. Ford observes that her husband beat Falstaff (as the witch of Brainford) "most extreamly," and Mistress Page, who was glad to see it, wonders if they should proceed further (13.74). "No faith," Mistress Ford says, "now if you will let us tell our husbands of it. For mine I am sure hath almost fretted himselfe to death" (13.77-79). In the Folio version, it is Mrs. Ford who asks if they should go on:
  Mrs. Ford: Shall we tell our husbands how wee have serv'd him?

  Mrs. Page: Yes, by all meanes, if it be but to scrape the
  figures out of your husband's braines: if they can find in
  their hearts, the poore unvirtuous fat Knight shall be any
  further afflicted, wee two will still bee the ministers.

  Mrs. Ford: Ile warrant, they'l have him publiquely sham'd, and
  methinkes there would be no period to the iest, should he be not
  publikely sham'd. (2095-2105)

One of the first things to notice here, as Kathleen Irace has pointed out, is that Mrs. Ford is more "soft-hearted" in the Quarto, in which there is no talk of "scraping" her husband's brain; this, Irace says, suggests that the changes to her character were deliberate, "designed, perhaps, to increase her appeal to an audience." (20) But if Mrs. Ford is nicer in the Quarto, it is also true that Mr. Ford's jealousy is less threatening in the earlier version. In the Folio, Ford plans "violent proceedings": he will "torture" his wife, as well as "pluck the borrowed veil of modesty from the so-seeming Mistress Page" (1301-6). In the Quarto this speech is missing: the Quarto Ford is therefore less potentially violent than he appears in the later play.

What is also worth noting is that in the Folio, the idea of "scraping" Ford's brain is closely linked to the idea of publicly shaming Falstaff: the wives attempt to kill (or more accurately, cure) two birds with one stone, and the key to their success seems to depend on this dual motive. The Folio conversation between the wives in which they decide to confess to their husbands should make us wonder if coming clean will be enough to placate or diffuse the madly jealous Ford, or if the confession must also be reinforced (or punctuated, as in "period to the jest") by a shame spectacle.

The question of whether or not Mistress Ford's confession alone, without the shame spectacle, would in fact "scrape the figures" of Ford's jealous brain is never, to my mind, fully answered in the Folio. In both versions of the play, we do get an apology speech from Ford before the Herne the Hunter episode, but the differences between these speeches are significant. In the Folio, Ford says:
  Pardon me (wife) henceforth do what you wilt:
  I rather will suspect the Sunne with gold,
  Then thee with wantonness: Now doth thy honor stand
  (In him that was of late an Heretike)
  As firme as faith.

This speech would suggest that his jealousy is "cured" even before Falstaff's entrance in the final scene, and many readers have taken this for fact. (21) However, his apology is folded within a larger conversation about the proceedings of the jest. To what extent, we might ask, is Ford's newfound trust in his wife, and deference to her, connected to his eager anticipation for the public show in Windsor Forest? And the Herne the Hunter scene really is a show--the masquelike spectacle involves costume, script, choreography, and rehearsal. Whereas Ford has sought Falstaff in "impossible places" within the household, or places where he could not appear, the wives represent the knight in a dramatic space, a place where he can easily be seen by the entire community, and where he unknowingly participates as a comic figure. This is the kind of spectacle we might expect to generate faith; however, Ford's conversion--to use his own comparison to the Heretic--anticipates the event to come.

Furthermore, as reassuring as Ford's response to his wife in the Folio Merry Wives might at first appear, I have to wonder if such reassurance is tempered by his continued use of metaphor and hyperbole. He does not actually say that his jealousy is over, for example, just that he would rather suspect the sun with gold (or "cold," as modern editors amend it) than his wife of "wantonness." Similarly, rather than come out and admit that he was a jealous husband, he says he was a "Heretike" and now is "firme as faith." In this way, Ford positions himself a reformed believer, one that asks for a "pardon," but does not directly address what his doubt has put at stake: namely, their marriage and love for one another.

In the Quarto, by contrast, although Ford does not ask for a pardon, as he does in the Folio, he is more explicitly affirming, first in his love for his wife, and second in his assurance that she need no longer fear the threat of jealousy:
  Ford. Well wife, heere take my hand, upon my
  soule I loue thee dearer than I do my life, and ioy I
  hnue so true and constant wife, my jealousie shall
  never more offend thee. (15.1-4).

When compared to these lines, the Folio's "I rather will suspect the sun with cold/Than thee with wantonness" seems indirect, if not downright evasive. It might also be significant that Mr. Ford's Folio affirmation, in asserting his newfound faith in his wife, nonetheless invokes the word "wantonness"; in the Quarto, on the other hand, he describes Mrs. Ford as a "true and constant wife."

Taken on their own, the differences in Mr. Ford's apology speech might not mean much, but when Ford is confronted about his jealousy later in the Folio, he continues to respond indirectly. In the final scene Evans implores of him, "And leave you your jealouzies too, I pray you," to which Ford replies, "I will never mistrust my wife againe, till thou/art able to woo her in good English" (2616-18). This conditional promise is intended to poke fun of the Welsh Evans's accent, but it nonetheless allows for the possibility of renewed jealousy, however unlikely. Even more problematic, I think, is the play's conclusion, which is essentially the same in both versions of the play. As the characters head for home, Ford says to Falstaff: "Let it be so, Sir John. / To Master Brooke you yet shall hold your word, I For he tonight shall lie with Mistress Ford" (the Quarto concludes: "And sir John Falstaffe now shal you keep your word, / For Brooke this night shall lye with mistris Ford"). The joke, of course, is that Ford will be cuckolded at last: by going to bed with his own wife, he will essentially cuckold himself. But in the context of the Folio version of the play, in which the wives decide it is imperative that they "scrape" Ford's brain, the joke should make us wonder if Ford continues to be susceptible to--or even desirous of--the vision of his wife with another man.

Another reason we might doubt the Folio Ford's newfound faith is that the wives' scheme for Falstaff, which is closely aligned with scraping Ford's brain, does not in fact go as planned. This, too, is more obvious when the texts are put side by side. In the Quarto version, after Ford's apology to his wife, the latter explains her "device" for getting back at Falstaff, once they get him to meet the wives in the woods:
  Then would I have you present there at hand,
  With litle boyes disguised and dressed like Fayries,
  For to affright fat Falstaffe in the woods.
  And then to make a period to the Iest,
  Tell Falstaffe all, I thinke this will do best.

In this earlier version of the play, the wives seem determined to further humiliate Falstaff, and to make their plots known to the knight: "Tell Falstaffe all." But in the Folio Merry Wives, the plot seems designed to get Falstaff to confess his own actions:
  Mrs. Page: Nan Page (my daughter) and my little sonne,
  And three or foure more of their growth, wee'l dresse
  Like Urchins, Ouphes, and Fairies, greene and white,
  With rounds of waxen Tapers on their heads,
  And rattles in their hands; upon a sodaine,
  As Falstaffe, she, and I, are newly met,
  Let them from forth a saw-pit rush at once
  With some diffused song: Upon their sight
  We two, in great amazednesse will flye:
  Then let them all encircle him about,
  And Fairy-like to pinch the uncleane Knight;
  And aske him why that houre of Fairy Revell,
  In their so sacred pathes, he dares to tread
  In shape prophane.
  Ford. And till he tell the truth,
  Let the supposed Fairies pinch him, sound,
  And burne him with their Tapers.
  Mist. Page. The truth being knowne,
  We'll all present our selues; dis-horne the spirit,
  And mocke him home to Windsor. (2169-89)

In the Folio, the plan, as related by Mrs. Page, is still designed to shame, but unlike the Quarto play, it is important that Falstaff "tell the truth": the rest of the characters will not reveal themselves until the "truth" is known. What is curious is that such an explicit revelation from Falstaff never actually comes before the plot is revealed. We might assume that the Herne spectacle is so humiliating that a confession is ultimately unnecessary. Even so, that the plot in Windsor Forest is not carried out quite the way the wives predict, taken with the other changes in the Folio, may leave audiences unsure as to how effectively the episode would satisfy Mr. Ford, who wanted to see the knight tortured until he told the truth. These differences in the scripts' portrayals of the Fords would suggest that if The Merry Wives of Windsor was revised--a claim that has been gaining in popularity--its depiction of jealousy was recast to leave us less convinced of the efficacy of the wives' merry pranks.

There is an edge to the Folio Ford's jealousy that has not always been acknowledged, and that is very much in line with Jacobean drama. A similar character can be seen, for example, in Thomas Dekker and John Webster's Jacobean comedy Westward Ho (1605), which may have been influenced by The Merry Wives of Windsor--Brainford is an important location in the play, and it too features merry, clever wives working in tandem. In Westward Ho, Justiniano, an Italian merchant, is excessively jealous of his wife from the start, and prone to anti-feminist railings. So irrational is his behavior that the couple separates at the start of the play, and because Justiniano has driven them to monetary ruin, his wife is tempted to engage in a profitable affair with an earl. She changes her mind, however, and in a letter to her husband promises, as he relates it, to give him "assured tryall of her honesty" (3.3.104). (22) He decides to take her up on the offer and put her to the test. In the next act, Justiniano goes to the would-be seducer dressed like his wife and masked; the earl takes him to be a sorceress or demon and attempts to kill him. At that point, Justiniano reveals himself and pulls back a curtain to reveal his (apparently) dead wife, whom he claims to have poisoned. The horrified Earl calls for the authorities and mayhem ensues until it comes out that Justinano's wife has only been playing dead ("See," her husband says, "Lucrece is not slaine" [4.2.154]); she goes on, in disguise, to assist Justiniano in testing the fidelity of other women in the community. Like Shakespeare's later romances, Westward Ho thus stages the death of the accused wife in order to reconcile her to the goodwill of her husband. In this case, Mistress Justiniano and her husband are apparently working together, which distinguishes the situation from that of Imogen or Hermione but is comparable to the Herne the Hunter sequence in The Merry Wives of Windsor. As in Merry Wives, the husband's jealousy in Westward Ho is ultimately proven to be baseless and he is reunited with his wife; however, the moment that Justiniano exposes her "dead" body is, at least momentarily, a tragic one for both her accused lover and the play's audience, who may assume that Justiniano's disguise is the extent of the trial he has devised. Although Justiniano is, like Ford, a comedic "imaginary cuckold" in the tradition of Elizabethan comedies, Westward Ho, like Cymbeline and A Winter's Tale, nonetheless underscores the dangerous potential of the jealous husband to turn murderer.

Mr. Ford may not strike readers and audience members as a potential murderer, but there is enough in his Folio speeches to support a more sinister portrayal, and I believe that this may very well be a response to a larger shift in his particular dramatic type. At the conclusion of Jonson's revised version of Every Man in his Humor, which appeared in the 1616 Folio, Kitely follows up the "air rains horns" speech quoted earlier with, "I ha' learn'd so much verse out of a jealous man's part in a play" (51275-76). (23) This added line is a kind of in-joke with the audience; it indicates shared knowledge of a convention, the "jealous husband" type that was, perhaps, getting a bit stale by the time of the play's revival. For whatever reason, jealous husbands seem to have become less of a laughing matter in the Jacobean period. Whether the murderous potential of later dramatic husbands is the result of specific dramatic portraits of jealousy such as Shakespeare's Othello or indicates a larger cultural shift is impossible to say. However, it does seem clear that the Folio Mr. Ford is more in line with those darker husbands; he is not as dark as Leontes, Posthumus, or Othello, but different enough from his 1602 character to raise questions about the effectiveness of his rehabilitation. This matters because audiences familiar with Jacobean portrayals of jealousy would be right to be anxious about the consequences of not curing jealousy: whereas the worst-case scenario in Chapman's Ails Fools seems to be that the married couple will divorce, jealousy is consistently represented as at least potentially fatal in later works. For audiences familiar with Shakespeare's romances, the fact that The Merry Wives of Windsor concludes with a reintroduction of Falstaff, rather than Mrs. Ford, could further diminish their confidence in Ford's cure.

It occurs to me that the 1602 Quarto may have been considered "bad" for so long not only because of its difference from the Folio, but also because the Folio version, in ways both large and small, feels less conventionally Elizabethan, and more "Shakespearean," than the earlier script. Certainly this is true of the play's representation of jealousy. Shakespeare, of course, is celebrated for the ways he broke with convention, which may be one reason why The Merry Wives of Windsor's debt to contemporary comedies remains relatively underexplored. However, if the Folio Merry Wives is a revision, some of its alterations can be seen as very conventional: the Quarto Mr. Ford appears to have been "updated" in comparatively minor ways that reflect an awareness of the audience's familiarity with an evolving dramatic type.


Ariosto, Ludovico. Orlando Furioso. Edited by Vincenzo Gioberti. Florence: Felice Le Monnier, 1854.

Burton, Richard. The Anatomy of Melancholy. Edited by Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling, and Rhonda L. Blair. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Chapman, George. The Plays of George Chapman: The Comedies, A Critical Edition. Edited by Allan Holaday. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970.

Craig, Hugh. "'An Image of the Times': Ben Jonson's Revision of Every Man in his Humor," English Studies 82(2001):14-33.

Dekker, Thomas and John Webster. "Westward Ho," in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker. Edited by Fredson Bowers. Cambridge: At the University Press, 1955.2.319-93.

Freedman, Penelope. Power and Passion in Shakespeare's Pronouns: Interrogating 'you' and 'thou.' Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Gray, Peter. "Money Changes Everything: Quarto and Folio The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Case for Revision," Comparative Drama 40, no. 2(2006):217-40.

Harington, John. Sir John Harington's Translation of Orlando Furioso, by Lodovico Ariosto. Edited by Graham Hough. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962.

Harvey, Gabriel. The Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey Edited by Edward John Long Scott. New York: Johnson Reprint, 1965.

Ioppolo, Grace. Revising Shakespeare. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Irace, Kathleen 0. Reforming the "Bad" Quartos: Performance and Provenance of Six Shakespearean Editions. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994.

Jonson, Ben. Every Man in his Humor. Edited by J. W. Lever. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.

Kinney, Arthur. "Textual Signs in The Merry Wives of Windsor," Yearbook of English Studies 23(1993):206-34.

Korda, Natasha. "'Judicious Oeillades': Supervising marital property in The Mercy Wives of Windsor" In Marxist Shakespeares, ed. Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow. London: Routledge, 2001,82-103.

Marcus, Leah S. "Levelling Shakespeare: Local Customs and Local Texts," Shakespeare Quarterly 42(1991):168-78.

McDonald, Russ. "Othello, Thorello, and the Problem of the Foolish Hero," Shakespeare Quarterly 30(1979):51-67.

Milburn, Erika. "D'Invidia E D'Amore Figlia SI Ria': Jealousy and the Italian Renaissance Lyric," Modern Language Review 97, no. 3(2002):577-91.

Parten, Anne. "Falstaff's Horns: Masculine Inadequacy and Feminine Mirth in The Merry Wives of Windsor," Studies in Philology 82, no. 2(1985):184-99.

Sewell, Sallie. "The Relation between The Merry Wives of Windsor and Jonson's Even' Man in his Humor," Shakespeare Association Bulletin 16(1941):175-89.

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Edited by Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller. New York: Pelican, 2002.

--. "The Merry Wives of Windsor." In The First Folio of Shakespeare. The Norton Facsimile. Edited Charlton Hinman. New York: Norton, 1968.39-60.

--. The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1602. Edited W. W. Greg. London: Shakespeare Association, 1939.

The Tragedy of Master Arden of Faversham. Edited by M. L. Wine. London: Methuen, 1973.

Traub, Valerie. Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama. London: Routledge, 1992.

Trienens, Roger. The Green-Eyed Monster: A Study of Sexual Jealousy in the Literature of the English Renaissance. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University, 1951.

Urkowitz, Steven. "Good News about tad Quartos,'" in "Bad" Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, ed. Maurice Charney. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988. 189-206.

Varchi, Benedetto. The Blazon of Jealousie: A subject not written of by any heretofore ... translated into English, with speciall notes upon upon the same, by R.T. Gentleman. London, 1615. Early English Books Online. University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign Campus). June 2, 2009. <>.


I am indebted to participants in the 2009 Shakespeare Association of America seminar "The Merry Wives of Windsor," organized by Adam Zucker and Mary Ellen Lamb, where I presented an early version of this article, and grateful for subsequent criticism from Vanita Neelakanta and Sebastian Heiduschke.

(1.) Jealousy is repeatedly referred to as "zelous love" in Gabriel Harvey's Letter-Book (1573-80), for example; see The Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey, ed. Edward John Long Scott (New York: Johnson Reprint, 1965), 95-96. In The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Robert Burton cites Jerome Cardan's definition of jealousy as "a zeale for love, and a kinde of envy least any man should beguile us" (3.3.28-29); Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling, and Rhonda L. Blair (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994),3:273.

(2.) As Natasha Korda points out, the wives make any "outside intervention" regarding Falstaff's advances unnecessary: "They protect the property and propriety of their households by demonstrating their competence as disciplined, yet discreet, domestic supervisors"; "'Judicious Oeillades': Supervising marital property in The Merry Wives of Windsor," in Marxist Shakespeares, ed. Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow (London: Routledge, 2001),90.

(3.) I Henry IV 5.3. I am not suggesting that the Falstaff of The Merry Wives of Windsor is the same character as the Falstaff of the history plays. However, there is enough about the comedy's Falstaff to at least remind audiences of the "other" Falstaff; one of the main aspects of his character that does seem to carry over is his penchant for hiding and disguise. Citations to Shakespeare plays, with the exception of The Merry Wives of Windsor, are from The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller (New York: Penguin, 2002).

(4.) One could argue that "jealous Oberon" (2.1.61) in A Midsummer Night's Dream (c. 1595) is "cured" after Titania emerges from the spell of the love potion. However, although he suspects Titania of an intimate relationship with Theseus, the main source of Oberon's jealousy is clearly his wife's loyalty to her dead votress, and his biggest complaint is that she will not part with her friend's child. Although Oberon's humiliation of Titania and their eventual reconciliation is interesting to consider alongside the plays I discuss in this article, Oberon does not therefore fit the Elizabethan dramatic mold of the jealous husband--or what Russ McDonald has called "the imaginary cuckold"--in the same way Claudio, Mr. Ford, Othello, Leontes, and Post-humus do; Russ McDonald, "Othello, Thorello, and the Problem of the Foolish Hero," Shakespeare Quarterly 30(1979):51.

(5.) McDonald, "Othello, Thorello," 56.

(6.) See Anne Parten, for example, on the similarities between the play and the tradition of the skimmington; "Falstaff's Horns: Masculine Inadequacy and Feminine Mirth in The Merry Wives of Windsor," Studies in Philology 82.2 (1985):185.

(7.) The Folio includes changes that suggest external pressure; Ford's pseudonym is changed from "Brooke" to "Broom," for example, apparently because of the objections of Lord Cobham's family, and oaths are softened in the later version as well. For further discussion of the dating of the Quarto, see Kathleen 0. Irace, Reforming the "Bad" Quartos: Performance and Provenance of Six Shakespearean Editions (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994), 107, and Grace Ioppolo, Revising Shakespeare (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 118-20.

(8.) See Leah S. Marcus, "Levelling Shakespeare: Local Customs and Local Texts," Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991):168-78.

(9.) Ioppolo, Reforming the "Bad" Quartos, 118.

(10.) Steven Urkowitz, "Good News about 'Bad Quartos," in "Bad" Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, ed. Maurice Charney (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988), 204.

(11.) Marcus, "Levelling Shakespeare," 177.

(12.) Arthur Kinney rejects the idea of memorial reconstruction, abridgement, and also "the newly ascribed master narrative of a playwright maturing, changing his mind, and so revising his work ... to perfect his art": instead, Kinney posits an economic "counternarrative" responsible for the variants between the earlier and later version; "Textual Signs in The Merry Wives of Windsor," Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993): 206, 234. More recently, Peter Gray has argued that "Shakespeare's motivation was to strengthen the indictment of cash and exchange values that lies at the heart of Merry Wives"; "Money Changes Everything: Quarto and Folio The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Case for Revision," Comparative Drama 40, no. 2 (2006): 217.

(13.) In his unpublished dissertation, Roger John Trienens points out that, owing to a variety of traditions, "comic treatments of jealousy are the earliest"; The Green-Eyed Monster: A Study of Sexual Jealousy in the Literature of the English Renaissance (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University, 1951), 296. See also McDonald, "Othello, Thorello," 51-52.

(14.) Quotations from the Quarto are from The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1602, ed. W. W. Greg (Lodon: Shakespeare Association, 1939); Folio citations are from The First Folio of Shakespeare, The Norton Facsimile, ed. Charlton Hinman (New York: Norton, 1968).

(15.) Interestingly, "monster" was also a term for a cuckold; see Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London: Routledge, 1992), 29.

(16.) See J. W. Lever's introduction to The Merry Wives of Windsor (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971), xii.

(17.) On Othello's resemblance to Thorello, see ibid., xxiv--xxvi. On the similarities between Ford and Kitely, see especially Sallie Sewell, "The Relation between The Merry Wives of Windsor and Jonson's Every Man in his Humor," Shakespeare Association Bulletin 16(1941):179-80.

(18.) Sir John Harington's Translation of Orlando Furioso, by Lodovico Ariosto, ed. Graham Hough (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962), 31.5. Ariosto's Italian (ed. Vincenzo Gioberti [Florence: Felice Le Monnier, 1854]) is as follows:
  Questa e la cruda e avvelenU piaga,
  A cui non val liquor, non vale impiastro,
  Ne murmure. ne immagine di saga,
  Ne val lungo osscrvar di benigno astro,
  Ne quanto esperienzia d'arte maga
  Fece mai l'inventor suo Zoroastro;
  Piaga crudel che sopra ogni dolore
  Conduce l'uom che disperalo muore.

  O incurabil piaga che net petto
  D'un amator si facile s'imprime
  Non men per falso che per ver sospetto!

(19.) Benedetto Varchi, The Blazon of Jealousie: A subject not written of by any heretofore ... translated into English, with speciall notes upon upon the same, by R.T. Gentleman. London, 1615 (Early English Books Online. University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign Campus). June 2, 2009. <>), 58. Erika Milburn discusses this aspect of jealousy as later development in Italian Renaissance representations of jealousy in " 'D'Invidia E D'Amore Figlia Si Ria': Jealousy and the Italian Renaissance Lyric," Modern Language Review 97, no. 3(2002):578.

(20.) Irace, Reforming the "Bad" Quartos, 53-54.

(21.) The most convincing argument I've read is Penelope Freedman's, who observes that at this moment, Ford switches from addressing his wife with the "vous" form to the more intimate "tu": this pronoun change marks his own transformation, she explains, from "jealous domestic tyrant to uxorious husband--no longer 'an heretic,' but a devoted believer"; Power and Passion in Shakespeare's Pronouns: Interrogating 'you' and 'thou' (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007):26.

(22.) "Westward Ho," ed. Fredson Bowers, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1955),2:319-93.

(23.) Hugh Craig has pointed out that Jonson's revision of speeches by the play's jealous husband, Kitely (previously Thorello) show a "deepening of psychological observation": "'An Image of the Times': Ben Jonson's Revision of Every Man in his Humor," English Studies 82 (2001):14.
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Author:Olson, Rebecca
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Article Type:Critical essay
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Date:Jan 1, 2012
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