This play is a play of pure disorder that ends up in farcical comedy. So everything is dominated by three, the number of disorder. Three women are the mistresses of ceremonies and antics: Mistress Page, married to Mister Page, Mistress Ford, married to Mister Ford, and Mistress Quickly, Servant to Doctor Caius. The Pages have apparently one daughter they want to marry but three men are courting: Doctor Caius, a French physician, Slender and Fenton. The daughter, Anne Page, has chosen the last one and the others are promoted by her parents. Two young boys will be essential, probably the sons of Mister and Mistress Page since they are heavily identified as pages at the end, though this identification is ambiguous.
We must add Sir John Falstaff, and his three followers, Bardolph, Pistol and Nym. The page attached to him is probably one of the two Page sons.
The three Mistresses are associated to teach a merry lesson to their husbands and men who are jealous as for the husbands and vainly superior as for the Doctor. At the same time the gentlemen in the assembly want justice, in fact a good vengeance, from Falstaff who is dragging them into inebriety for his acolytes to rob them, to pick their pockets. What's more he pretends he will, not can but will, sleep with all the mature women around, hence he has three preys, though he is more interested in the two married ones.
The play ends with a fake fairy apparition and dance, led by Mistress Quickly and all the children of the neighborhood, all in fairy disguises at night. It works very well as for Falstaff who is totally ridiculed in his projects concerning the wives. At the same time the two husbands are taught some modesty and reserve about the freedom of their wives and the trust they owe them. Falstaff will laugh at his being defeated in the merriest way possible. And the two husbands will also come to terms with their wives in a final celebration.
The most hectic element is of course the case of Anne Page. The two official candidates are given contradictory instruction as for the disguise of the girl during the fairy dance. Slender is supposed to pick the girl in white and Doctor Caius the girl in green. They do that but Slender discovered luckily in time that the girl is a page, hence a boy. That marriage fails. Doctor Caius is less lucky than Slender because he marries his green girl who reveals herself to be a boy, another page, but after the ceremony has been performed. A strange situation indeed.
And it is when Anne Page appears with her husband, Fenton, duly married. We end up with two marriages, one totally out of sorts, and the other one correct, and two married couples of parents. The figure of four is perverted by that homosexual marriage, the supreme disturbance since it could mean in England being literally grilled on a public square. Luckily the man of the couple is French, hence he only risks being deep fried in a giant frying pan. Of course we are on a Shakespearean stage where all women are played by teenagers. So it is just a twist in the fabric that means nothing, but that must have created a lot of laughing. This trick will be heavily used by Ben Jonson in his "The Silent Woman"
This production uses very aptly the inside of a home of the time, with at least two floors and an attic, numerous exits and numerous cupboards to hide in. It also vastly uses the countryside around the house. That gives the play a rhythm and a force that this plain farce deserves due to the serious subjects it deals with: the trust of husbands to their wives and the freedom for young people to marry according to their hearts and not their parents' wishes.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU