Money Changes Everything: Quarto and Folio The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Case for Revision


Peter Grav


Often neglected in discussions of Shakespeare’s comedic oeuvre, The Merry Wives of Windsor constitutes one the playwright’s most thorough examinations of the economic imperatives underlying interpersonal relationships. Given that it is the only play that Shakespeare set in a recognizable, contemporary England, it arguably represents his own views of the economic mores of the society in which he lived. This paper considers the Anne Page-Fenton subplot in both the Quarto and Folio versions of Merry Wives and argues that the additional material in the Folio text is the result of systematic revision by Shakespeare. While the Quarto text delivers an almost clichéd rendition of a New Comedy plotline that has little relation to the main plot, the Folio version is methodically augmented with plot and speech variations that, in ways both subtle and overt, reinforce and interrogate the cash values represented by Falstaff. Incongruities between Q and F Merry Wives have been long attributed to either memorial reconstruction or abridgement, two theories examined herein and found wanting in light of the evidence presented. Through close readings of both Q and F, a pattern of difference emerges that corresponds with theories of “serial revision” advanced by textual critics such as Coghill and Honigmann. In the cases of Fenton and Mistress Page, characters who seem above Merry Wives’ economic fray in Q become, in F, as tainted as Falstaff, rendering the play’s “happy ending” problematic.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.