Monday, June 01, 2009

Thou Wast a Bull for Thy Europa

There’s a long-standing story that her majesty, Queen Elizabeth I herself, commissioned Shakespeare to write The Merry Wives of Windsor. One of Shakespeare’s early adapters, John Dennis, asserted this as a fact – some one hundred years after the work’s first performance.

A few years later, one of Shakespeare’s first editors, Nicholas Rowe, explained her majesty’s interest: Elizabeth "was so well pleased with the admirable character of Falstaff in the two parts of Henry IV that she commanded [Shakespeare] to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love."


This story would never have received general acceptance unless readers and audiences actually perceived an amorous Sir John in The Merry Wives of Windsor. So we need to consider that on a certain level Falstaff is indeed in love – as he compares himself to the god Jupiter, who transformed himself into various animals when in love with mortal women.


Or perhaps Falstaff, like Jupiter, is not so much "in love" as in lust. Or perhaps he falls in love with the idea of still being attractive to Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. In any case, if it were only a matter of calculation about their husbands’ money, it’s not likely that he’d keep risking and facing such humiliation.


Later artists have drawn similar conclusions. When Giuseppe Verdi was lured back to comic opera by librettist Arigo Boito, Sir John’s doomed campaign to be loved by the Merry Wives became the central concern for their opera Falstaff (1893). Later, when Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote an opera (1924-28) based on the play, he entitled it Sir John in Love.


The Flatwater Shakespeare Company presents The Merry Wives of Windsor in the open-air Swan Theatre at Wyuka Cemetery and Park, 3600 O Street in Lincoln, beginning Thursday, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. Performances continue Friday through Sunday, June 5-7; and Thursdays through Sundays, June 11-14 and 18-21. All show times are 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $10 for students. Call 484-7640 for reservations.


Photo: Andrew Shore as Falstaff in the English National Opera’s 2006 production of Vaughan Williams’ Sir John in Love.

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