The Merry Wives of Windsor | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Merry Wives of Windsor | Act 3, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Meanwhile at the Page home, Fenton is attempting to woo Anne Page. He hints she should simply elope with him because her father is unlikely to give his blessing to the marriage. Anne, however, urges Fenton at least to try to win Page's approval. As they are talking, Shallow, Slender, and Mistress Quickly enter. Mistress Quickly draws Fenton aside in a separate (unheard) conversation, while Slender awkwardly tries to make conversation with Anne, who barely conceals her displeasure. Shallow unhelpfully interjects on his nephew's behalf, prompting Anne to tell him to "let [Slender] woo for himself." Slender tactlessly admits he has no personal attraction to Anne but is merely following the plan his uncle and her father have laid down.

Master and Mistress Page enter, having returned from the Fords'. Page scolds Fenton for visiting when Anne is already "disposed of." Page, Shallow, and Slender leave the stage, and Fenton implores Mistress Page to give him a chance to woo Anne. She announces her intention to have Anne married neither to Fenton nor to Slender, but to Doctor Caius—a thought that fills Anne with dread. "I had rather," exclaims Anne, "be set quick [in the] earth / And bowled to death with turnips!" Relenting a little, Mistress Page says she will ask Anne about her true feelings in private. If she finds Anne truly loves Fenton, she will not hold back her approval. Fenton bids the two women farewell as they leave the stage. He then gives Mistress Quickly a ring to convey to Anne and some money for her trouble. After he departs Mistress Quickly remarks on Fenton's kind heart, which makes him her favorite of Anne's three suitors.

Analysis

Anne's three suitors have been introduced in previous scenes. Now, Shakespeare invites the audience to make a direct comparison among them. For both Slender and Doctor Caius, the pros are mainly economic and the cons have to do with personality. Slender has substantial wealth in the form of land, and he comes from a respectable family. He is, however, dull witted (Mistress Page will later bluntly call him an "idiot") and unwilling or unable to show the slightest interest in Anne as a person. He is not so much a wooer as a wind-up toy, cranked into motion by his uncle Shallow and pointed in the direction of Anne Page.

Similarly, Doctor Caius is a highly paid professional with significant monetary wealth. He has influential friends at the English royal court—"de earl, de knight, de lords, de gentlemen." These selling points mean little to Anne, but they certainly endear Doctor Caius to Mistress Page. Yet the suitor is also hotheaded and violent to an almost cartoonish degree, willing to brandish his rapier on the slightest provocation. He is jealous and suspicious to an extent surpassed only by Ford. In favoring him as a son-in-law, Mistress Page either overlooks or fails to acknowledge this aspect of his personality.

That leaves Fenton, Anne's suitor of choice. He is a young gentleman who has outspent his means and now has little wealth apart from his title. Fenton's high station in society is actually a strike against him, for it makes Page suspicious of his motives in wooing a small-town, middle-class girl. Evidently he also used to be quite the party animal, since Anne's parents are put off by his "riots past" and "wild societies." Now, however, he professes to have reformed, and Mistress Quickly is happy to vouch for his kindheartedness and "honest[y]."

In this scene Fenton candidly admits to Anne, "thy father's wealth / Was the first motive that I wooed thee," just as his rival Slender is now doing. However, Fenton has since undergone a change of heart and loves Anne, finding her "of more value / Than stamps in gold or sums in sealèd bags." One proof of Fenton's sincerity is his willingness to elope with Anne, as he suggests earlier in the scene. If he runs off with Anne, Page might just write both of them off, leaving Fenton with no dowry or inheritance from his wife's family. Page threatens as much back in Act 3, Scene 2: "the wealth I have," he insists, "waits on my consent, and my consent goes not [Fenton's] way." Fenton, though, does love Anne for the "riches of [her]self," since those are all the riches he can expect to get without Page's approval.

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