Do I Spy Othello Among Those Merry Wives?

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From Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor:

Ford: I have long loved her, and, I protest to you, bestowed much on her, followed her with a doting observance…” (II.ii.189-91).

Falstaff: To what purpose have you unfolded this to me?  (II.ii.213-4).

Ford: …Use your art of wooing; win her to consent to you.  If any man may, you may as soon as any (II.ii.229-30).

This scene is extremely reminiscent of another scene in another play by Shakespeare.  I thought immediately of the much darker play, Othello.  While finding the comedic element found in the above scene is not really possible in Othello, the two still have the same general concept.

In the above scene, Mr. Ford disguised as Mr. Brooke tries to convince Sir John to woo Mrs. Ford for him (since once she has let her virtue slip once, apparently that means she will again and again).  It is amusing for the audience, who knows that Mr. Brooke is Mr. Ford.  The “supposed” Mr. Brooke claims to have lavished Mrs. Ford with gifts to no avail, and now must rely on someone else to work for him. 

In Othello, Roderigo pays Iago to make advances towards the already married Desdemona.  Roderigo had previously been Desdemona’s suitor and showered her in gifts.  But all was in vain, she still married Othello.  But Roderigo (with Iago’s urging) does not give up there, he like “Mr.Brooke” now is relying on someone else to try their hand at the task.

It’s the same type of idea in both scenes.  The theme of men being cuckolded is predominant in both (and in both cases, the men are being too paranoid about it).  People in the 1600s were apparently very worried about that; it pops up again and again in Shakespeare (and then later in Moliere).  However, it is interesting how Shakespeare can take the same general concept in both Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor and make the purpose, tone, and end result be so very different. 

5 Comments

Erica Gearhart said:

Greta, I really like this entry. I have never read Othello; however your comparison really put into perspective the fact that Shakespeare is constantly able to reuse ideas and characters while still being considered one of the best playwrights in history. As you said, his greatness stems from his ability to take similar "concepts and make the purpose, tone, and end result be so very different."

Maddie Gillespie said:

You make an excellent argument, not to mention an informative blog as well. I've never read Othello, but as Gearhart wrote above, you have helped me to understand Shakespeare's ability to use similar characters in similar situations while creating an entirely different outcome. This entry truly helped to open my eyes. I may not be one of the Bard's most avid fans, but with the occasional explanation, he's fine by me! Good job blogging and helping others to understand!

Angela Palumbo said:

I, too, saw a little bit of Othello in The Merry Wives of Windsor. I would like to point out that like Ford, Othello did not trust his wife when she really gave him no need to distrust her. Othello’s love was pure but not so pure that it could not be polluted by Iago’s suggestions. Ford, though, did not have a person putting false ideas in his head about his wife’s fidelity. Othello, as a reaction to Iago’s lying, says, “O curse of marriage,/ That we can call these delicate creatures ours,/ And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad,/ And live upon the vapour of a dungeon,/ Than keep a corner in the thing I love/For others' uses” (III.ii.309-314). Through these lines, Othello reveals that he cares deeply for his wife and yet he does not trust her. Ford, however, does not seem to be as in love but is just as jealous. At one point, Ford even implies that he is shocked that someone could be attracted to his wife, “Why, sir, my wife is not young” (II.ii.108). The situations surrounding both situations are completely different and I’m guessing the outcomes are too. Hopefully, Ford does not turn into a suicidal murderer in the end because that would not be very comedic.

By the way Greta, love the title! Great point!

Stephanie Wytovich said:

Gretta, I really like this entry. One you make a really good point with the comparison, and two, you really made me want to read Othello :)
Goooood job!

This is a great analysis, Greta. I have never read Othello, but from your explanation it does sound a bit similar to this play (except much darker). I do think that men of that time period were paranoid about being cuckolded. Perhaps they finally came to the realization that woman were capable of doing other things besides chores around the house and freaked out. :P

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