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John Boydell

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Image of Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 5, Scene 5

John Boydell
English, 1719–1804
Josiah Boydell (aka Joshua Boydell)
English, 1752–1817
William Sharpe (aka Charles W. Sharpe)
English, 1818–1899
after Robert Smirke
English, 1752–1845

Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 5, Scene 5

about 1804
From Boydell's Graphic Illustrations of the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare

Object Type: Print
10 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (28 x 17 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on paper
Accession Number: 2016.0008.0002

Credit Line: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Association Purchase

In 1786, a successful London publisher, alderman John Boydell, conceived of a gallery of art devoted to scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Named for its founder, the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery was one of the first large-scale commercial endeavors intended to promote British literature and artists both in Great Britain as well as throughout the European continent. He commissioned over 167 paintings of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and produced engravings based on these paintings. In creating the engravings, John Boydell partnered with his son, Josiah, whose name appears after his father’s in the list above. The third name is that of the engraver, and the fourth is that of the painter who created the original composition in oils. The role of the engraver was to transfer the painter’s composition onto plates for printing.

About this scene:
From the subplot of Henry IV, the irrepressible, irresistible scalawag Falstaff became a late 1590s’ comic phenomenon, so Shakespeare gave him his own trickster spinoff set in Windsor, where Falstaff decides to scam the locals.

While trying to seduce and financially bilk two local wives, they turn the tables, first hiding him in a laundry basket when the jealous husband returns, then having Falstaff dumped in the Thames. Later the husband beats him after the wives disguise him as an old woman. Finally, as illustrated, they convince him to play legendary Herne the Hunter in Windsor Forest by wearing horns (sign of cuckoldry), only to be singed and pinched by local children dressed as fairies [rear], and then forgiven. But the locals themselves are also fooled when Anne Page secretly marries neither of her parents’ choices but her own true love. “Wives may be merry, and yet honest too.”
-Susan Willis, dramaturg, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, September 28, 2020

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