Merry Wives of Windsor: Metaphor Analysis

The first two incidents in which Falstaff is humiliated are in realistic mode, but there is a strong symbolic and fantastic element that enters the final episode, which takes place in Windsor Forest. Falstaff is persuaded to don horns, and to make himself feel less ridiculous he reminds himself that Jove once disguised himself as a bull. But the image of sexual potency that suggests is undercut by the events that follow, in which Falstaff is tormented and humiliated. This episode takes on an almost mythic quality of a ritual sacrifice. This element in the play was noted by J. A. Bryant in his article, “Falstaff and the Renewal of Windsor” (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 89, 1974, pp. 296-300). As Bryant puts it, “this last humiliation, involving as it does the victim disguised as an animal and the peoples participation in the punishment of that victim, suggests unmistakably the ancient castigation of the scapegoat, whereby an animal, or a man, or a man dressed as an animal was made to take upon himself and suffer for the sins of a whole community.” In other words, Falstaff has to endure pain and ridicule so that the whole society can be purged of its faults (Fords jealousy, for example). Having collectively purged themselves, everyone, including Falstaff, is then able to enjoy a night at Pages house, free of anxiety and guilt.