The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Butt of the Joke
This chapter discusses the comic “butt” and specifically the somatic relation of the butt to Falstaff as the comic “ass” in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Because claims for a pun on ass and arse in Renaissance English are debatable, one can consider that Falstaff’s considerations of having “made an ass” in Windsor Forest amounts to an (a)historical pun. Given this detranslation of Falstaff’s line, the play’s incessant wordplay translates the fat knight into the butt of a communal joke and the butt/arse of the Windsor body politic. In this capacity, Falstaff becomes the semiotic dumping ground for the excesses of gender, national, and class differences that otherwise fracture the Windsor community. This chapter illustrates how Shakespeare uses the figure of the comic ass to trope a fundamental position in the body politic.
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