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Inside out and outside in: The river Thames in William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalShakespeare
Accepted/In press13 Aug 2019

King's Authors

Abstract

The revels accounts for November 1604 record a performance of “Merry Wiues
of Winsor” on the “Sunday” after “Hallamas Day” by his “Matis Plaiers” in the
Banqueting House at Whitehall. This paper asks what The Merry Wives of
Windsor might have sounded like to an audience at that site. By resituating Merry
Wives in that cultural moment as part of an “aqueous” Christmas season it is
possible to reexamine the places “inside” and “outside” of the play as well as the
sites “inside” and “outside” of the Banqueting House. This paper offers the first
sustained reading of the significance of the Thames for Merry Wives. The
geographically informed structure of the paper takes the reader on a journey
through the site of Whitehall and the working landscape beyond it. It begins by
tracing a “thick description” of the palace architecture before exploring
performances, journeys, and labour on the river. It puts the play performance in
dialogue with the journeys that brought the actors and audience to Whitehall. The
paper argues that the increased liquidity of the Folio is especially attuned to the
wider geography of this “event” both “inside” and “outside” the palace in 1604.
The paper concludes by turning to the threat Falstaff’s wet permeable body poses
to the space of the court. Through an examination of the working world of the
river it is possible to see how a threatening potentially subversive Thames
intruded upon courtly space in 1604.

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