Beyond Falstaff in 'Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor'

Otto Nicolai's revolutionary ‘Wives'

John R. Severn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article explores how Otto Nicolai and Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal's Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (Berlin, 1849) might contribute to an alternative reception history of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which the play's unusual features-in particular the central role it gives to female agency, family life, and the natural world-are positively valued. These unusual aspects have long been overshadowed in critical approaches to both the play and its operatic adaptations by their focus on the character of Sir John Falstaff, particularly in the wake of Verdi's Falstaff. However, this article demonstrates that Die lustigen Weiber, by placing its women firmly at its heart, reveals an engagement with those issues which literary criticism has only lately addressed. This article also suggests that approaching the opera in its 1849 post-revolutionary historical context reveals nuanced resonances both with Shakespeare's play and the opera's own moment of production, particularly in the opera's storyline of assertive bourgeois women resisting an abusive aristocrat, culminating in a bourgeois-led reconciliation of the classes. The opera thus reveals the radical potential in Shakespeare's comedy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-54
Number of pages27
JournalMusic and Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes

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