Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor contains several features that make it unusual within his dramatic output and that thus render problematic the idea of a unified 'Shakespearean' canon. Until very recently, literary criticism has either largely ignored or denigrated the play, with a sustained interest in its portrayal of female agency, family life and the natural world only consolidating in the early twenty-first century. However, earlier operatic adaptations, such as Salieri and Defranceschi's Falstaff, ossia Le tre burle, demonstrate an engagement with those issues which literary criticism has only lately addressed. While approaches to adaptations of The Merry Wives often focus primarily on the character of Falstaff, Salieri and Defranceschi's opera's engagement with the play's issues beyond Falstaff suggests it might give added weight to a growing awareness of a positive alternative reception history of the play beyond literary criticism. At the same time, a consideration of the opera's engagement with the play's themes of female agency, family life and the natural world might shed light on Falstaff, ossia Le tre burle beyond the shadow cast by Verdi's central character.