Harold Bloom, in his book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, says he shares AC Bradley’s indignation about the play:
“[Falstaff is] baffled, duped, treated like dirty linen, beaten, burnt, picked, mocked, insulted, and worst of all, repentant and didactic. It is horrible.”
All these things do happen to Falstaff but the genius of this production is that it’s not at all horrible thanks to the comic timing of the actors and their pitch-perfect delivery of the bawdy language. Being English, I am very fussy about the way Shakespeare is spoken and British actors can make Shakespeare sound conversational – a skill which still eludes many American productions.
It was great fun to see the merry wives – Mistress Page and Mistress Alice Ford – at the centre of the action and coming out on top thanks to their brains and wit after the “fat Falstaff” tries to seduce them both (at the same time) :
“What tempest, I trow, threw this whale with so many tuns of oil in his belly, ashore at Windsor ? How shall I be revenged on him ? I think the best way were to entertain him with hope, till the wicked fire of his lust have melted him in his own grease.”
I really enjoyed the play and think it is just as hard to make people laugh as to make them cry. But comedians get a lot less critical acclaim so as my tribute to all comics: Make ‘Em Laugh, from Singing in the Rain: