Sir John Falstaff was fat. A self-proclaimed “expert on food, wine, and women,” he indulged in all three with abandon. It is the third area of expertise, though, that got him into trouble in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. The inimitable Orson Welles introduces the chunky knight:
Since the events in the play take place during Henry IV’s reign, the famous Italian composer Guiseppe Verdi, then in his 80’s, advised his librettist Arrigo Boito to include some scenes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV for greater authenticity. It turned out to be Verdi’s last opera, and it was a resounding success. The chunky aging rogue who runs out of money and conceives a plan to seduce wives of two wealthy men in order to fatten his pocket comes out as a lovable character who invariably conquers the audience’s hearts.
This is how the “expert on women” gets his comeuppance. Putting his wily scheme into action, Falstaff writes love-letters to two women, Alice Ford and Meg. Unbeknownst to him, they meet, share the letters, and – lo and behold! – find them identical! You can imagine their reaction – revenge has entered their minds. Suddenly, they are joined by two more enraged women, Mistress Quickly, the innkeeper who is trying to collect payment from the profligate knight, and Alice’s daughter Nannetta, ready to support her mother in any prank. We can surmise Mistress Quickly’s interest in this endeavor, but what is Nannetta’s business? Is she just a good, obedient daughter? Not at all! Far from obedient, she is rebelling against her father who plans to marry her off to a man old enough to be her father. She is thinking that assisting Mom will, in turn, gain an ally in her fight against Dad. Typical teenager reasoning, if you ask me.
It is Mistress Quickly, quick on her feet to cook up any intrigue, who comes up with a plan, gleefully accepted by “the merry wives of Windsor.” Watch it unrolling, magnificently presented in a modern iteration by Metropolitan Opera, with Stephanie Blythe as Mistress Quickly and Ambrogio Maestri as Falstaff.
Sir John, thinking himself irresistible, keeps the date, while the Mistress Quickly informs Alice’s husband. Do you think the husband simply sits in ambush and then assaults the seducer? Not when a quartet of ladies is at work! First, they pretend trying to save the chunky Falstaff by stuffing him… into a laundry basket. In case you are amazed by the size of this basket, please revisit images of fifteenth-century fashions. Not your jeans and t-shirts, I assure you.
That’s not enough humiliation, think the ladies, and order servants to throw the basket out the window into Thames. The Gargantuan knight is ridiculed by the crowd and soundly beaten. However, in the best traditions of Shakesperean comedies, all ends well. Duly contrite, Falstaff, instead of seducing Alice, helps her to fool her husband to give a blessing for Nannetta’s marriage to her beloved.
Having corrected his attitude towards women, we hope that chunky Sir John Falstaff will be ready to reconsider his diet. To that end, I am pleased to offer a Chunky Soup:
Full of vegetable goodness, this Autumn soup is simple, but filling. Note: originally, I made it with Butternut squash, but my husband bought Spaghetti squash by mistake, and I decided to experiment. It came out different, but delicious. Your choice, Beautiful People!
1/2 Butternut or Spaghetti squash
2 – 3 medium size zucchini
2 – 3 medium size yellow squash
2 large carrots
2 celery stalks
Handful of fresh dill
2 heaping tablespoons of soup powder (2 bouillon cubes)
Salt, pepper, cinnamon to taste
Cut all vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Place into Instant Pot or 6-quart pot.
Add seasoning. Fill pot with 6 quarts of water. Mix.
Cook in Instant Pot on Manual or bring pot to boil on stove top, reduce heat, cook 20 minutes or until desired density.
About the guest author:
Dolly Aizenman is the brainchild behind Kool Kosher Kitchen (Which her blog and her book are named after).
This charismatic Russian blogger is fond of cooking and writing.
She has a BA in Art and Music Education, MA in English, MS in Education and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.