Thomson and Shakespeare: scheming wives and foolish men

I think I can be pretty certain that this is the last in the series of posts about illustrations to Shakespeare which I began last year and from my point of view at least it’s pleasing to end on another volume with pictures by my favourite illustrator of the period, Hugh Thomson. No magic in this one, although there are some bogus fairies, no fantasy woodlands or mythical islands just a town near London, and some desperate housewives. Desperate to have some fun anyway.

I’ve seen many of these pictures online in one form or another so why have I acquired my own copy of the book, scanned the pictures and created this post when I usually have some unique or rare pictures to show? Well partly because I love Hugh Thomson’s work and want to share my enthusiasm. It’s still worth pointing out as I did the very first time I wrote about him that his work is both of its period, the later 19th and early 20th century, and as modern as a graphic novel. Thomson takes care with historical accuracy in costume (as far as he was able) but in the costumes he puts modern people, as in the image above. I never imagined the merry wives as young particularly but the story makes more sense if they are relatively young and sexy rather than matronly and comedic.

(I don’t want to go far off topic here but this also applies to works like Pride and Prejudice.  In adaptations, Mrs Bennett is often played as old when in all likelihood she is meant to be about 40, and as attractive as her daughters. John Mullan points this out in his book “What matters in Jane Austen?”. Thomson himself succumbs to the temptation to portray her as a strictly comic figure in his illustrations to the book).

As we can see here, Anne Page is just a teenager, with a mother in early middle age, quite suitable for Falstaff’s misguided attentions. The letters go out.

And are received by the two wives, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford ,who don’t believe a word.

 

They go about their business, being seen about and about and looking good, among other things.

The boy Robin, supposedly Falstaff’s protégé, provides some comedy mileage.

And has some funny scenes of his own.

 

There is a bit bit of comic wooing.

And some more serious chatting up.

I love the way the dog echoes the posture of the young would-be lover, slouching just like the lanky youth.

Below Mistress Page looks after Robin in the street.

 

Everyone knows the story of Falstaff hiding in the laundry basket and ending up in the river. I used the pictures of that in a previous post so I won’t repeat them here but there’s a second trick on the portly knight.

A fruitless search of the basket.

And Falstaff in a poor  disguise as an female relative is beaten from the house by Mr Ford.

There is a final trick on Falstaff where Anne lures him into the woods with some of the town children pretending to be fairies.

 

This is part of her own scheme to avoid an unwanted suitor and hook up with the young fellow she really likes. Falstaff falls for the bogus fairy trick but is finally let in on the jape.

He sees the joke and there is an amicable ending. They’re all friends again. The no-hope suitor has to walk away without his intended, but he was only a sub-plot anyway, and Anne Page had her own ideas about the ending.

Postscript

Falstaff of course had returned by public demand. I will be back next week. Hugh Thomson will also be back at some point. I haven’t finished with him yet.

This was my backup post, in case the ones we were working on didn’t come together, and one of them didn’t. Hence the slightly sketchy commentary. Fortunately Thomson does most of the work. A few ideas are bubbling up and with any luck one of them will emerge next week.

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