Before anything, one interested in reading The Merry Wives of Windsor for the first time might want to to note that Sir John Falstaff appears in multiple plays (none of which are related to The Merry Wives) and to note where this Falstaff play falls in their mini-chronology.
Falstaff appears in Merry Wives and Henry IV (parts I and II), and is mentioned in Henry V; and several characters associated with Falstaff appear in Henry V. In Henry V, Falstaff is said to have died; but in Merry Wives, Falstaff is the central character and is very much alive.
I notice that many call The Merry Wives of Windsor
Shakespeare's most "bourgeois" play. That's probably true, because it's a play about middle-class life that is steeped in the values of Christendom; but it's also true that "bourgeois" is an insult that snotty critics use in scoffing at the play for not being avant-garde. So it's a play mostly about two married women wanting to punish a sleazy nobleman for making a pathetic attempt to seduce them, with a subplot about whether a young woman with multiple suitors should marry for money or for love. How "bourgeois"--right? If critics don't like the play mainly for that reason, I've no sympathy.
In reading this play, I felt definite similarities between and another (obviously superior) Shakespearean play--The Merchant of Venice. But I also notice how diverse Shakespeare's comedies are: the last Shakespearean comedy I read was Love's Labour's Lost
, and Love's Labour's Lost is so completely different from Merry Wives in every way that it feels like different people wrote them.
I was amused by the last two acts, but I can see the weaknesses and limitations of this play as well as anyone:
-Many gratuitious--and, frankly, stupid--puns and malapropisms that accomplish nothing but to confuse the reader.
-Linguistic and possibly ethnic stereotypes. I'm not familiar with the Welsh accent, but Shakespeare continually stereotypes it (in Hugh Evans) for humor. It's not funny. Much more annoying is Caius, allegedly a French doctor. His accent, a combination of stereotypes of French, German and Italian accents, is so absurd that I wonder whether Shakespeare had ever met a Frenchman or knew much about their accents. I can only suppose Caius is meant to be a stereotype, generating humor from audiences' possible disdain for the French. He might have entertained them, but not me.
-Falstaff. I have not read Henry IV yet, but I understand that the John Falstaff there is a famously witty and much-loved Shakespearean character. In The Merry Wives...not. This Falstaff, much older, is a sleazy satyr with a tendency to casually observe how fat he is (which probably made sense then because people saw obesity as indicating prosperity). There's nothing entertaining about him, only in the repeated humiliating pranks the two married women visit on him to teach him a lesson. (There are three incidents. There really should have been more, not so much because I like to see Falstaff humiliated as that punishing Falstaff for his lust toward married women is supposed to be the play's main focus.) Falstaff is even less entertaining than Caius, whom the reader can laugh at for being absurd.