Merry Wives Of Windsor Detailed Scene break down

(Please be aware that scene situations listed below are from the original setting.  It is likely that the setting will differ for the production.)

 

Act I, Scenes i-ii

Summary

Justice Shallow enters a city street with Master Slender and Sir Hugh Evans. Shallow is angry at Sir John Falstaff and says he will bring him before the court. Evans, a man of the church, misunderstands and thinks he can help bring Falstaff before a church council.

Evans suggests that they focus their attentions on trying to arrange a marriage between Slender and Anne Page. They approach Master Page's house, and Page enters. He thanks Shallow for his gift of venison. Shallow asks if Falstaff is at Page's house, and Page says he is. Shallow says Falstaff wronged him, and Page reports that Falstaff admits it.

Falstaff enters with his entourage of Bardolph, Nim, and Pistol. Shallow accuses Falstaff of having beaten his men and killed his deer. Falstaff admits it. Slender accuses Falstaff of having beaten him. Evans says that Slender's wallet was stolen and that he believes Falstaff's men took it. The men deny it, saying Slender was too drunk to know what happened to his wallet. Slender says he'll never again drink with any men who are not good and honest.

Anne Page enters to serve the men wine, but Page says they'll all go inside. Mistress Page and Mistress Ford enter, greet Falstaff, and go inside with the others to dine. Slender sits alone, wishing for his book of love poems. His servant Simple enters, and Slender asks him where his book is. Shallow and Evans emerge from Page's house, and Evans suggests he has made a kind of marriage proposal in Slender's name to Page, asking for Anne's hand. Shallow asks if Slender can love her and if he would be willing to marry her, to which Slender replies positively. Even if there's no great love at the beginning, he says, it will grow once we get to know each other.

Anne enters to call the men to dinner. The others go in, but Slender hesitates. Anne says the others await him, but he insists he's not hungry and won't go in. He tries to make conversation with her but fails miserably. Page enters and encourages Slender to come inside. Slender repeats that he isn't hungry, but goes inside, after a debate about who should enter the door first.

Evans exits dinner with Simple. He sends Simple to Doctor Caius's house to ask for Mistress Quickly, Caius's servant. He gives Simple a letter for Mistress Quickly, asking for her help in convincing Anne Page to marry Slender.

Commentary

This play's mostly middle-class characters are introduced in their small-town milieu, and immediately we are introduced to the main struggles of this comedy. The main thrust of Elizabethan comedy is usually marriage, and the possible marriage of Anne Page and Slender is the early goal of Shallow and Evans. But the relationship between couples who are already married is also a focus, namely the pairs of Ford and Page and their wives.

Meanwhile, Falstaff and his mischievous drinking buddies make their entrance, having already been up to no good before this scene. Falstaff is a knight, thus of a higher rank than most of Windsor's natives, and he takes advantage of his position to torment the locals. Falstaff appeared first in Shakespeare's Henry IV, part 1 and Henry IV, part 2, and his sidekicks continue on into Henry V . This scene-stealing drunken jokester, pal of the young Prince Henry, is said to have so impressed Queen Elizabeth that she asked Shakespeare to write another play for Falstaff, which became Merry Wives of Windsor. Falstaff receives no better treatment in this play, being mocked and tricked at every turn while he tries to seduce Mistresses Page and Ford.

Shallow, Evans, and later Caius form a second maligned group; they are the mocked public figures. Evans is a Welsh clergyman, and he speaks with an accent that the other English characters can't bear. Caius is a Frenchman who speaks in fragments of English and French. And Shallow is an incompetent man of the law.

Mistresses Page and Ford and their husbands form the third group. The two women are inseparable and irrepressible; they are the "merry wives" of the title. Their project to humiliate Falstaff overlaps with their aim to educate their husbands that wives can be both merry and honorable.

Act I, Scenes iii-iv

Summary

Falstaff, Bardolph, Nim, and Pistol enter The Garter Inn and call for the inn's Host. Falstaff makes a deal with the Host to be housed for a certain sum, while Bardolph will double as the Host's bartender. Falstaff says he is glad to have Bardolph off his hands for a time, and tells Pistol and Nim of his plans.

He announces that he means to seduce Mistress Ford. Not only does he like her good-natured attitude, but he also hears she has control over her husband's cash. He shows two letters that he wrote, one to Mistress Ford and the other to Mistress Page, who he thought also looked favorably on him. She too holds the purse-strings in her marriage, and Falstaff hopes to benefit greatly from an affair with each. He asks Pistol and Nim to convey his letters to the ladies, but they refuse, saying that they prefer to behave respectably. Falstaff exits to find someone else to take them. Pistol and Nim scorn Falstaff's base behavior. They decide to be avenged on Falstaff and plan to go to Ford and Page to reveal his plan.

Meanwhile, Mistress Quickly awaits the return of her master, Doctor Caius while speaking to Simple. Simple explains his errand from Evans; Mistress Quickly thinks that Anne Page would do well to marry Slender, so she promises to urge Anne to make the match.

Caius approaches, so Mistress Quickly hides Simple in a closet. Caius looks for all his equipment, for he is about to depart to visit the court. He looks in the closet and encounters Simple. Quickly explains that Simple has come with an errand from Evans, and Simple says it's true, Evans sent him to ask Quickly to put in a good word for Slender with Anne. Caius is upset; he asks for paper and writes a note. While he writes, Quickly whispers to Simple that she will do all she can for his master, but the truth is that her master is in love with Anne Page too.

Caius hands his letter to Simple and announces that he will challenge Evans to a fight. He sends Simple to deliver the letter. Caius scolds Quickly, angry since she had told him she could convince Anne to marry him. Quickly insists that Anne does love him, and that Slender means nothing to her. Caius departs for court, and Quickly comments to herself that she knows Anne's mind, and doubts Anne loves either man.

Master Fenton enters to ask Quickly about Anne. Quickly swears to him that Anne loves him, and says they spoke of him at length. Fenton says he'll visit her that day and departs. Quickly reiterates that she knows Anne well and is sure she doesn't love Fenton either.

Commentary

Much double-dealing begins in this scene. Falstaff's henchmen decide to tell Ford and Page of his plan to seduce their wives, while Quickly plays Slender, Caius, and Fenton with promises that she can influence Anne's choice of husband. Servants turn against their masters and drinking buddies turn against their ringleader, each attempting to influence events to their own benefit.

The scene where a French-accented Caius finds Simple in the closet is nearly pure slapstick. However, rather than beating Simple as an audience might expect, Caius sends Simple away with threats against Evans. Caius, like Evans, seems more foolish than even his actions indicate, merely because of his exaggerated accent.

Act II, Scene i

Summary

Mistress Page reads her letter from Falstaff aloud, quoting sections where he declares that their affinity must lie in their equally advanced age, sense of merriment, and love of wine. She's astonished that such a fat old knight would try to play the young gallant, considering he barely knows her. She wonders how she can exact revenge on him. Mistress Ford enters with her own letter from Falstaff. They exchange letters and discover that he wrote the same letter to each. They think he must write the same letter to every woman, and they discuss revenge. Mistress Page suggests they lead him on until he has to pawn his horses to raise money to court them. Mistress Ford agrees, so long as they don't engage in any villainy that will sully their honor. She notes that it's good that her husband didn't see the letter, for his already-large jealousy would have been exacerbated.

Ford and Page enter with Pistol and Nim, so the women withdraw to discuss their plans. Pistol announces to Ford and Nim to Page that Falstaff is after their wives. Nim says that they have tired of Falstaff's lying, and, since he has wronged them in the past, they have decided to turn against him. Pistol and Nim depart, leaving Ford and Page to rage against Falstaff

Mistresses Ford and Page approach their husbands and speak with them. Mistress Quickly enters; the ladies realize that Quickly can be their messenger to Falstaff. They ask if she has come to speak to Anne, and all go inside together. Page and Ford speak of what they have heard from Pistol and Nim. They wonder if it's true. Page doubts that it's true, but he would let his wife go to Falstaff if he meant to seduce her honestly, while Ford insists that he doesn't mistrust his wife, but he wouldn't want her to be anywhere near Falstaff.

The Host of the Garter enters. Shallow follows, and he invites them all to see the fight between Evans and Caius, which is about to take place. Ford takes the Host aside. He tells the Host that he isn't angry at Falstaff, but that he wants to have access to him under a false name. He offers money if the Host will introduce him under the name of Brooke. The Host agrees. Meanwhile, the others discuss the fight and depart. Alone, Ford calls Page a fool for trusting his wife, which he cannot do. With his new disguise, he can find out from Falstaff how far he's gotten with Mistress Ford, or whether she's innocent.

Commentary

In this section, Shakespeare broadens his exploration of what exactly makes a good husband and, more broadly, a good marriage--one of the central themes of the play. The difference between Ford and Page becomes apparent in their different responses to the reports from Pistol and Nim. Ford already distrusts his wife (Mistress Ford mentions his jealousy), and so he readily believes that she would be open to Falstaff's advances. But Page is much more trusting and doesn't believe Falstaff has a chance with Mistress Page. The Mistresses' plans to humiliate Falstaff conveniently provide the double action of showing Ford that his jealousy is misplaced and that his wife is honest. Even in making plans to embarrass Falstaff, Mistress Ford announces clearly that she will gladly do anything so long as it doesn't compromise her honor. Ford's jealousy about his wife is as misplaced as Falstaff's lust.

Act II, Scenes ii-iii

Summary

In the Garter Inn, Falstaff tells Pistol that he won't lend him any money. Falstaff says he's already done enough for Pistol by bailing him out of trouble, and still Pistol won't deliver Falstaff's letters. He tells Pistol that he gets cash by lying and cheating, while Pistol is poor because he insists on maintaining some honor.

Mistress Quickly arrives to speak to Falstaff. She draws him aside and tells him that Mistress Ford has had many noble suitors over the years, yet she chooses Falstaff. She reports that Ford will be out of the house between ten and eleven the next day. Quickly mentions how jealous Ford is and repeats the hour when Falstaff may visit. Then she adds that Mistress Page sends word that her husband is often at home, but that she hopes a time may come when Falstaff may visit her, too. Mistress Page asks Falstaff to send her a letter. He sends his regards to the women, and Quickly departs.

Bardolph enters with news that a man named Brooke wants to speak to Falstaff. Ford enters, disguised as Brooke, and asks Falstaff for his help. He offers money to Falstaff in return for help in wooing Mistress Ford for himself. He says that he has loved her for a long time, but that he has been unable to get her to pay any attention to him. She has always behaved honestly, but he wonders if there are cracks in her virtuous temperament. He compliments Falstaff and his power over women and asks him if he will seduce Ford. Falstaff asks Brooke if he really wants him to seduce her, but Brooke explains that if she falls first to Falstaff, then she can no longer use her honesty as an excuse to scorn him, and she will have to fall for him.

Falstaff accepts Brooke's money and tells him that he already has a plan to visit her between ten and eleven the next morning. Brooke asks him if he knows what Ford looks like, but Falstaff says he doesn't. He urges Brooke to come to him the next day to hear about his visit with Mistress Ford, and he departs. Alone, Ford speaks angrily of his wife, who has already made a date with Falstaff. He cannot trust his wife to control herself, he declares. He can barely wait for the next morning, when he will be avenged on Falstaff, catch his wife in the act, and prove to Page that his jealousy has been valid.

Meanwhile, Caius waits in a field for Evans to arrive. The Host of the Garter finally enters, accompanied by Shallow, Page, and Slender. They have come to see the fight but discover that Evans is nowhere to be seen. Shallow says that Evans is smart not to have come to fight; as a clergyman, he heals souls, and Caius heals bodies. For either to fight goes against both of their professions. Shallow says that he has come to try to convince Caius to forget the fight.

The Host asks to speak to Caius and keeps insulting him with words that Caius doesn't know. When Caius asks what the Host is saying, he explains that his insults are actually honorable, valorous words, so Caius instantly misuses them. The Host promises that he will bring Caius back to Windsor by a route that will pass a farmhouse where Anne is feasting, and he can woo her there. Caius is delighted and goes with the Host.

Commentary

The intrigues compound in this section, which introduces the theme of disguise into the play. Mistresses Page and Ford have hired Quickly to set up Falstaff, and she names the hour when Falstaff will walk into a trap at Ford's house. Meanwhile, Ford sets his own trap for his wife, or so he thinks, when he disguises himself as Brooke and asks Falstaff to seduce Mistress Ford so that he may have an easier time seducing her in the future.

The lines between the Host and Caius probably delighted audiences during Shakespeare's time. Caius's accent is again mocked, this time alongside his shaky command of English, especially English slang. Though the Host's slang is unfamiliar to modern readers, the confusion he creates in Caius is still funny.

Act III, Scenes i-iii

Summary

Evans wanders through the fields with Simple, looking for Caius but unable to find him, thanks to Simple's misdirection. He sends Simple off to find Caius and sits down to read his book of poems and be melancholy. Simple reappears and leads Evans towards Shallow, Slender, and Page. Shallow says that Caius is nearby, and Evans responds by insulting the doctor's knowledge.

The Host enters with Caius, and Evans and Caius face off. Shallow and Page disarm the two men. Evans and Caius speak under their breath to each other of their suspicions that the others led them on to fight in order to make fun of them. They agree the Host has plotted against them. Then the Host speaks, claiming that he doesn't want to lose his doctor or his clergyman, so he urges them to make peace. The spectators exit, leaving Caius and Evans alone to plot revenge against the Host.

Ford meets Mistress Page in the street, accompanied by Falstaff's boy-servant. She says that she is on her way to see Mistress Ford, and she departs. Ford comments that Page is a fool to think that his wife is honest, since she's now on her way to his wife's house with a messenger from Falstaff! Meanwhile, the clock strikes ten, and Ford prepares to trap Falstaff.

Page, Shallow, Slender, the Host, Evans, and Caius enter. Ford invites them all to come to his house. The group has been discussing a match between Slender and Anne Page; Page tells Slender that he supports him, but his wife supports Caius. The Host asks about Fenton, of whom Page doesn't approve as a husband for Anne. Ford invites them again to dine at his house, and Caius, Evans, and Page join him.

Mistresses Ford and Page prepare for Falstaff's arrival. They order two of Ford's servants to be ready with a large laundry basket, which they will carry to the Thames and throw in the water. Falstaff's boy-servant announces his arrival, and Mistress Page hides. Falstaff enters. He tells Mistress Ford that he wishes her husband were dead so he could marry her and make her a lady. She says that she would make a plain lady, but he compliments her. He says that he doesn't have the skill with words that young wooers do, but he declares his love.

A servant announces Mistress Page at the door. Falstaff hides, and Mistress Page rushes in with news that her husband is coming with officers of Windsor to search for a gentleman Page believes is in his house, at Mistress Ford's invitation. Mistress Ford says that no gentleman is present. Mistress Page says she'd be in trouble if there were! So Mistress Ford admits that a man is in her house, and that she must find a way to hide him quickly. Mistress Page suggests they hide him in the laundry basket and have servants carry the basket out.

Falstaff emerges and says he'll consent to be smuggled out. Mistress Page pretends to be surprised to see him, and she asks him if he wrote love letters to her recently. He whispers that he loves her, then climbs into the basket. Mistresses Ford and Page hide him by piling dirty clothes on top, and they order two servants to carry the basket away. They are poised to leave when Ford, Page, Caius, and Evans enter.

Ford enters, intending to catch Falstaff. The servants depart with the basket. He and the other men look around the house but don't find anyone. Mistress Ford and Page find that they don't know whom they enjoy fooling more, Falstaff or Ford. The Mistresses agree that Ford seemed sure that Falstaff would be there, and his jealousy is especially horrible. They plan to play more tricks on Falstaff to draw out the root of Ford's jealous behavior. The men return from their searching. Mistress Page says that Ford wrongs Mistress Ford to distrust her. Evans and Caius agree that Mistress Ford seems to be honest. Page suggests that the men go hunting together the next day, and Caius and Evans reaffirm their plot against the Host.

Commentary

Caius and Evans, the two men with accents, band together when they realize that the Host intends to make fools of them. It was Caius, however, who challenged Evans to fight; the Host did not arrange that, so it's unclear what exactly they think the Host has done to make them look foolish, beyond making fun of their speech. This is a side-plot that never quite develops fully.

Meanwhile, Mistresses Page and Ford put on a show for Falstaff when Mistress Page enters in a flurry with news that Ford is on his way. As it turns out, Ford is rushing to the house with officials of Windsor, and they are lucky to get Falstaff out of the house before Ford can discover Falstaff in his house, confirming his worst suspicions. They're delighted to find that this anxiety-producing chain of events has the double bonus of showing Ford to be an unreasonably jealous man in front of his friends. In fact, it's so entertaining that they decide to lure Falstaff again, in order to multiply their pleasure in deceiving and humiliating the two men.

Act III, Scenes iv-v

Summary

Fenton and Anne Page meet outside her house. He tells her that her father doesn't favor him as a candidate for marriage, because, though Fenton is high-born, he has no money, and Anne's father suspects that he only wants Anne's substantial dowry. He admits that Page's wealth first drew him to Anne, but in wooing her, he has found her to be worth more than money. She urges him to try to win her father's favor.

They draw to the side when Slender enters with Shallow and Mistress Quickly. Quickly calls to Anne, saying that Slender wants to talk to her. Anne notes to Fenton that Slender is her father's choice, but that she doesn't like him at all. Quickly pulls Fenton away, and Anne approaches Slender and Shallow. Slender tries to tell an unrelated joke, so Shallow tells Anne that Slender loves her. Shallow speaks for Slender, while Slender says foolish things, so Anne asks Shallow to let Slender speak for himself. He mumbles idiotically, and she asks what he wants of her. He says it's Page and Shallow who have made the arrangements, but if things don't work out, he won't mind.

Page and Mistress Page enter. Page demands to know why Fenton is hanging about. He tells Fenton that he will never have his daughter and goes into the house with Shallow and Slender. Quickly urges Fenton to speak to Mistress Page. He tells her he loves Anne, and Anne asks her not to make her marry Slender. She says she won't, but she favors Caius. Anne is unsatisfied, but Mistress Page says that she will talk to her daughter about her feelings for Fenton. They enter the house.

Fenton thanks Quickly for her aid and gives her money. Alone, Quickly considers her duplicity. She's promised to help all three men who claim to be in love with Anne, but she'll help Fenton especially, because he's such a likeable young man. But now the busy woman must rush off to speak to Falstaff at the command of Mistress Page and Mistress Ford!

Falstaff enters the Garter Inn. He orders Bardolph to make him some warm wine and moans about his bad luck. He's soaking wet, having just dragged himself out of the Thames after being dropped in with Mistress Ford's laundry. Mistress Quickly enters with reports from Mistress Ford. Falstaff says that he's fed up with her, but Quickly explains that her servants misunderstood about what to do with the laundry. Quickly reports that Mistress Ford wants Falstaff to visit again, between eight and nine that evening. Falstaff quickly agrees to go, and Quickly goes to deliver the message.

Ford enters in disguise as Brooke. He asks how Falstaff did with Mistress Ford. Falstaff says that he had just begun to woo Mistress Ford when her husband arrived. He exaggeratedly narrates his flight in a laundry basket and tells of the fear and horror he experienced while hiding in the basket and when he was thrown in the river. Brooke asks if Falstaff will give up on Mistress Ford now, but Falstaff announces his next date. Fearing he's already late, Falstaff rushes out. Ford is astonished to think that Falstaff was in his house when he arrived that morning, and he's enraged that he is on his way back. He will go to his house and find him this time, he declares, and vent his rage.

Commentary

Mistress Quickly is privy to almost all the secrets in Windsor, and she plays the citizens against one another, presumably in order to make the most pocket money in tips as she performs her various errands. With three suitors seeking Anne's hand, all of whom having asked Quickly's help, she has to be careful not to reveal her double-dealing.

Meanwhile, the traditional conclusion of a happy wedding is threatened by a multiplicity of suitors and Anne's two stubborn parents. Neither wants to listen to Anne's desires, and Page is rightly suspicious of Fenton, who is penniless but claims he wants to marry Anne for love, not for her cash. He's the only one Anne likes, but also the only one not sanctioned by some member of her family. Her father supports a tongue-tied fool; while Slender can speak English fluently and without an accent, he's unable to speak anything but nonsense. Caius, her mother's preferred suitor, barely speaks English at all. Some clever scheming will have to take place to get the right couple together.

Mistresses Ford and Page's efforts to show up Ford's misplaced jealousy are further aided by Ford's own scheming. By pretending to be Brooke, he thinks he's one step ahead of his wife, but in fact he ends up being one step behind Falstaff, who is already too slow to figure out the wives' plan for his humiliation.

Act IV, Scenes i-ii

 

Summary

Mistress Page, Mistress Quickly, and William Page enter. The two women wonder if Falstaff has arrived at Mistress Ford's yet, and Mistress Page says she must just take her son to school. Evans, the schoolteacher, enters and says he has cancelled school that day. Mistress Page says that her husband has said their son has not been learning much at school, so Evans asks him a few questions

As Evans quizzes William about Latin conjugations and declensions, the uneducated Mistress Quickly interprets the words she can't understand as sexualized slang. Meanwhile, Evans' Welsh mispronunciation mangles most of the words anyway.

Falstaff arrives at Mistress Ford's house. He speaks gladly of his second chance, but then Mistress Page arrives, and Falstaff hides. Mistress Page asks if Mistress Ford is alone, and she says she is. Mistress Page speaks of Ford's jealousy and says that it's good that Falstaff isn't there, since Ford is on his way to the house in a rage again. Mistress Ford admits Falstaff is there and wonders what to do with him. Falstaff emerges and says he won't hide in the laundry basket again. They try to imagine how they could disguise him. Mistress Ford suggests he wears some clothes of her maid's aunt; the clothes of this fat lady will fit him, and he can slip out the door.

While Falstaff puts on the dress, Mistress Ford reveals that she hopes Ford meets Falstaff in disguise, because he hates the maid's aunt and had threatened to beat her if she came to his house again. Mistress Page reveals that Ford really is coming, that she's not just saying it to fool Falstaff. They decide to fool Ford by parading the laundry basket past him, so he will waste time looking through it. Mistress Ford prepares, while Mistress Page comments that their actions will prove that wives can be merry and honest at the same time.

Mistress Ford's servants enter with the laundry basket, and they prepare to leave. Ford, Page, Caius, Evans, and Shallow enter; Ford demands that the servants put down the laundry basket, and he searches through it. Ford's companions urge him not to act so rashly, since his wife is clearly honest. Mistress Ford enters, and he angrily asks her if she is honest or he suspects her without cause, which she says he does. Finding nothing in the laundry, Page and Shallow tell Ford that he is just jealous and plagued by paranoia.

Mistress Page and the disguised Falstaff enter. Ford flies into a rage, saying that he had forbidden the old lady from coming to his house, especially since she is said to be a witch. He beats Falstaff and chases him out. Evans notes that the old lady had a rather thick beard, and Ford realizes his mistake. He and the other men bolt out of the house after Falstaff.

The two women discuss their successful campaign. They are sure they've scared the lusty behavior out of Falstaff. They debate telling their husbands about their schemes in order to convince them that they have been honorable. But if they want to torment Falstaff further, they'll surely be able to scare something up. They agree that publicly shaming him would be the best end to his humiliation.

Commentary

The encounter between Evans and William is another scene that probably played mostly for laughs in Shakespeare's time. Between Evans' mispronunciation of Latin words and Quickly's suggestive mishearing Latin words as English slang, this scene makes for linguistic humor in any era.

Falstaff's second effort to seduce Mistress Ford is interrupted, like the first, by Mistress Page's fake announcement that Ford is on his way, followed by his actual arrival. This time, they dress the knight as an old fat woman, and he suffers the indignity of being beaten by Ford on the way out of the house. Like Falstaff's first visit, the scene plays like a good slapstick farce.

Act IV, Scenes iii-vi

Summary

At the Garter Inn, Bardolph asks the Host if the German guests may borrow three of the Host's horses, because they are on their way to court to meet their Duke. The Host agrees reluctantly.

At Ford's house, Ford, Page, Mistress Ford, Mistress Page, and Evans talk. The women have told their husbands about their plots against Falstaff, and Ford asks his wife to forgive him. He says that he will never doubt her again. Page suggests that they continue with the sport and try to plan a public humiliation of Falstaff. Mistress Page recalls an old tale about ghostly Herne the hunter, a vicious spirit known to visit a particular oak tree at midnight in winter. Many fear to walk by Herne's oak tree at night still.

Mistress Ford sees her drift. She says they should get Falstaff to go to the oak tree disguised as Herne. Then their sons and daughters will come out of hiding, all dressed up as elves and goblins, to encircle Falstaff and pinch him. They can ask Falstaff leading questions that will get him to reveal why he came to the woods at that time. When he admits his dishonorable intentions, they can mock him openly in Windsor.

The men like this plan, especially Page, who imagines that he can use the ensuing confusion as an opportunity for Slender to elope with Anne Page. Ford says that he will go to Falstaff as Brooke to find out if he plans to accept the third invitation from Mistress Ford. Evans goes off to prepare the children's costumes. And Mistress Page considers that she can conveniently get Caius to elope with Anne when they are all in disguise.

The Host enters the Garter Inn with Simple. Simple wants to see Falstaff, but he thought he saw a fat woman going to his room and doesn't want to interrupt. Worried that Falstaff is being robbed, they go to Falstaff's room. Falstaff says that the fat witch is gone. Simple and the Host ask if the old lady had any predictions about them; Falstaff makes up ambiguous replies that reveal nothing.

Bardolph enters, covered with mud. He says that the Germans ran off and stole the Host's horses. Evans enters and tells the Host that he should watch out, as he's heard reports that three German men have been stealing horses in neighboring towns. Then Caius enters and announces that he should not bother making preparations for the arrival of a duke of Germany, as that man doesn't exist. The Host is upset, realizing that someone has tricked him and he has lost three horses. Falstaff comments that the whole world seems to be having bad luck, for he has, too, and been beaten besides.

Mistress Quickly enters with a message from Mistresses Ford and Page. She says that Mistress Ford, too, was beaten, and is upset at Falstaff's misfortune. Quickly says she has news and urges that they speak in private.

Fenton and the Host speak; the young suitor asks the Host to help him. He speaks of his love for Anne Page. He just received a letter from her, he says, that tells of a plot to trick Falstaff. Her father has commanded her to dress in white as a fairy queen and to elope with Slender once the confusion arises. Meanwhile, her mother has ordered her to dress in green with a mask and to elope with Caius. The Host asks which of her parents she means to deceive; both, says Fenton. He asks the Host to help him procure a vicar who will marry them that evening.

Commentary

The story about a German duke is a fiction made up by Caius and Evans to avenge themselves on the Host. The unfolding of this scheme is somewhat unclear during the play, which means that, sometime between the first performance of the play and its publication, a scene or more may have been lost wherein some characters may have disguised themselves as Germans and fooled the Host.

Mistresses Page and Ford reveal to their husbands that they have lured Falstaff to Mistress Ford's house in order to humiliate him, thus concluding the part of the plot necessitating them fooling their husbands. Mistress Ford teaches her husband that he shouldn't be jealous, for she is an honest woman, and Mistress Page reaffirms her virtue in her husband's eyes. Once they see the schemes of their wives, they want to join in and make sure Falstaff suffers one more time. By this time, their point has been proven, but they go on anyway with complex plans for a supernaturally-tinged final humiliation, which will overlap with various elopement plans.

Ford has learned the error of his ways, but Page and his wife have not yet learned their lesson. As each parent schemes to have their favorite meet their daughter in a different outfit and elope, they each continue to demonstrate their great flaw--an inability to listen to their daughter. They each believe that they are more right than the other, and both smarter than their daughter, about whom she should marry. But in the final unfolding of events, they will find they were both wrong and should have listened to her.

Fenton's discussion with the Host about the letter he received from Anne is the only scene in the play spoken exclusively in verse. Fenton's high estimation of his love may account for his speech, whereas prose spoken elsewhere in the play illustrates the middle-class milieu of Windsor's

 

Act V, Scenes i-v

Summary

Falstaff and Mistress Quickly talk at the Garter Inn. He says he'll keep his third appointment with Mistress Ford, but he hopes that things will work out this time. Quickly departs to prepare, and Ford, in disguise as Brooke, enters. Falstaff tells Brooke that things will be decided that evening in the park at midnight, near Herne's oak. Brooke asks Falstaff about the previous day's adventure with Mistress Ford. Falstaff says that he had to be disguised as a woman, and Mistress Ford's madman husband beat him. Now he wants revenge on Ford, he says.

Page, Shallow, and Slender prepare for the evening's events. Page reminds Slender that his daughter will be wearing white. Mistress Ford, Mistress Page, and Caius prepare as well. Mistress Page tells Caius that her daughter is in green and sends him to look for her. Mistress Page says that her husband will be unhappy about the marriage between Anne Page and Caius, but that's too bad. The women look forward to frightening and mocking Falstaff later that night. They head out to Herne's oak. Evans leads the children, all in disguise, to their hiding spot near the oak.

Falstaff arrives at Herne's oak in disguise as Herne with large horns on his head. He ruminates about the Greek gods, who disguised themselves as animals to seduce women. Mistresses Ford and Page enter. Falstaff embraces Mistress Ford and is delighted that Mistress Page is there too. They hear a noise, and the ladies flee. Evans enters with many children in disguise, along with Mistress Quickly disguised as the fairy queen and Anne Page disguised as a fairy. Shouting to each other, they speak of magic and the supernatural. Falstaff is terrified; he falls to the ground and hides his face.

Mistress Quickly enthusiastically takes on her role and speaks eloquently of fairies and potions, flowers and gems. Evans says that he smells a man. Quickly says they'll set him aflame, and if he burns, then he'll prove to be corrupt. They burn Falstaff with candles, and Quickly declares him corrupt. The children chant as they encircle Falstaff and pinch him.

Meanwhile, Caius sneaks off with a boy wearing a white outfit, and Slender steals away with a boy wearing green. Fenton and Anne run off together. Finally, all the children in disguise run away. Falstaff gets up and tries to run away, but Ford and Page and their wives appear. Page says that they have caught him in the act of trying to seduce their wives. Ford reveals to Falstaff that he was Brooke, and that he plans to take Falstaff's horses in return for the money he lent Falstaff while playing the role. Falstaff realizes that he's been made into an ass. He asks if the fairies really weren't real.

Evans tells him that the fairies won't bother him if he serves God instead of his desires. Evans advises Ford to leave behind his jealousies, too. Ford says he won't distrust his wife until Evans can speak good English. Falstaff is upset to be scolded by Evans, a man who so mangles his native English language. Mistress Page asks Falstaff if he really thought they would have consented to lose their honor for him, such an unattractive drunken old man? Falstaff admits that he is defeated and that they can do what they want with him. Ford says they'll take him to Windsor and make him pay back his debts.

Yet Page invites him that evening to the feast at his house in honor of his daughter's wedding. Just then, Slender enters. He's upset to have arrived at his country church destination only to discover he had eloped with a boy. Page scolds him for not finding his daughter correctly during the evening. Mistress Page says it's her fault, as she made Anne wear green for Caius. Then Caius enters, and announces that he has married a boy! Ford wonders who ended up with Anne.

Fenton enters with Anne. Anne's parents ask her why she disobeyed them, but Fenton explains that they should be ashamed for wanting to marry her to men she didn't love. He and Anne have long been in love, he explains, and now the tie is finalized. Ford tells Page and his wife that love guides the turn of events, so they should be glad. Falstaff says that he's delighted that the evening, planned to humiliate him, didn't turn out quite as planned for Page and his wife. Page embraces Fenton and Mistress Page welcomes him. And as they depart for a feast, Ford comments to Falstaff that his promise to Brooke will come true, for Brooke will get to seduce Mistress Ford.

Commentary

The first four scenes of the act pass quickly, in preparation for the events at Herne's oak. When Falstaff arrives, the wheels are set turning. The other characters frighten him and abuse him; then Page and Ford and their wives enter, having caught him at last. Falstaff's humiliation is complete, for now they can spread the story in town.

Meanwhile, the final wedding plot comes to its complex conclusion. Fenton arrives with Anne as his wife and scolds the Pages for having consented to marry their daughter into a loveless union. Having no alternative, they accept him and learn their lesson, and the comedy concludes with its conventional wedding party.

Falstaff, who has become a kind of scapegoat by the conclusion, is not exiled as his final punishment. Instead, he is brought back into the fold and invited to the feast. Plus, he gets to see the Pages' plans for their daughter thwarted and their humiliation at the revelation of the array of suitors and their plots against each other. Thus, by the end, the dupers are duped, and the conclusion is fully inclusive, despite the various conflicts between townspeople throughout the play.

Meanwhile the ends of Slender and Caius are quite clever. A theater audience of Shakespeare's time would have seen all the parts of women performed by young boys. Therefore, the fact that Slender and Caius mistakenly go off to marry two young boys reflects the theatrical reality of the pairing between Fenton and the young boy who played Anne. Shakespeare brings a level of self-referentiality to this marriage scene, which both celebrates and teases the Elizabethan theatrical illusion. The boy gets the girl, just as the audience would want; at the same time that Shakespeare reminds the audience that they have been willfully deceived into precisely the same falsehood accepted by two of the play's most foolish characters.

 

 
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