Mistress Quickly explains to the officers Fang and Snare as to why they are to put Falstaff under arrest; namely, the fact that Falstaff has a colossal tab at the Boar’s Head which he has yet to pay off, in addition to reneging on his promise to wed Mistress Quickly. She is thus prattling on when Falstaff arrives at the scene only to be strong armed by Fang and Snare. Falstaff resists arrest, however, by putting himself between his assistant and the arresting officers. By and by the Lord Chief Justice, who is surprised to find Falstaff still in London (he should be in York to oppose the rebels), arrives on the scene to arbitrate the matter. Mistress Quickly states her case, and though Falstaff tries to undermine her credibility the Lord Chief Justice rules in favor of Mistress Quickly, prompting Falstaff to abide by the ruling and ostensibly take Mistress Quickly as his wife. Presently, Gower, a messenger, arrives to inform the Lord Chief Justice of the king’s and Prince Harry’s withdrawal from Wales to set-up camp at nearby Basingstoke. Meanwhile, Falstaff, who has succeeded in persuading Mistress Quickly from withdrawing her official charge against him, tries to engage Gower to the extent of inviting him to dinner, exasperating the Lord Chief Justice who is engaged with Gower in serious talk. Consequently, uriging Falstaff to report to Lord John of Lancaster at once, the Lord Chief Justice censures Falstaff for his boorish manners and foolish ways.
Addressing his good friend Poins, Prince Henry is saying how the company he has kept with Falstaff has blunted his sensibilities to the point that he finds it impossible to grieve for his ailing father when they are met by Falstaff’s close associate Bardolph, who is accompanied by Falstaff’s page. Bardolph explains that he’s come to deliver Prince Henry a letter on behalf of Falstaff, but not before he rebukes the page who joins Poins in making fun of Bardolph’s red-nose for which the page is monetarily rewarded. Presently, Prince Henry receives the letter and proceeds to share its contents with Poins who notes Falstaff’s utter lack of propriety in the manner which he addresses his future king. As to the gist of the letter, Falstaff has two things to impart to the prince: 1) Bid Falstaff farewell as they will forthwith part company, and 2) Avoid Poins’ company as he has designs of having his sister Nell marry the prince. Subsequently, overcome by the desire to play a prank of sorts on Falstaff which will undermine Falstaff’s credibility, Prince Henry questions Bardolph and the page as to the location and the manner in which Falstaff is currently situated and attended to. Then, having bound Bardolph and the page to their words which would render them silent partners in playing a prank on Falstaff, Prince Henry and Poins contrive a scheme by which they might come upon Falstaff unawares: They will disguise themselves as bartenders.
Although his wife Lady Northumberland has conceded to let Northumberland do as he wishes, his daughter-in-law Lady Percy urges him to preserve himself, that as he had misgivings of his son’s exploits and had remained neutral in the conflict then, so he should remain neutral now and thereby show that the wisdom of his policy was not clouded by his love for his son, which is to say that if he joined the rebel forces now he would only die in vain and dishonor his name in the process. Inspired by her daughter-in-law, Lady Northumberland urges her husband to seek safety in Scotland. Lady Percy agrees and urges her father-in-law to join the rebel forces only when doing so will be to his advantage. Wavering from his initial resolution, Northumberland decides to ensconce himself in Scotland for the time being.
Informed of Prince Henry and Poin’s secret designs, the bartenders of the Boar’s Head make preparations. Presently, Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute, attend to Falstaff who is informed of a visitor who wishes to be admitted to his company. When informed that the petitioner is Pistol, Falstaff assures Mistress Quickly, who has got into her head to bar loud talking trouble makers from frequenting her tavern on the advice of a high ranking official, that Pistol is a mere card cheat and not the sort to create a great commotion. By and by, Pistol is welcomed and urged to partake in drink and the pleasures afforded by women; namely, Mistress Quickly. Mistress Quickly avers, however, that she will not be a play thing for men, prompting Pistol to solicit the favors of Doll Tearsheet who makes it clear that she will have nothing to do with Pistol. Incensed, Pistol avers that he will have his way one way or the other, compelling Falstaff to personally see to it that Pistol is banished from the premises. Subsequently, Doll Tearsheet who had nothing but insults for Falstaff previous to Pistol’s arrival, dotes on Falstaff who is only too happy to requite her affections. By and by, as music begins and Prince Henry and Poins—disguised as bartenders—attend on Falstaff, Falstaff holds forth on Prince Henry’s character and the reason why Poins and the prince get along so well. Needless to say, Falstaff’s discourse is nothing less than defamation, prompting Prince Henry and Poins to reveal their true selves. Without skipping a beat, Falstaff explains that he spoke ill of the Prince to prevent undesirables (i.e. Doll Tearsheet and her like) from insinuating themselves into Prince Henry’s good graces. Subsequently, urged on by Poins, Prince Henry presses his advantage, forcing Falstaff to speak ill of all his friends at the Boar’s Head when Peto, a Boar’s Head regular, arrives with a urgent message for the prince: The prince must go his father and at once; there’s also news that Falstaff must report to a band of captains. Full of remorse for having spent his time indulging in idle amusements when the times, what with the wars and his father’s sickness, demand sober gravity, Prince Henry bids Falstaff farewell and departs, accompanied by Poins. Meanwhile, to Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet’s distress, Falstaff too bids adieu as he must report to his post.