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Summary Act I

SCENE I. Windsor. Before Page’s house.

Enter Justice Shallow, Master Slender, and Sir Hugh Evans. Scene I opens with the three talking over Shallow's anger at Sir John Falstaff, Shallow claims that Falstaff has "beaten my men, killed my deer, and broke open my lodge." While Shallow is quite resolute on taking Falstaff’s offense to the courts – the “Star-chamber," the English court of law which resided until 1641 – Sir Hugh Evans is resolute on dissuasion, contending that the courts would rather not hear his case and that negotiation would be the best recourse.

At this point, Evans changes the subject to Anne Page, which he would have Slender wed to, relating her “good gifts,” a great sum of inherited money, to the group. By and by they arrive at Page’s house and knock at the door. Falstaff and his assistants, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol, inside, come out and are confronted by Shallow; Slender suspends the exchange and brings up his own matter of contention, accusing one of Falstaff’s assistants of getting him drunk and picking money from his purse. Through and through he accuses each one of stealing the money, but they all deny the charge and Slender lets it go by resolving: “if I be drunk, I’ll be drunk with those that have the fear of God, and not with drunken knaves.”

Anne Page comes to summon all for dinner; all but Shallow, Slender and Evans enter the house to dine. The three converse about what they hope will become of Slender and Anne Page. Anne Page enters again, notifying the three that dinner is ready; Evans declares that he will not be absent at grace, and exits with Shallow. Alone with Anne, slender rather unsuccessfully endeavors to converse with her until Master Page summons them both inside.

SCENE II. Before Page’s house.

Enter Sir Hugh Evans and Simple. Evans gives Simple a letter to convey to Doctor Caius’s servant, Mistress Quickly; the letter requests that Quickly “speak a good word to Mistress Anne Page…in the way of marriage” for Slender.

SCENE III. A room in the Garter Inn.

Enter Falstaff, Host, Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, and Robin. Scene III starts just as Falstaff is acquitting Bardolph as his attendant, who is handed off to work for the sycophantic inn host. The host and Bardolph exit; with them gone, Falstaff reveals his plan to make love to Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, both of whom have control over their husband’s monetary assets, which Falstaff so desires. Falstaff hands letters for both women to Nym and Pistol. He compares the wives to Guyana, “all gold in bounty," and the East and West Indies, and that he will “trade to them both." However, Nym and Pistol refuse to carry the letters and take part in Falstaff's base humor; therefore Falstaff gives his page, Robin, the letters to bring to both wives; Robin and Falstaff exit. Nym and Pistol plot some revenge, deciding to inform Master Ford and Master Page of Falstaff’s dissolute intentions.

SCENE IV. A room in Doctor Caius’s house.

Enter Mistress Quickly, Simple, and Rugby. Mistress Quickly dispatches Rugby to watch for Doctor Caius, a quick-tempered French physician with an outrageous accent, and alarm her if he is coming; for, if Caius finds anyone not belonging in his house, there "will be an old abusing of God's patience and the king's English." Rugby exits. Quickly and Simple talk; Quickly agrees to give good regards to Anne Page for Simple’s master, Slender. Rugby reenters reporting that Doctor Caius is coming whereupon Mistress Quickly quickly hides Simple in a closet.

Doctor Caius enters demanding Quickly fetch something from the closet. After it is gotten, Caius is about to head out with Rugby when he finds Simple in the closet. The jig is up, and upon hearing of Simple's errand he is rather incensed. Caius writes a letter; meanwhile Mistress Quickly discloses that Caius is also in love with Anne Page. Caius gives the letter to Simple to deliver to Sir Hugh Evans, announcing that he “will cut his throat in Dee Park; and…teach a scurvy jack-a-nape priest to meddle or make." Simple exits to bring the threat to Evans. Caius threatens Quickly, too, saying to her, “if I have not Anne Page, I shall turn your head out of my door." Caius and Rugby exit.

Fenton, another suitor of Anne Page, enters to learn whether Quickly has submitted her good words of him to Anne Page. She “swears on the book” that Anne loves him; Fenton reminds Quickly to commend him to Anne on his behalf. Fenton exits; Mistress Quickly confesses that she had lied to him and, indeed, Anne Page does not love Fenton. 

William Shakespeare