SCENE I. Before Page’s house.
Enter Mistress Page with the letter from Falstaff. She reads it aloud: “Ask me no reason why I love you; for though Love use Reason for his physician, he admits him not for his counselor…” She quotes sections that declare their attractions must lie within the sympathies of age, merriment and wine. She is dumbfounded by the letter and expresses her repugnance that such a fat, aged knight would audaciously try such a thing. She proclaims that she will have some sort of revenge but is unsure of how to get it.
Mistress Ford enters looking ill. Ford shows the letter she received from Falstaff to Mistress Page and both letters happen to be the same in every detail, save who they’re addressed to. Infuriated, both women decide to lead him on – so long as they don’t engage in any besmirching activities – until he pawns his horses for money to court them. Seeing Master Ford, Pistol, Master Page and Nym approach, they retire from the stage.
The four enter in the middle of a conversation wherein Nym and Pistol are disclosing Falstaff’s intentions. “He wooes both high and low, both rich and poor, / both young and old." Nym vouches, tells how they are both tired of their master’s lying, and both exit, leaving Page and Ford to settle on a resolution. Mistress Page and Mistress Ford come forth again to talk to their husbands. Then Mistress Quickly approaches, is accosted by the wives and taken inside where they beseech her to be their envoy to Falstaff.
Masters Page and Ford express their skepticism about what they’ve been told. Page doubts its truth, yet says he would let go if his wife if Falstaff’s efforts were honest. Ford states that he does not mistrust his wife, but would rather not have Falstaff near her.
The host of the Garter Inn and Shallow enter proclaiming that a duel between Caius and Evans is imminent; they invite Page and Ford to watch. Ford asides the host, offering the host money if he introduces him to Falstaff as a man named Brooke. The host consents. All but Ford exit; alone, Ford calls Page a fool for trusting his wife and discloses his plans to test Falstaff (and, vicariously, his wife’s innocence) under his new guise.
SCENE II. A room in the Garter Inn.
Enter Falstaff and Pistol; pistol is beseeching Falstaff for money, which Falstaff will not loan. Falstaff claims that he has already done enough for him, previously getting Pistol out of some trouble. He reminds Pistol that he wouldn’t even convey his letter to either of the Mistresses. Therein, Falstaff proclaims to Pistol, his maintenance of his honor, is why he is poor. Falstaff claims, on the other hand, that he is rich because he leaves “the fear of God on the left hand” and goes hiding honor in necessity; in other words, because he lies and cheats for it.
Mistress Quickly appears and speaks to Falstaff. She takes him aside and tells him she bears a message from Mistress Ford. She tells him that Mistress Ford has had many suitors but she assures him, however, that he is the best of them all. Quickly tells that Master Ford will be absent from ten to eleven the coming day. She notifies him that she also bears a message from Mistress Page, that Master Page is oft at home, but that she hopes there will soon come a time when they can meet and requests that Falstaff send her a letter for the time being. She also asks Falstaff to send her his “little page,” Robin, his squire. Falstaff gives Robin, none the wiser that she will turn Robin against him. Falstaff tells Quickly to give his considerations to Mistress Page and Mistress Quickly and Robin depart.
Bardolph enters informing Falstaff that a man named Brooke would like to talk to him. Ford, disguised as Brooke, offers Falstaff money in return for helping him court Mistress Ford. He tells Falstaff that he has long loved Mistress Ford but has never been able to accost her; given that she is married, he does not want to compromise her honor. He praises Falstaff as charming and asks him to seduce Mistress Ford in order to exploit any faults in her virtue, explaining that, by depreciating her virtue, she cannot use her moral integrity and virtuous disposition to scorn his woos and that, therefore, she will have to love him.
Falstaff tells Ford that he will do no such thing, taking his money anyways. He discloses that Mistress Ford has a rich husband, and that she is his key to those assets. He also discloses that he has arrangements to meet up with her between ten and eleven the coming day. Falstaff exits; Ford expresses his distress, believing that his wife has made a date with this man, that his money will be stolen, and that his jealousy was always vindicated.
SCENE III. A field near Windsor.
Enter Doctor Caius and Rugby. Caius is waiting for Sir Hugh Evans so they can duel. The host, Shallow, Slender, and Page arrive. The host asks Caius if Evans is dead, but Caius tells him that he never showed. Shallow says that Evans is the wiser man, for “he is the curer of souls, and you the curer of bodies; if you should fight, you go against the hair of your professions.”
The host insults Caius with slang he does not know; when Caius asks the meaning of what the host is saying, the host tells him that they are actually praises, which Caius then promptly misuses. The host tells Caius that will take him back to Windsor on a rout going by a farmhouse where Anne Page is eating. Caius thanks him; all exit, leaving for Windsor.