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SCENE I. A street.
Enter Mistress Page, Mistress Quickly, and William Page. The two women speculate whether Falstaff is at Ford’s house yet. Mistress Page says she must get William to school; just at that point Evans, the schoolteacher, enters and informs the party that he has canceled school for the day. Mistress Page complains to Evans that Master Page thinks William is not learning anything from his studies. Evans therefore asks William a few questions. As the quiz ensues, Mistress Page, ignorant of Latin, construes the conjugations and declensions as some sort of bawdy and sexual vernacular; in any case, Evans, with his Welsh accent, grossly mispronounces the Latin anyways.
SCENE II. A room in Ford’s house.
Enter Falstaff and Mistress Ford. Falstaff tells her how he is willing to give Ford another chance after what happened; suddenly Mistress Page enters, Falstaff hides, and she asks Ford if she is alone. She affirms. Page informs Ford that it is good she is alone, for her jealous husband is coming again and will have Falstaff killed if he finds him. On that, Ford confesses that Falstaff is present; Falstaff comes forward. They begin to consider what to do with him. By and by, they resolve to dress him up as one of Ford’s maid’s aunts, “the fat woman of Brentford,” whom Master Ford believes to be a witch and will beat if he sees. Falstaff exits to dress.
Mistress Ford tells Mistress Page that she hopes her husband will see him in this guise, whereupon Page notifies Ford that her former warning was not facetious and, indeed, her husband is coming again. Seizing the opportunity, they decide that they will play the laundry basket gag again, without Falstaff in it this time; Mistress Ford exits to prepare; Mistress Page, to herself, proclaims how wives are honest yet merry:
“We’ll leave a proof, by that which we will do,
Wives may be merry, and yet honest too:
We do not act that often jest and laugh;
‘Tis old, but true, Still swine will eat all the draff.
Page exits the room.
Mistress Ford reenters with servants and dispatches them to carry the basket of laundry out. Master Ford, Master Page, Shallow, Caius, and Evans enter; Ford demands to look through the basket, which he does, but finds nothing. The rest rebuke him for being jealous and mistrusting.
Mistress Page and Falstaff, disguised as “the fat woman of Brentford,” reenter. Ford promptly administers Falstaff a merciless licking; Falstaff escapes and exits, and Mistress Page says that she thinks he’s nearly killed the poor woman. Evans attests that she must’ve been a witch because of the incredible beard she was concealing, at which point Ford realizes his error of judgement. Master Ford, Master Page, Shallow, Caius and Evans exit after him.
The women talk over their success. They consider whether or not to disclose it to their husbands. They resolve to do so, and they resolve that the best way to end their enterprises is by publically humiliating Falstaff.
SCENE III. A room in the Garter Inn.
Enter the host and Bardolph. Bardolph and the host talk about how some Germans want to borrow three horses to meet a duke who they claim is visiting nearby. The host agrees to rent them.
SCENE IV. A room in Ford’s house.
Enter Masters Page and Ford, Mistresses Page and Ford, and Evans. The party talks; the women have disclosed what they have done to Falstaff. Ford asks for pardon and tells her that he’d now “rather…suspect the sun with cold / Than thee with wantonness.” Mistress Page proposes that they publically humiliate Falstaff and recounts an old tale of Herne; Catching the insinuation, Mistress Ford recommends that they get Falstaff to go as Herne to the oak tree in the tale whereupon they will come out, dressed as fairies and such, and taunt him until he unfeigns his true intentions. When the truth is out, they will “mock him home to Windsor.”
Master Page sees this as an opportunity to have Slender, during all the confusion, elope with Anne. Unfortunately, Mistress Page has the same idea, plotting to have Caius elope with Anne.
SCENE V. A room in the Garter Inn.
Enter the host and Simple. Simple tells the host that he wants to talk to Falstaff; the host tells him that he is in his chamber. Simple says that he saw a fat, old lady going in earlier and does not want to interrupt. The host summons Falstaff down and tells Simple that the fat lady has left. Simple inquires about something, but hardly gets an answer from Falstaff; Simple exits.
A muddy Bardolph enters, telling the host that the Germans have cozened them of their horses. Too little too late, Evans enters and tells the host to be wary that three Germans have recently been pilfering horses from unsuspecting loaners; then Caius enters and tells the host that no duke is coming. The host is quite upset by this.
Mistress Quickly enters and tells Falstaff that Mistress Ford was also beaten black and blue by her furious husband; however, Falstaff says that he was beaten “into all the colors of the rainbow.” Quickly tells Falstaff that she has a letter from Ford that will set things straight, which they exit into his chamber to read.
SCENE VI. Another room in the Garter Inn.
Enter Fenton and Host. Fenton asks for the host’s assist in tricking Anne’s parents; for, he tells, he has heard of the plot to trick Falstaff, in which Master Page has told Anne to dress in white and elope with Slender, yet Mistress Page has told Anne to dress in Green and elope with Caius. Fenton tells the host that he himself wants to elope with Anne and requests that the host secure a vicar to wed them that night.
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