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.