Mistress Page reads her letter from Falstaff aloud, quoting sections where he declares that their affinity must lie in their equally advanced age, sense of merriment, and love of wine. She's astonished that such a fat old knight would try to play the young gallant, considering he barely knows her. She wonders how she can exact revenge on him. Mistress Ford enters with her own letter from Falstaff. They exchange letters and discover that he wrote the same letter to each. They think he must write the same letter to every woman, and they discuss revenge. Mistress Page suggests they lead him on until he has to pawn his horses to raise money to court them. Mistress Ford agrees, so long as they don't engage in any villainy that will sully their honor. She notes that it's good that her husband didn't see the letter, for his already-large jealousy would have been exacerbated.
Ford and Page enter with Pistol and Nim, so the women withdraw to discuss their plans. Pistol announces to Ford and Nim to Page that Falstaff is after their wives. Nim says that they have tired of Falstaff's lying, and, since he has wronged them in the past, they have decided to turn against him. Pistol and Nim depart, leaving Ford and Page to rage against Falstaff.
Mistresses Ford and Page approach their husbands and speak with them. Mistress Quickly enters; the ladies realize that Quickly can be their messenger to Falstaff. They ask if she has come to speak to Anne, and all go inside together. Page and Ford speak of what they have heard from Pistol and Nim. They wonder if it's true. Page doubts that it's true, but he would let his wife go to Falstaff if he meant to seduce her honestly, while Ford insists that he doesn't mistrust his wife, but he wouldn't want her to be anywhere near Falstaff.
The Host of the Garter enters. Shallow follows, and he invites them all to see the fight between Evans and Caius, which is about to take place. Ford takes the Host aside. He tells the Host that he isn't angry at Falstaff, but that he wants to have access to him under a false name. He offers money if the Host will introduce him under the name of Brooke. The Host agrees. Meanwhile, the others discuss the fight and depart. Alone, Ford calls Page a fool for trusting his wife, which he cannot do. With his new disguise, he can find out from Falstaff how far he's gotten with Mistress Ford, or whether she's innocent.
In this section, Shakespeare broadens his exploration of what exactly makes a good husband and, more broadly, a good marriage--one of the central themes of the play. The difference between Ford and Page becomes apparent in their different responses to the reports from Pistol and Nim. Ford already distrusts his wife (Mistress Ford mentions his jealousy), and so he readily believes that she would be open to Falstaff's advances. But Page is much more trusting and doesn't believe Falstaff has a chance with Mistress Page. The Mistresses' plans to humiliate Falstaff conveniently provide the double action of showing Ford that his jealousy is misplaced and that his wife is honest. Even in making plans to embarrass Falstaff, Mistress Ford announces clearly that she will gladly do anything so long as it doesn't compromise her honor. Ford's jealousy about his wife is as misplaced as Falstaff's lust.
Act 1 Scene 1 Slender. In the county of Gloucester, justice of peace and 5
Robert Shallow. Ay, cousin Slender, and 'Custalourum.
Slender. Ay, and 'Rato-lorum' too;
three veneys for a
dish of stewed prunes; 265
Act 1 scene 3
be cheater to them both, and they shall be
exchequers to me; they shall be my East and West
Indies, and I will trade to them both.
Act 1 scene 4
shent - put to shame