The Merry Wives of Windsor
Act III, Scenes i-iii
Evans wanders through the fields with Simple, looking for Caius but unable to find him, thanks to Simple's misdirection. He sends Simple off to find Caius and sits down to read his book of poems and be melancholy. Simple reappears and leads Evans towards Shallow, Slender, and Page. Shallow says that Caius is nearby, and Evans responds by insulting the doctor's knowledge.
The Host enters with Caius, and Evans and Caius face off. Shallow and Page disarm the two men. Evans and Caius speak under their breath to each other of their suspicions that the others led them on to fight in order to make fun of them. They agree the Host has plotted against them. Then the Host speaks, claiming that he doesn't want to lose his doctor or his clergyman, so he urges them to make peace. The spectators exit, leaving Caius and Evans alone to plot revenge against the Host.
Ford meets Mistress Page in the street, accompanied by Falstaff's boy-servant. She says that she is on her way to see Mistress Ford, and she departs. Ford comments that Page is a fool to think that his wife is honest, since she's now on her way to his wife's house with a messenger from Falstaff! Meanwhile, the clock strikes ten, and Ford prepares to trap Falstaff.
Page, Shallow, Slender, the Host, Evans, and Caius enter. Ford invites them all to come to his house. The group has been discussing a match between Slender and Anne Page; Page tells Slender that he supports him, but his wife supports Caius. The Host asks about Fenton, of whom Page doesn't approve as a husband for Anne. Ford invites them again to dine at his house, and Caius, Evans, and Page join him.
Mistresses Ford and Page prepare for Falstaff's arrival. They order two of Ford's servants to be ready with a large laundry basket, which they will carry to the Thames and throw in the water. Falstaff's boy-servant announces his arrival, and Mistress Page hides. Falstaff enters. He tells Mistress Ford that he wishes her husband were dead so he could marry her and make her a lady. She says that she would make a plain lady, but he compliments her. He says that he doesn't have the skill with words that young wooers do, but he declares his love.
A servant announces Mistress Page at the door. Falstaff hides, and Mistress Page rushes in with news that her husband is coming with officers of Windsor to search for a gentleman Page believes is in his house, at Mistress Ford's invitation. Mistress Ford says that no gentleman is present. Mistress Page says she'd be in trouble if there were! So Mistress Ford admits that a man is in her house, and that she must find a way to hide him quickly. Mistress Page suggests they hide him in the laundry basket and have servants carry the basket out.
Falstaff emerges and says he'll consent to be smuggled out. Mistress Page pretends to be surprised to see him, and she asks him if he wrote love letters to her recently. He whispers that he loves her, then climbs into the basket. Mistresses Ford and Page hide him by piling dirty clothes on top, and they order two servants to carry the basket away. They are poised to leave when Ford, Page, Caius, and Evans enter.
Ford enters, intending to catch Falstaff. The servants depart with the basket. He and the other men look around the house but don't find anyone. Mistress Ford and Page find that they don't know whom they enjoy fooling more, Falstaff or Ford. The Mistresses agree that Ford seemed sure that Falstaff would be there, and his jealousy is especially horrible. They plan to play more tricks on Falstaff to draw out the root of Ford's jealous behavior.
The men return from their searching. Mistress Page says that Ford wrongs Mistress Ford to distrust her. Evans and Caius agree that Mistress Ford seems to be honest. Page suggests that the men go hunting together the next day, and Caius and Evans reaffirm their plot against the Host.
Caius and Evans, the two men with accents, band together when they realize that the Host intends to make fools of them. It was Caius, however, who challenged Evans to fight; the Host did not arrange that, so it's unclear what exactly they think the Host has done to make them look foolish, beyond making fun of their speech. This is a side-plot that never quite develops fully.
Meanwhile, Mistresses Page and Ford put on a show for Falstaff when Mistress Page enters in a flurry with news that Ford is on his way. As it turns out, Ford is rushing to the house with officials of Windsor, and they are lucky to get Falstaff out of the house before Ford can discover Falstaff in his house, confirming his worst suspicions. They're delighted to find that this anxiety-producing chain of events has the double bonus of showing Ford to be an unreasonably jealous man in front of his friends. In fact, it's so entertaining that they decide to lure Falstaff again, in order to multiply their pleasure in deceiving and humiliating the two men.
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