The Merry Wives of Windsor
Act III, Scenes iv-v
Fenton and Anne Page meet outside her house. He tells her that her father doesn't favor him as a candidate for marriage, because, though Fenton is high-born, he has no money, and Anne's father suspects that he only wants Anne's substantial dowry. He admits that Page's wealth first drew him to Anne, but in wooing her, he has found her to be worth more than money. She urges him to try to win her father's favor.
They draw to the side when Slender enters with Shallow and Mistress Quickly. Quickly calls to Anne, saying that Slender wants to talk to her. Anne notes to Fenton that Slender is her father's choice, but that she doesn't like him at all. Quickly pulls Fenton away, and Anne approaches Slender and Shallow. Slender tries to tell an unrelated joke, so Shallow tells Anne that Slender loves her. Shallow speaks for Slender, while Slender says foolish things, so Anne asks Shallow to let Slender speak for himself. He mumbles idiotically, and she asks what he wants of her. He says it's Page and Shallow who have made the arrangements, but if things don't work out, he won't mind.
Page and Mistress Page enter. Page demands to know why Fenton is hanging about. He tells Fenton that he will never have his daughter and goes into the house with Shallow and Slender. Quickly urges Fenton to speak to Mistress Page. He tells her he loves Anne, and Anne asks her not to make her marry Slender. She says she won't, but she favors Caius. Anne is unsatisfied, but Mistress Page says that she will talk to her daughter about her feelings for Fenton. They enter the house.
Fenton thanks Quickly for her aid and gives her money. Alone, Quickly considers her duplicity. She's promised to help all three men who claim to be in love with Anne, but she'll help Fenton especially, because he's such a likeable young man. But now the busy woman must rush off to speak to Falstaff at the command of Mistress Page and Mistress Ford!
Falstaff enters the Garter Inn. He orders Bardolph to make him some warm wine and moans about his bad luck. He's soaking wet, having just dragged himself out of the Thames after being dropped in with Mistress Ford's laundry. Mistress Quickly enters with reports from Mistress Ford. Falstaff says that he's fed up with her, but Quickly explains that her servants misunderstood about what to do with the laundry. Quickly reports that Mistress Ford wants Falstaff to visit again, between eight and nine that evening. Falstaff quickly agrees to go, and Quickly goes to deliver the message.
Ford enters in disguise as Brooke. He asks how Falstaff did with Mistress Ford. Falstaff says that he had just begun to woo Mistress Ford when her husband arrived. He exaggeratedly narrates his flight in a laundry basket and tells of the fear and horror he experienced while hiding in the basket and when he was thrown in the river. Brooke asks if Falstaff will give up on Mistress Ford now, but Falstaff announces his next date. Fearing he's already late, Falstaff rushes out. Ford is astonished to think that Falstaff was in his house when he arrived that morning, and he's enraged that he is on his way back. He will go to his house and find him this time, he declares, and vent his rage.
Mistress Quickly is privy to almost all the secrets in Windsor, and she plays the citizens against one another, presumably in order to make the most pocket money in tips as she performs her various errands. With three suitors seeking Anne's hand, all of whom having asked Quickly's help, she has to be careful not to reveal her double-dealing.
Meanwhile, the traditional conclusion of a happy wedding is threatened by a multiplicity of suitors and Anne's two stubborn parents. Neither wants to listen to Anne's desires, and Page is rightly suspicious of Fenton, who is penniless but claims he wants to marry Anne for love, not for her cash. He's the only one Anne likes, but also the only one not sanctioned by some member of her family. Her father supports a tongue-tied fool; while Slender can speak English fluently and without an accent, he's unable to speak anything but nonsense. Caius, her mother's preferred suitor, barely speaks English at all. Some clever scheming will have to take place to get the right couple together.
Mistresses Ford and Page's efforts to show up Ford's misplaced jealousy are further aided by Ford's own scheming. By pretending to be Brooke, he thinks he's one step ahead of his wife, but in fact he ends up being one step behind Falstaff, who is already too slow to figure out the wives' plan for his humiliation.
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