The Merry Wives of Windsor
Act IV, Scenes i-ii
Mistress Page, Mistress Quickly, and William Page enter. The two women wonder if Falstaff has arrived at Mistress Ford's yet, and Mistress Page says she must just take her son to school. Evans, the schoolteacher, enters and says he has cancelled school that day. Mistress Page says that her husband has said their son has not been learning much at school, so Evans asks him a few questions.
As Evans quizzes William about Latin conjugations and declensions, the uneducated Mistress Quickly interprets the words she can't understand as sexualized slang. Meanwhile, Evans' Welsh mispronunciation mangles most of the words anyway.
Falstaff arrives at Mistress Ford's house. He speaks gladly of his second chance, but then Mistress Page arrives, and Falstaff hides. Mistress Page asks if Mistress Ford is alone, and she says she is. Mistress Page speaks of Ford's jealousy and says that it's good that Falstaff isn't there, since Ford is on his way to the house in a rage again. Mistress Ford admits Falstaff is there and wonders what to do with him. Falstaff emerges and says he won't hide in the laundry basket again. They try to imagine how they could disguise him. Mistress Ford suggests he wears some clothes of her maid's aunt; the clothes of this fat lady will fit him, and he can slip out the door.
While Falstaff puts on the dress, Mistress Ford reveals that she hopes Ford meets Falstaff in disguise, because he hates the maid's aunt and had threatened to beat her if she came to his house again. Mistress Page reveals that Ford really is coming, that she's not just saying it to fool Falstaff. They decide to fool Ford by parading the laundry basket past him, so he will waste time looking through it. Mistress Ford prepares, while Mistress Page comments that their actions will prove that wives can be merry and honest at the same time.
Mistress Ford's servants enter with the laundry basket, and they prepare to leave. Ford, Page, Caius, Evans, and Shallow enter; Ford demands that the servants put down the laundry basket, and he searches through it. Ford's companions urge him not to act so rashly, since his wife is clearly honest. Mistress Ford enters, and he angrily asks her if she is honest or he suspects her without cause, which she says he does. Finding nothing in the laundry, Page and Shallow tell Ford that he is just jealous and plagued by paranoia.
Mistress Page and the disguised Falstaff enter. Ford flies into a rage, saying that he had forbidden the old lady from coming to his house, especially since she is said to be a witch. He beats Falstaff and chases him out. Evans notes that the old lady had a rather thick beard, and Ford realizes his mistake. He and the other men bolt out of the house after Falstaff.
The two women discuss their successful campaign. They are sure they've scared the lusty behavior out of Falstaff. They debate telling their husbands about their schemes in order to convince them that they have been honorable. But if they want to torment Falstaff further, they'll surely be able to scare something up. They agree that publicly shaming him would be the best end to his humiliation.
The encounter between Evans and William is another scene that probably played mostly for laughs in Shakespeare's time. Between Evans' mispronunciation of Latin words and Quickly's suggestive mishearing Latin words as English slang, this scene makes for linguistic humor in any era.
Falstaff's second effort to seduce Mistress Ford is interrupted, like the first, by Mistress Page's fake announcement that Ford is on his way, followed by his actual arrival. This time, they dress the knight as an old fat woman, and he suffers the indignity of being beaten by Ford on the way out of the house. Like Falstaff's first visit, the scene plays like a good slapstick farce.
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