Justice Shallow, Master Slender, and Sir Hugh Evans enter, discussing Shallow's anger at Sir John Falstaff. Evans changes the topic to the young Anne Page, whom he would like to see Slender marry. They arrive at Master Page's door, where Shallow confronts Falstaff and his entourage. The men enter to dine, but Slender drifts around outside, trying unsuccessfully to converse with Anne Page until he goes inside.
Falstaff and his entourage settle in at the Garter Inn, where Falstaff reveals his plan to seduce Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, both of whom have control over their husband's money, which he desires. He sends Pistol and Nim to deliver letters to the women, but they refuse. Instead they plot to stymie Falstaff's plans by telling Page and Ford of his intentions.
Mistress Quickly talks to Slender's servant Simple, sent by Evans, and agrees that she will consent to speak positively of Slender to Anne Page. Her master, Doctor Caius, enters and encounters Simple. When he hears about his errand, he becomes angry and drafts a letter to Evans. Caius too is in love with Anne Page and blames Evans for encouraging Slender; hence he challenges him to a duel. He threatens Quickly, who had promised him she would encourage Anne to look favorably on him. Later Fenton enters; he's also in love with Anne and wants to know if Quickly has related his affections to her.
Mistress Page enters with a letter from Falstaff. She's astonished that he has the gall to try to seduce her and wonders how she will seek revenge. Mistress Ford appears with her own letter, which they discover is exactly the same. They decide to lead Falstaff on until he is ruined and humiliated. Mistress Ford agrees to anything that won't harm her honor. Meanwhile, Pistol and Nim enter, conversing with Ford and Page; they reveal Falstaff's plans. The husbands are astonished. Page doesn't think his wife will fall for Falstaff, but Ford is horribly jealous and convinced his wife will dishonor him.
Shallow and the Host of the Garter Inn enter with news of a fight between Caius and Evans. Page goes with them to watch, while Ford makes a deal with the Host to be introduced to Falstaff in disguise, in order to find out how far Falstaff has gotten in his plan.
At the Garter Inn, Quickly enters with a message from Mistresses Ford and Page for Falstaff. She reports that Ford will be out the next morning, and Mistress Ford will be expecting a visit from him. Mistress Page has not yet gotten her husband to leave the house, so she'll make a date at a later time. Then Ford enters in disguise, announced under the name Brooke. He tells Falstaff that he's in love with Mistress Ford, but that she has always rebuffed his advances, claiming that she's too honorable to cheat on her husband. He asks Falstaff to seduce Mistress Ford, thus destroying her honor, so she won't be able to turn him down in the future. Falstaff reports his date the next morning with Mistress Ford. Alone, Ford curses his wife for preparing to cheat on him and thinks Page is foolish to trust his wife.
Caius awaits Evans for their duel, but Evans is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, Evans has been wandering around looking for Caius. They meet and prepare to fight. The other men take their swords away, and Caius and Evans speak quietly to each other of their suspicion that the Host has plotted to make them look like fools because he scorns Evans for his Welsh accent and Caius for his French one. They agree to work together to get revenge against the Host.
On the way back from the fight, the men discuss Anne's marriage options. Page says he favors Slender, but his wife prefers Caius. What about Fenton?, asks one, but Page dismisses him entirely. Ford invites the men back to his house to catch Falstaff.
Falstaff has arrived at Mistress Ford's house; he hides when Mistress Page is announced. She comes in and speaks loudly of the imminent arrival of Ford, who angrily suspects his wife of cheating. Falstaff comes out and asks them to help him flee. They hide him in a laundry basket. Ford and his buddies enter as Mistress Ford's men carry the laundry out. Ford is unable to find Falstaff, and the Mistresses are doubly delighted to have fooled both Falstaff and Ford. They decide to humiliate Falstaff further in the service of making Ford get over his jealousy.
Fenton and Anne Page speak. He says her father objects to him because he suspects him of just wanting Anne's money, since he is high-born but poor. Fenton admits that that was his intention at first, but, since getting to know her, he has come to feel differently. Shallow, Slender, and Quickly enter; Quickly draws Fenton away, while Shallow tries to get Slender to talk to Anne. Slender only makes a fool of himself by speaking nonsense. Page and his wife enter, and they invite the favored Slender inside. Fenton asks Quickly to continue to campaign on his behalf with Anne. Alone, Quickly notes that she likes him better than the other two men who have asked her to sway Anne's opinion.
Falstaff arrives at the Garter Inn, soaked after having been thrown in the river with the laundry. Quickly enters with a second invitation from Mistress Ford. Ford enters in disguise as Brooke and asks how Falstaff's date with Mistress Ford went. He tells how it ended, but says he is visiting again that night!
Falstaff returns to Mistress Ford's house, and again Mistress Page enters soon after. Falstaff hides, and Mistress Page warns Mistress Ford of her husband's approach. How will they hide Falstaff this time? He emerges and refuses to go in the laundry again. Mistress Ford suggests that he wear the clothes of her servant's fat aunt to escape in disguise. He does, and when Ford arrives, he beats Falstaff and chases him away because he hates the fat aunt. Mistress Ford and Mistress Page are pleased; they think they have proven their point, and so they decide to tell their husbands of their schemes.
Ford apologizes to his wife for his jealousy, and he promises never to suspect her again. They decide that it would be fun to work together to humiliate Falstaff publicly. They plan to have Mistress Ford invite Falstaff to meet her in an allegedly haunted wood, and they'll dress their children up as ghosts and monsters to terrify and embarrass Falstaff. Then, having caught him in the act of trying to meet Mistress Ford secretly, they can tell the story all around town.
Fenton speaks to the Host of a letter he has received from Anne. She says that her parents want to use the chaos of disguised children in the haunted wood as an opportunity for her suitors to elope with her. Her mother wants her to run off with Caius and her father prefers Slender. Each instructs her to wear a specific outfit so each suitor may find her. But she intends to deceive them both. Fenton asks the Host to help him find a vicar who will marry them that night.
Meanwhile, Caius and Evans avenge themselves on the Host by stealing three of his horses in a scheme that had him believing he had lent the horses to three German lords on their way to the royal court.
Falstaff arrives in the haunted woods. The disguised children hide and wait. Ford and Page and their friends arrive to watch, and Mistress Ford and Mistress Page approach Falstaff. He's delighted to see they have both come to meet him. Then they hear a noise and the women run away. Falstaff is surrounded by disguised elves and ghouls and is terrified. Mistress Quickly, playing the fairy queen, says they should try to burn the human they have encountered, and if he doesn't burn then he is pure. They burn Falstaff with candles and encircle him and pinch him.
Finally, the disguised children depart, and Page and Ford enter. Falstaff sees that he has been fooled and humiliated. Evans tells Falstaff that he should give up on his lusts and tells Ford that he should trust his wife. Meanwhile, they all wonder where Anne is. Slender arrives upset; in the confusion, he eloped with a young boy in Anne's outfit. Then Caius enters, in a rage that he has married a boy wearing Anne's assigned color outfit. Then Anne herself enters with Fenton. Fenton scolds the Pages for having thought to send Anne into a marriage without love. He and Anne have long been in love, he says, and now it has been finalized.
Ford says that love has won out, and Page and his wife realize their mistake in not having listened to the wishes of their daughter. Falstaff is pleased that their plan to humiliate him backfired partially in the marriage of Anne and Fenton. They adjourn to celebrate the marriage and invite Falstaff to join them.