Act I, Scene 1
Robert Shallow, esquire is quite upset. It seems that Sir John Falstaff has wronged him greatly. Of course, before we can get to the crux of the matter, we have to understand all his many titles that he inherited and that he will pass down to his descendants. His cousin, Slender, is eager to help present his titles and describe his coat of arms, which has 12 white fish on it. Sir Hugh Evans, the local churchman, explains that the fish is a good symbol for a coat of arms because it signifies love. Slender considers cutting the coat in fourths, but Hugh finds that to be a terrible idea. Shallow disagrees since Slender would quarter it by marrying.
Hugh directs the conversation back towards Falstaff. He offers to help find a solution to their dispute as a man of the church. Shallow wants to bring it in front of the council, but Hugh thinks it will be better to put the dispute before God. Shallow wishes he were younger and they could just fight it out.
Hugh decides to distract Shallow from his anger by suggesting that they try to arrange a match between Mistress Anne Page and Slender. She is young and pretty and will inherit a lot of money from her grandfather and then her father. This sounds good to Shallow and Slender, but first Shallow has to know if Falstaff is at the Page’s house. Unfortunately, he is.
Hugh knocks at the door and Page warmly greets his friends. He thanks Shallow for the deer meat he sent. Shallow only wishes it had been a legal kill. Slender brings up that Page’s dog lost in a race, but Page insists that it couldn’t be determined. Slender keeps trying to tease, but Shallow chides him and compliments the dog. Then, he asks if John Falstaff is there. He is, he somewhat admits that he wronged Shallow, and conveniently he’s coming out right now.
Master Shallow, now quite irate, charges Falstaff with beating his men, killing deer on his land, and breaking into his hunting lodge. Falstaff is surprised that kissing the keeper’s daughter is not on his list of offenses. Shallow demands that his charges be answered. Falstaff admits to them, thus answering the charges. Shallow threatens to go before the council. Falstaff insists he will be laughed at. Hugh tries to intercede, but to no avail.
Falstaff turns to Slender and asks what his problem is, he just clocked him on the head. Turns out Slender is actually a little upset about being beaten on the head. He also has issue with Bardolph, Nym and Pistol. The three men quickly challenge Slender and he backs down. Hugh decides that he, Master Page, and the Host of the Garter Inn will serve as the judges in the dispute. Falstaff asks Pistol if he robbed Master Slender. He denies it and Slender insists it was him until Pistol directly confronts Slender. Then, he thinks it must be Nym, who likewise confronts young Slender. Slender changes his mind yet again: it must have been Bardolph, who got him drunk. Bardolph admits that Slender was drunk. Slender vows to never drink with such unsavory people ever again.
Anne Page enters carrying wine and with Mistress Page and Mistress Ford close behind her. Master Page tells her to take the wine inside for them to drink. Falstaff flirts with Mistress Ford and everyone goes inside except Hugh, Shallow and Slender. Simple, Slender’s servant, comes in. Slender asks if he has his Book of Riddles with him. He doesn’t because Slender lent it to someone else.
Hugh and Shallow try to present the marriage plan to Slender. He’s a little slow so they have to ask him many times if he will marry Anne Page, if he will be able to woo her, and if he will be able to love her. He will gladly marry her at his cousin’s request and he’s sure that love will come later. Anee comes to summon them to dinner and all but Slender go. Anne tries to get him to go in since everyone is waiting, but he insists he’s not hungry. Instead he tells her a silly story about bruising his shin and asks about bears in the town. She keeps trying to get him to go in. Master Page finally gets him to go into the dinner.
Act I, Scene 2
Hugh sends Simple to deliver a letter to Mistress Quickly. She is currently working at Doctor Caius’ house. Hugh believes she will help them get Slender and Anne Page together.
Act I, Scene 3
The Host of the Garter in has hired Bardolph to tend the bar because Falstaff is quite sick of him. Turns out Bardolph isn’t very good at stealing things and Falstaff’s bills were getting too high.
Falstaff has a new plan to make some money. He is going to sleep with Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. These two women are in complete control of their husband’s money and so they will be able to give Falstaff all sorts of money. He has written letters to both women, but Nym and Pistol refuse to deliver them. Apparently, this is a line they will not help Falstaff to cross. It doesn’t matter. Falstaff gets another man to do it.
Pistol and Nym decide that they will get revenge on Falstaff by telling the husbands exactly what is going on.
Act I, Scene 4
Mistress Quickly has John Rugby keep watch while she speaks to Simple. You see, if Doctor Caius were to come home and find a strange man in his house, he would be rather upset. She asks Simple if his master, Slender, is a heavy set man with a big white beard. He’s not, he’s quite skinny (one might even say he’s slender…ah?….ah?…I’ll see myself out) and has a blonde beard. She remembers him now, he struts with such a funny gait. Mistress Quickly promises to put in a good word with Anne Page.
Just then, Doctor Caius returns. Mistress Quickly hides Simple in the closet. The very French Doctor comes in, already fuming. He sends Mistress Quickly to fetch a green box out of his closet. Fortunately, he didn’t go into the closet himself because he would be quite perturbed to find Simple in there. He speaks to himself in French before telling John Rugby to fetch his rapier and prepare to go to court. Apparently, Doctor Caius is in a fight with someone. He just needs to fetch something out of his closet before he leaves.
Sacre bleu! There is a man in that closet! Mistress Quickly tries to cover for Simple, but the truth quickly comes out. Simple has been sent there by Parson Hugh Evans to ask Mistress Quickly to put in a good word with Anne Page about Slender. Doctor Caius is furious to hear this, although not as upset as Mistress Quickly expected. He writes a letter to Hugh challenging him to a fight over trying to steal away Anne Page. She is supposed to love the Doctor and the Doctor only. He swears that he will fire Mistress Quickly if he does not end up with Anne.
She doesn’t seem to care too much. She knows Anne despises the Doctor. A new suitor enters at this point, Fenton. He wants to get a good word in with Anne. Mistress Quickly goes on and on about how much Anne talk about Fenton’s face wart. Once he leaves, she reveals that Anne isn’t too keen on him either.
Act II, Scene 1
Mistress Page reads Falstaff’s letter. It points out that they are both old, merry, and like to drink, so they should probably hook up. He signs his letter with a short poem. Mistress Page finds the very suggestion that she would even think of cheating on her husband with Falstaff completely ridiculous. She immediately swears to be revenged on him.
Mistress Ford bursts on to the scene, quite worked up about something. Mistress Page asks her what is the matter and she says that if she were to do what was asked of her, she would be knighted (dirty jokes heehee). Mistress Page thinks she means literally knighted, so Mistress Ford hands over the letter. She is equally disgusted with the letter and swears revenge.
Mistress Page explains that the two letter are exactly the same. Word for word. Now they are both even more disgusted at the gall of the fat knight. They assume he must have dozens of these letters printed up with blank spaces for the names. They decide to work together to get revenge on Falstaff. Mistress Page suggests that they lead Falstaff on until he has to pawn his horses to pay for his bill at the inn. Mistress Ford would rather not. She worries that people will gossip that they are trying to sleep with Falstaff and it will set off her jealous husband. Mistress Page is lucky, her husband isn’t jealous.
The husbands enter with Nym and Pistol. Pistol tells Ford that Falstaff is in love with and currently courting his wife. Nym tells the same to Page. Ford is determined to challenge Falstaff, but Page believes the whole story to be nothing but nonsense. Their wives come forward to greet their husbands. The Pages seem very happy, but Master Ford is rather upset and nothing his wife says can fix it.
Mistress Quickly approaches in search of Anne. The wives decide to pull her into their scheme, so she can serve as a messenger between them and Falstaff.
Page and Ford discuss the matter. Page doesn’t believe Nym or Pistol because they – until very recently – worked for Falstaff and so have reason to seek vengeance. Furthermore, Page reasons that even if Falstaff did try anything with his wife, she would send him packing for sure. Ford thinks Page is too trusting.
The Host and Shallow come forward. Shallow asks for Page’s assistance in mediating the feud between Parson Evans and Doctor Caius. Ford pulls the Host aside to ask him to help him pull a prank on Falstaff and introduce Ford to Falstaff as Brook.