The Merry Wives of Windsor
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2012 by Paul W. Collins
The Merry Wives of Windsor
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
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Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe edition (1864) of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version of The Merry Wives of Windsor. But The Merry Wives of Windsor, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.
Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
Waiting outside George Page’s stately Windsor home this fine sunny morning is Hugh Evans, a kindly Welsh cleric. The parson hopes to resolve a complaint being made by the visiting uncle of a parishioner.
“Sir Hugh, persuade me not,” insists the wizened old man, a veteran of the war, and now one of the keepers of the king’s grounds. “I will make a Star Chamber matter of it! If he were twenty Sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, Esquire!”
Notes his flaxen-haired nephew, Abraham Slender, “In the county of Gloucester, justice of peace and ‘coram!’” Slender has moved here from the country to serve as the grammar school’s teacher, for which he is provided room and board, and is paid well—£15 per year.
“Aye, cousin Slender,” says Shallow, “and ‘custalourum!’”
“Aye, and ‘rato-lorum,’ too—and a gentleman born, Master Parson, who writes himself ‘Armigero,’ in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation! ‘Armigero!’”
“Aye, that I do—as have done any time these three hundred years!”
“All his successors gone before him hath done’t,” says Slender, “and all his ancestors that come after him may. They may give a dozen white luces in their coat!” He means display symbols of that fish in the family’s coat of arms.
“It is an old coat,” nods Shallow; he takes pride in his lineage.
The fish is a Christian emblem, Hugh knows. “The dozen white louses”—his far-western pronunciation—“do become an old coat well; it agrees well, passant; it is a familiar beast to man, and signifies love,” he points out.
But love prompts wry grin from the old man. “That luce is the fresh fish; the salt fish is for an old coat.” Such dried fish is called ling—also a term for prostitute.
Slender has been considering their lofty legacy. “I may yet quarter, coz”—partition the heraldic coat’s escutcheon to accommodate new honors.
“You may, by marrying,” notes his uncle, pointedly.
The Welshman nods. “It is marring indeed, if he quarter it.”
“Not a whit!” protests Shallow.
“Yes, py’r lady! If he has a quarter of your coat, there is but three skirts for yourself, in my simple conjectures!
“But that is all one,” he says, returning to the present issue. “If Sir John Falstaff have committed disparagements unto you, I am of the church, and will be glad to do my benevolence to make atonements and compremises between you.”
“The Council shall hear it!—it is a riot!” charges Justice Shallow. That part of the judicial Chamber meets in London, which is twenty miles to the east along the Thames.
But the clergyman, thinking of his local church’s leaders, shakes his head. “It is not meet the council hear a riot—there is no fear of Got in a riot! The council, look you, shall desire to hear the fear of Got, and not to hear a riot; take your vizaments”—advisement—“in that!”
Shallow scoffs at process: “Hah! On my life, if I were young again, the sword should end it!”
The peaceable Evans, hoping to settle the disagreement, persists. “It is petter that friends in ’s Word”—in God’s divine Word—“end it!
“And there is also another device in my prain, which peradventure prings goot discretions with it: there is Anne Page, which is daughter to Master Thomas Page, which is a pretty virginity!”
“Mistress Anne Page,” says Slender reverently. “She has brown hair, and speaks small, like a woman….”
“It is that fery person, for all the ’orld, is just as you will desire!” says Evans. His eyebrows rise. “And seven hundred pounds of moneys in gold and silver is her grandsire upon his death’s‑bed—Got deliver to a joyful resurrections!—give, when she is able to overtake seventeen years old!” The inheritance—£700, not the weight in bullion—will soon be hers.
The parson regards the old justice merrily. “It were a goot motion if we leave our pribbles and prabbles, and desire a marriage between Master Abraham and Mistress Anne Page!”
Master Slender is surprised. “Did her grandsire leave her seven hundred pound?”
“Aye—and her father is make her a petter penny!”
“I know the young gentlewoman,” sighs the young teacher, already drifting into rapture, picturing her. “She has good gifts….”
“Seven hundred pounds and possibilities is goot gift!” says Hugh.
Shallow wants to proceed with his complaint. “Well, let us see honest Master Page. Is Falstaff there?”
Hugh had hoped to prevent the encounter. “Shall I tell you a lie?—I do despise a liar as I do despise one that is false, or as I despise one that is not true! The knight Sir John is there,” he admits, “but, I beseech you, be ruled by your well-willers!
“I will peat the door for Master Page.” He knocks. “What ho-a! Got pless your house here!”
“Who’s there?” calls George Page from inside, as he comes to open the door.
Sir Hugh Evans smiles at him. “Here is Got’s plessing, and your friend, and Justice Shallow; and here young Master Slender—who peradventures shall tell you another tale, if matters grow to your likings!”
Page welcomes them all into his house. “I am glad to see Your Worships well,” he says, as they file into the parlor. “I thank you for my venison, Master Shallow!”
Shallow nods, pleased. “Master Page, I am glad to see you! Much good do it your good heart! I wished your venison better—it was ill-killèd!” After an admonitory glance from the clergyman, he refrains from saying more.
“How doth good Mistress Page?” asks Shallow. He adds, ingratiatingly, “and I thank you always with my heart—la! with my heart!”—a jest on hart.
Page returns the smiles. “Sir, I thank you.”
“Sir, I thank you,” says Shallow, “by yea and no I do!”
Page, thanked quite enough, turns to the younger man. “I am glad to see you, good Master Slender!”
“How does your fallow greyhound, sir?” asks Slender, of the racing dog. “I heard say he was outrun, on Cotsall.”
Page frowns. “It could not be judged, sir,” he says glumly; the Cotswold-hills competition did not go well for him.
Slender is amused. “You’ll not confess, you’ll not confess!”—admit defeat.
Shallow laughs. “That he will not! ’Tis your fault, ’tis your fault,” says the graybeard, scolding Master Page for the greyhound’s deficient training. “’Tis a good dog!”
“A cur, sir,” says Page, who lost money on a wager.
“Sir, he’s a good dog, and a fair dog!—can there be more said? He is good and fair!” But Shallow realizes that he is not helping his cause, however fine looking the animal may be. “Is Sir John Falstaff here?”
Page nods. “Sir, he is within; and I would I could do a good office between you.”
Hugh Evans smiles at them both. “It is spoke as a Christians ought to speak!”
Shallow is unwavering. “He hath wronged me, Master Page!”
“Sir, he doth in some sort confess it….” Page tells him.
“If it be confessèd it is not redressèd!—is not that so, Master Page? He hath wronged me; indeed he hath—at a word, he hath, believe me! Robert Shallow, Esquire, saith he is wrongèd!”
“Here comes Sir John,” says Page, as a side door opens. The aging knight, surprisingly rotund, occupies considerable space in the room. Following him are his fellow former soldiers Pistol, Bardolph and Nym.
Falstaff challenges abruptly: he booms, “Now, Master Shallow, you’d complain of me to the king?”
The king’s keeper replies boldly: “Knight, you have beaten my men, killed my deer, and broke open my lodge!”
Gibes Falstaff, in mocking allusion to a rhyme, “But not ‘kissed your keeper’s daughter’?”
“Tsk, a pin!” The indignant official will not be distracted. “This shall be answered!”
“I will answer it straight: I have done all this,” says the knight calmly. “That is now answerèd,” he adds, dismissing the matter.
Shallow fumes. “The Council shall know this!”
Falstaff shakes his head. “’Twere better for you if it were known in counsel. You’ll be laughed at!”
Hugh Evans wants calm. “Pauca verba,”—few words, “Sir John; goot worts.”
“Good worts?—good cabbage!” says the knight. He turns to the teacher, who had been with his uncle when they confronted the would-be poachers. “Slender, I broke your head—what matter have you against me?” he demands
“Marry, sir, I have ‘mater’ in my head,”—a play on pia mater, brains, “against you, and against your cony-catching”—innocent-cheating—“rascals, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol!”
“You Banbury cheese!”—one known for its thinness, cries Bardolph, his complexion turning even redder than usual.
Slender glares back steadily at the graying soldiers. “Aye, it is no matter.”
“How now, Mephostophilus!” growls Pistol menacingly.
Slender is unmoved. “Aye, it is no matter.”
“Slice, I say, pauca, pauca! Slice!” cries Nym, with a slashing gesture. “That’s my humour!”—his all-purpose term, which most often means notion.
But the young teacher looks around; he has a different, more urgent concern. “Where’s Simple, my man? Can you say, cousin?” he asks Shallow. The servant, who sometimes carries Slender’s sheathed rapier for him, and runs his errands, is twelve.
“Peace, I pray you,” says Hugh mildly. “Now, let us understand. There is three umpires in this matter, as I understand: that is, Master Page, fidelicet Master Page; and there is myself, fidelicet myself; and the three party is, lastly and finally, mine host of the Garter.” The Garter Inn is one of several hostelries in Windsor.
Page concurs. “We three to hear it, and end it between them.”
“Fery goot,” says Hugh. “I will make a prief of it in my note-book, and we will afterwards ’ork upon the cause with as great discreetly as we can.”
Falstaff, impatient, cries, “Pistol!”
The short man winces. “He hears with ears,” he says, annoyed.
Sir Hugh, a collector of phrases and terms, takes out his pencil, delighted. “The tevil and his tam!”—the devil and his dam, his mother. “What a phrase is this, he hears with ear!—why, it is affectations!” he says, writing down the efficacious expression.
Falstaff proceeds. “Pistol, did you pick Master Slender’s purse?”
“Aye, by these gloves, did he!” cries Slender, “or I would I might never come in mine own great chamber again, else!”—a somewhat grand term for his modest parlor back in Gloucestershire. He calculates the amount stolen: “Seven groats in mill-sixpences, and two Edward shovel-boards—which cost me an added two shillings and two-pence apiece from ye old miller, by these gloves!”—a genteel oath. Newly minted coins, not yet trimmed, unlawfully, of metal, cost a premium.
Falstaff asks the retired foot-soldier, “Is this true, Pistol?”
“True,” says he.
Sir Hugh heard true Pistol. “No!—he is false,”—dishonest, “if he is a pick-purse!”
Pistol bridles at the Welshman’s comment. “Hah, thou mountain-foreigner!
“Sir John and master mine, I to combat challenge of this Latin bilbo!” He taps Hugh’s note-book, demanding an entry. “Word of denial in thy labras here!—word of denial!” He regards Slender. “Froth and scum”—top to bottom—“thou liest!”
“By these gloves, ’twas he!” says Slender.
Nym warns the teacher: “Be avisèd, sir, and pass good humours! I will say ‘Marry, trap!’”—shut up—“to you, if you run the nuthooks humour”—the glove oath—“on me!—that is the very nut of it!”
“By this hat, then, he in the red face had it!” insists Slender of the stolen money. “For though I cannot remember what I did when you made me drunk, yet I am not altogether an ass!”
Falstaff eyes his companions merrily. “What say you, Scarlet and John?” he asks, as if they were men of Robin Hood’s band.
Red-faced Bardolph shrugs. “Why, sir, for my part I say the gentleman had drunk himself out of his five sentences!”
Hugh makes another note. “It is his five senses—fie, what the ignorance is!”
“And being fap, sir, was, as they say, cashiered!—and so passed conclusions on these carriers,” explains Bardolph. He argues that Slender was so intoxicated as to blame the men helping him walk.
“Aye, you spake ‘in Latin’ then too,” mutters the schoolman. “But ’tis no matter. I’ll ne’er be drunk again but in the honest, civil, godly company of the strict! If I be drunk whilst I live, I’ll be drunk with those that have the fear of God, and not with drunken knaves!”
The parson is pleased. “So Got judge me, that is a virtuous mind!”
Falstaff turns to the referees, hands spread wide apart. “You hear all these matters denied, gentlemen; you hear it!”
Just then, Page’s daughter, Anne, returns home with her mother and a neighbor, Mistress Ford; they have been shopping in town in preparation for a meal after the men’s conference. The women pause in the corridor by the parlor, and Anne smiles.
Page motions her onward to the pantry at the back of the house. “Nay, daughter, carry the wine in; we’ll drink within.”
Oh, heaven! thinks Abraham Slender, with a deep blush, this is Mistress Anne Page!
Anne nods to the visitors and goes away, to the teacher’s relief and disappointment.
Page greets his neighbor. “How now, Mistress Ford.”
Falstaff is already at her side. “Mistress Ford, by my troth, you are very well met! By your leave, good mistress!” To her great surprise, he kisses her hand.
“Wife, bid these gentlemen welcome,” says Page. He invites the others: “Come, we have a hot venison pie for dinner! Come, gentlemen. I hope we shall drink down all unkindness!”
As they move toward the dining chamber, Robert Shallow holds a whispered conference with Hugh Evans.
Abraham is annoyed at having missed an opportunity with Anne. I had rather than forty shillings I had my book of songs and sonnets here! He sees that his servant has finally arrived. “How now, Simple!—where have you been? I must wait on myself, must I? You have not the book of riddles about you, have you?”
“Book of riddles? Why, did you not lend it to Alice Shortcake upon All-hallowmas last, a fortnight afore Michaelmas?” The wag has invented a borrower—and Michaelmas precedes the other holiday.
Shallow, standing with Evans at the door to the corridor, summons the shy, diffident Abraham. “Come, coz; come, coz; we stay for you. A word with you, coz,” he says, pausing before broaching a sensitive subject. “Marry, this, coz: there is, as ’twere, a tender—a kind of tender—made afar off by Sir Hugh here. Do you understand me?”
Abraham nods. “Aye, sir; you shall find me reasonable; if it be so, I shall do that that is in reason.”
“Nay, but understand me….” says Shallow.
“So I do, sir.”
“Give ear to his motions, Master Slender,” urges Hugh. “I will description the matter to you, if you be capacity of it.”
“Aye, I will do as my cousin Shallow says. I pray you, pardon me: he’s a justice of peace in his country, simple though I stand here,” says Slender modestly.
Hugh is frustrated. “But that is not the question! The question is concerning your marriage!”
“Aye, there’s the point, sir!” says Shallow,
“‘Marry’ is it,” says Hugh, enjoying his own jest, “the very point of it!—to Mistress Anne Page!”
Young Slender hopes his flushing face is blank—but his eyes open wider. “Why, if it be so, I will marry her, upon any reasonable demands.” At twenty, the teacher is still subject to the will of his elders.
“But can you affection the ’oman?” demands Evans. “Let us command to know that of your mouth—or of your lips, for divers philosophers hold that the lips is parcel of the mouth. Therefore, precisely, can you carry your good will to the maid?”
“Cousin Abraham Slender, can you love her?” asks Shallow.
Slender nods. “I hope, sir, I will do as shall become one that would do reason.”
“Nay, Got’s lords and his ladies!” cries Hugh, “you must speak possitable if you can carry her your desires towards her!”
“That you must!” says Shallow. “Will you, upon good dowry, marry her?”
“I will do a greater thing than that upon your request, cousin, in any reason.”
Shallow is exasperated. “Nay, conceive me, conceive me, sweet coz! What I do is to pleasure you, coz! Can you love the maid?”
“I will marry her, sir, at your request,” Slender allows. He has read about what is expected of a bridegroom. He adds, in some trepidation, “Even if there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance; when we are married and have more occasion to know one another, I hope that upon familiarity will grow more contempt.
“If you say, ‘Marry her,’ I will marry her—of that I am freely dissolved!—and dissolutely!”
Hugh, the word collector, chuckles. “It is a fery discretion answer—save that the fall is in the ’ort ‘dissolutely.’ The ’ort is, according to our meaning, ‘resolutely!’ His meaning is good.”
Shallow concurs. “Aye, I think my cousin meant well.”
Slender nods. “Aye, or else I would I might be hung.”
“Here comes fair Mistress Anne,” Shallow cautions, as she nears the door. He beams. “Would I were young, for your sake, Mistress Anne!”
Anne Page curtseys. “The dinner is on the table; my father desires Your Worships’ company.”
“I will wait on him, fair Mistress Anne,” says Justice Shallow, sidling awkwardly past her feminine form.
“’Od’s plessèd will,” says the pastor, “I will not be absence at the grace!” He follows Shallow.
Anne asks the backward young schoolmaster.. “Will’t please Your Worship to come in, sir?”
“No, I thank you, forsooth; heartily, I am very well.”
“The dinner attends you, sir….”
“I am not a-hungry; I thank you, forsooth.” Abraham Slender makes a point of sending his boy to the dining room. “Go, sirrah; for all that you are my man, go wait upon my cousin Shallow.” Peter Simple, scornful of his assignment, makes a face; but he trots off, intending to get some lunch for himself.
“A justice of peace sometimes may be beholding to his friend for a man,” Master Slender tells Anne, with careful casualness. “I keep but three men and a boy yet, till my mother be dead. But what, though?—yet I live like a poor gentleman born,” he says easily.
“I may not go in without Your Worship; they will not sit till you come….”
“I’ faith, I’ll eat nothing,” Abraham tells the girl. “I thank you as much as though I did.”
Anne is growing annoyed. “I pray you, sir, walk in.”
“I had rather walk here, I thank you. I bruised my chin th’ other day with playing at ‘sword and dagger’ with a ‘master of fence,’ and three venturers for a dish of stewed prunes!”—a dig at Falstaff and his disreputable cohorts, who frequent a brothel. “And, by my troth,” he says, thinking innocently of the king’s killed deer, “I cannot abide the smell of hot meat since.
“Why do your dogs bark so?” he asks. “Be there bears i’ the town?”
Anne Page suppresses a smile; bears—in Windsor! “I think there are, sir,” she says, watching the rustic swain. “I’ve heard them talked of.” She has—in a fatherly lecture about London’s Southwark, just across the Thames from the City of London proper, where such revolting pastimes as actors’ stage plays and bear-baiting are to be seen.
“I love the sport well, but I shall as soon quarrel about it as any man in England,” he says, affecting a worldly manner; it’s fashionable to speak against popular entertainments. “You are afraid, if you see a bear loose, are you not?”
“Aye, indeed, sir!”
“That’s meat and drink to me, now,” Slender assures her. “I have seen Sackerson loose twenty times, and have taken him by the chain!” In Southwark’s Bankside district, leading the famous tame, muzzled bear is a popular amusement—for children.
“But, I warrant you,” he confides, “the women have so cried and shrieked at it, that it passed!”—defecated. “But women, indeed, cannot abide ’em. They are very ill-favored, rough things!”
Anne assumes the inept youth means the bears.
Her father hurries down the corridor to the door. “Come, gentle Master Slender, come!—we stay for you!”
Abraham would demur. “I’ll eat nothing, I thank you, sir.”
Page jovially motions him forward. “By cock and pie,”—wryly, rooster and hen, “you shall not choose, sir! Come, come!”
Abraham, blushing, nods to Anne. “Nay, pray you lead the way.”
Page tugs at his arm. “Come on, sir!” he insists, eager to eat, and heads back to the dining room.
“Mistress Anne, yourself shall go first,” says Slender.
Anne doesn’t want him gazing from behind. “Not I, sir; pray you, keep on.”
He yields. “I’ll rather be unmannerly than troublesome,” he murmurs, following her father. “You do yourself wrong, indeed,” he adds politely.
Behind him, she is rolling her eyes. At last they can dine.
From the Pages’ kitchen, Hugh Evans sends Slender’s boy on an errand. “Go your ways, and ask of Doctor Caius’ house which is the way; in there dwells one Mistress Quickly, who is in the manner of his nurse, or his dry nurse; or his cook; or his laundry, his washer, and his wringer.”
Peter mumbles, “Well, sir.” He will get no food.
“Nay, it is petter yet! Give her this letter—for it is a ’oman that altogether’s acquaintanced with Mistress Anne Page, and the letter is to desire and require her to solicit your master’s desires to Mistress Anne Page!” The pastor is happily unaware of what solicit and desire might suggest. “I pray you, be gone!
“I will make an end of my dinner,” he says, rubbing his hands together cheerfully as he returns to the table. “There’s pippins and cheese to come!”—a favorite treat in his native Wales. An apple’s firmness is an appealing complement to the soft richness of cheese.
At the long and noisy bar of the Garter Inn, the establishment’s proprietor finds Sir John Falstaff drinking, as is his custom, with longtime companions Bardolph, Pistol and Nym. The knight’s young page, blond Robin, stands munching on a biscuit.
Falstaff begins: “Mine host of the Garter—”
“What says my bully-rook? Speak scholarly and wisely!”
But the pensioned officer, burdened with expenses, is downcast. “Truly, mine host, I must turn away some of my followers.”
“Discard, bully Hercules!—cashier!” cries the ebullient innkeeper. “Let them wag!—trot, trot!”
“I sit at ten pounds a week,” says Falstaff, bemoaning the money that lodging takes from his pension.
“Thou’rt an emperor: seize ’er,”—a play on Caesar, “squeeze ’er and freeze ’er!” cries the host. He thinks for a moment. “I will employ Bardolph—he shall draw, he shall tap! Said I well, bully Hector?”
Falstaff nods, pleased. “Do so, good mine host!”
“I have spoke; let him follow,” says the host. “Let me see thee froth and lime!” he tells Bardolph. “I am at a word: follow!” He goes behind the bar.
“Bardolph, follow him,” Falstaff advises. “A tapster is a good trade. An old cloak makes a new jerkin; a withered serving-man a fresh tapster. Go; adieu,” says the knight sadly.
Bardolph, however, is delighted: “It is the life that I have desired! I will thrive!”
Pistol taunts the other old warrior: “Oh, base Hungary wight!”—a common jest on hungry. “Wilt thou the spigot wield?”—as opposed to the blade.
Bardolph makes a rude gesture and moves on, eagerly, to the line of taps and rows of bottles.
Nym shrugs and laughs. “He was begotten in drink!—is not the humour well conceivèd?”
“I am glad I am so acquitted of this tinderbox,” Falstaff admits; Bardolph’s complexion and temper are both fiery. “His thefts were too open! His filching was like an unskilful singer: he kept not time.”
“The good humour is to steal in a minute’s rest,”—unheard, Nym notes.
Pistol objects: “‘Convey,’ the wise it call. ‘Steal’—foh!—a fico for the phrase!”
Falstaff sighs. “Well, sirs, I am almost out at heels.”
“Why, then let kibes ensue,” says Pistol, blithe about another’s blisters.
But Falstaff shakes his head. “There is no remedy: I must cony-catch; I must shift.” His cony will not be one of the tame rabbits raised for table, but a similarly defenseless victim.
“Young ravens must have food,” says Pistol dryly, observing the fat graybeard’s rounded jowls.
Falstaff asks the men, “Which of you know Ford of this town?”
“I ken the wight,” says Pistol. “He is of substance good.”
Falstaff motions the thieves closer. “My honest lads, I will tell you what I am about.”
“Two yards, and more!” says Pistol scanning the knight’s substantial middle.
“No quips, now, Pistol. Indeed, I am in the waist two yards about—but I am now about no waste, I am about thrift!
“Briefly: I do mean to make love to Ford’s wife! I spy entertainment in her: she expounds, she craves—she gives the leer of invitation! I can construe the action of her familiar style!—and the hardest voice of her behavior, to be Englished rightly, is: ‘I am Sir John Falstaff’s!’”
“He hath studied her well,” Pistol tells Nym wryly, “and translated her will out of honesty into English.”
Nym can see that Falstaff is serious. “The anchor is deep!” He asks Pistol, “Will that humour pass?”
His friend, weary of the term, makes a face.
Falstaff comes to the point. “Now, the report goes that she has all the rule of her husband’s purse—and he hath a legion of angels!”—gold coins stamped with angel images.
“As many devils entertain,” Pistol points out. “Then to her, boy, say I!”
“The humour rises; it is good,” nods Nym—adding, “Humour me the angels!”
Falstaff shows them folded papers. “I have writ me, here, a letter to her—and here another to Page’s wife, who even now gave me good eyes too—examined my parts with most judicious oeillades!”—glances. “Sometimes the beam of her view gilded my foot, sometimes my portly belly!” he says proudly.
Pistol adapts a maxim about Fate’s impartiality: “Then did the sun on dunghill shine!”
“I thank thee for that humour!” laughs Nym, clapping him on the back.
Falstaff continues. “Oh, she did so course o’er my exteriors, with such a greedy intention that the appetite of her eye did seem to scorch me up like a burning-glass!”
He shows them the missive for Mistress Ford. “Here’s a letter to the other; she ‘bears the purse’ too; she is a region in Guiana—all gold and bounty!
“I will be cheater to them both, and they shall be exchequers to me! They shall be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both!
“Go, bear thou this letter to Mistress Page; and thou, this to Mistress Ford! We will thrive, lads, we will thrive!”
But Pistol—a soldier, not a go-between—protests: “Shall I Sir Pandarus of Troy become, when by my side I wear steel? Then Lucifer take all!”
Nym concurs. “I will run no base humour! Here, take the humour-letter; I will keep the ’havior of reputation!” he says haughtily.
Falstaff hands the papers to Robin. “Hold, sirrah; bear you these letters quickly! Sail like my pinnace”—the term for warship-tender sounds like penis—“to these golden shores!”
As little Robin goes, wiping crumbs from his lips, Falstaff scowls at the men beside him. “Rogues, hence! Avaunt! Vanish like hailstones! Go!—trudge, plod away o’ the hoof; seek shelter, pack!
“Falstaff will learn the ‘honour’ of the age: French thrift, you rogues!—myself and skirted Page!” he cries. And with that, he stalks out of the tavern.
“Let vultures grip thy guts!” retorts Pistol—after the knight is gone. “’Fore gourd and fullam”—loaded dice, but suggesting God and heaven—“’he holds!—and high and low beguiles, the rich and poor!” He grasps his heavy mug of ale, and says, sullenly, “Money I’ll have in pouch when thou shalt lack, base Phrygian Turk!”
They sit, ruminating about their rejection by Falstaff.
“I have operations which be humours of revenge….” says Nym.
“Wilt thou revenge?”
“By welkin and its stars!” vows Nym.
“With wit, or steel?”
“With both the humours, aye! I will discuss the humour of this ‘love’—with Page!”
Pistol laughs heartily. “And I to Ford shall too unfold: how Falstaff—varlet vile!—his dove will try, his gold will hold, and his soft couch defile!”
Drink does nothing to dilute Nym’s resolve. “My humour shall not cool! I will incense Page to deal in poison; I will possess him with yellowness,”—jealousy, “for a revolt of mine is dangerous! That is my true humour!”
Pistol’s mug rises in a slopping salute. “Thou art the Mars of malcontents! I second thee! Troop on!”
“What, John Rugby!” calls Mistress Quickly. “I pray thee, go to the casement and see if you can see my master, Master Doctor Caius, coming! If he do, i’ faith, and find anybody in the house, here will be an old abusing of God’s patience and the king’s English!”
The physician, a French gentleman of forty, has not yet returned home this evening, and his housekeeper has been engaged in an unsanctioned entertainment.
“I’ll go watch,” says Rugby, one of the household servants. Emerging from the bedchamber upstairs, he moves toward a front window to finish dressing.
Downstairs, she smiles. “Do, and we’ll have a posset for’t soon—in faith, a night’ at the latter end of a sea-coal fire!”—a nightcap of spiced wine heated with milk, to accompany their embers.
Thinks Mistress Quickly of the man, As honest, willing, kind a fellow, as ever servant shall come in house withal!” She also means work there. And, I warrant you, no tell-tale, nor no breed-’bate!
His worst fault is that he is given to prayer; he is something peevish that way. She straightens her gown; his most recent request, though, has been well answered. But there’s nobody but has his fault; let that pass.
She regards the boy who has just brought a message. “Peter Simple, you say your name is?”
“Aye, for fault of a better”—the wrong of another peter.
“And Master Slender’s your master?”
Mistress Quickly squints, trying to picture the teacher. “Does he not wear a great round beard, like a glover’s paring-knife?”
“No, forsooth. He hath but a wee face, with a little yellow beard—a cake-coloured beard.”
“A soft-spirited man, is he not?”
“Aye, forsooth. But he is as tall a man with his hands”—as good at boxing—“as is any between this,” he says, tapping a shock of brown hair, “and his head! He hath fought with a warrener!”—a game thief.
Mistress Quickly tries to place the schoolmaster. “How say you? Oh, I should remember him!—does he not hold up his head, and strut, as it were, in his gait?” She mimics a proud mince.
“Yes, indeed does he!”
She shakes her head. “Well, heaven send Anne Page no worse fortune. Tell Master Parson Evans I will do what I can for your master. Anne is a good girl, and I wish—”
Rugby calls down. “Out! Alas, here comes my master!”
“We shall all be shent!” moans Mistress Quickly. “Run in here, good young man!—go into this closet!” she tells Peter, as she shoves him in. “He will not stay long.” She shuts the door before the boy can protest.
She calls, loudly, “What, John Rugby! John!” just as Doctor Caius opens the front door. “What?—John, I say! Go, John, go inquire for my master; I worry he be not well, that he comes not home!”
Rugby clumps down the stairs, singing to himself. “‘And down, down, adown….’”
Doctor Caius glances over at him, annoyed. “Vat is you sing? I do not like dese toys.”
Rugby shrugs and goes toward the back of the house.
The master motions to his housekeeper. “Pray you, go and vetch me in my closet un boîtier vert—a box, a green-a box. Do intend vat I speak?”—attend his speech. “A green-a box!”
“Aye, forsooth,” says Mistress Quickly gaily, “I’ll fetch it you!” She opens the closet door a bit and reaches past Peter to grab the newly bought item. I am glad he went not in himself! she thinks, closing the door. If he had found the young man, he would have been horn-mad! Horns are a cuckold’s emblem.
Caius is impatient. “Fe, fe, fe, fe! Ma foi, il fait fort chaud! Je m’en vais à la cour—la grande affaire!” Despite the spring’s heat, he will pursue a major courtship. He is soon to meet with Mistress Page regarding her marriageable daughter, and will take a gift to the girl, one finished in her preferred color.
Mistress Quickly hands him the jewelry case. “Is it this, sir?”
“Oui; mette le au mon pocket! Dépêche—quickly! Vere is zat knave Rugby?”
She calls: “What, John Rugby! John!”
He returns. “Here, sir.”
“You are John Rugby and you are Jack Rugby!” says Caius; the English nickname is also used as a term for a rascal. “Come, take-a my rapier, and come after my heel to the court!”—to the courting.
“’Tis ready, sir, here in the porch.”
“By my trot’, I tarry too long,” grumbles Caius. “’Od’s’ me, qu’ai j’oublié?”—God save me, what I have forgotten. “Dere is some simples”—dried aromatic flowers—“in my closet zat I vill not for the varld I shall leave behind!” He goes to open the door.
Mistress Quickly pales. Ay me!—he’ll find the young man here, and go mad!
“Oh, diable, diable! Vat is in my closet?” cries the doctor. “Villain! Larron!”—thief. He pulls the wiry lad forth. “Rugby, my rapier!”
“Good master, be content!” pleads Mistress Quickly.
“Wherefore shall I be content-a?”
“The young man is an honest man!”
“What shall ze honest man do in my closet?” demands Doctor Caius. “Dere is no honest man zat shall come in my closet!”—also a term for bed-chamber.
“I beseech you, be not so phlegmatic!” says she. “Hear the truth of it! He came on an errand to me, from Parson Hugh!”
“Aye, forsooth,” says Peter, “to desire her to—”
Mistress Quickly interrupts: “Peace, I pray you!”
“Peace-a your tongue,” Caius orders her. “Speak-a your tale!” he tells the boy.
“…to desire this honest gentlewoman, your maid, to speak a good word to Mistress Anne Page for my master, in the way of marriage,” says Simple.
“This is all indeed, la!” says the woman quickly, despite Caius’s frown. I’ll ne’er put my finger in the fire when need not!
The doctor peers at Peter. “Sir Hugh send-a you?” He glares. “Rugby, baille me some paper!
“Tarry you a little-a while,” he tells young Simple. Caius goes into his study, sits at the desk, and soon begins to write.
Mistress Quickly tells the boy softly, “I am glad he is so quiet! If he had been thoroughly moved, you should have heard him!—so loud and so melancholy! But notwithstanding, man, I’ll do you what good I can for your master!” She sighs. “And the very yea and the no is, the French doctor, my master—I may call him my master, look you, for I keep his house; and I wash, wring, brew, bake, scour, dress meat—and drink, make the beds, and do all myself!”
Peter grins at her knowingly. “’Tis a great burden, to come under one body’s hand!”
She is surprised by the young fellow’s lewd rudeness. “Are you avisèd o’ that? You shall find it a great burden,” she wryly tells the lad, whose puberty is clearly taking hold, “to be up early, and down late!
“But notwithstanding, to tell you in your ear: I would have no words of it; my master himself is in love with Mistress Anne Page!
“And notwithstanding that, I know Anne’s mind—” She shakes her head, thinking of the girl’s own preferences. “That’s neither here nor there….”
Doctor Caius has finished writing; he folds the sheet. “You, jack’nape,” he says to Peter, “give-a this letter to Sir Hugh!—by Gar, it is a shallenge! I will teach the scurvy, jack-a-nape priest to meddle or make!—and I will cut his troat in dee park!
“You may be gone!—it is not good you tarry here! By Gar, I will cut all his two stones!—by Gar, he shall not have a stone to throw at his dog!”
Peter takes the note and goes to look for gentle Hugh Evans.
Says Mistress Quickly, “Alas!—he speaks but for his friend!”
“It is no matter over dat! Do not you tell-a me zat I shall have Anne Page for myself? By Gar, I vill kill ze jack priest!” He waves another note. “And I have appointed mine host of ze Jarteer to measure our weapons!”—act as referee. “By Gar, I will myself have Anne Page!” he insists.
The housekeeper assures him, “Sir, the maid loves you, and all shall be well! We must give folks leave to prate!—what the good year?”—why not?
“Rugby, come to the courting with me!” says Caius. He warns Mistress Quickly, “By Gar, if I have not Anne Page, I shall turn your head out of my door!”—dismiss her. “Follow my heels, Rugby!” As the doctor stalks away angrily, John follows, casting back a grin of satisfaction to her.
Mistress Quickly stands just inside the front door, furious with Caius. You shall have a fool’s‑head for your own! she thinks, disgusted by his intention toward the much-younger woman.
No! I know Anne’s mind for that! Never a woman in Windsor knows more of Anne’s mind than I do—nor can do more than I do with her, I thank heaven!
As she turns back, she hears a call from the gate—a man’s voice: “Who’s within there? Ho!”
“Whoever’s here, I trow!” she gibes, still perturbed. “Come near the house, I pray you.”
Master Fenton, a handsome young nobleman of Windsor, comes to the door, smiling. “How now, good woman! How dost thou?”
Mistress Quickly curtseys. “The better that it pleases Your Good Worship to ask!”
“What news? How does pretty Mistress Anne?”
“In truth, sir, she is pretty, and honest, and gentle—and one who is your friend!—I can tell you that, by the way! I praise heaven for it!”
“Shall I do any good, thinkest thou?” Fenton has sought her help in courting her young friend. “Shall I not lose my suit?”
“Troth, sir, all is in his hands above!”—God’s. “But notwithstanding, Master Fenton, I’ll be sworn on a book she loves you!”
The tall man looks doubtful.
“Have not Your Worship a wart above your eye?” she asks.
He does sport a small mole. “Yes, marry, have I… what of that?”
“Well, thereby hangs a tale!” she laughs—at the tail, a hair, and at the tale she has to tell. “Good faith, it is such another Nan!” she cackles, thinking of the frank—in private—Anne, “but, I detest, as honest a maid as ever broke bread! We had an hour’s talk of that wart! I shall never laugh but in that maid’s company!”
She notes his distress. “But indeed she is given too much to allicholy and musing….
“But as for you—go to!” she says, encouragingly.
“Well, I shall see her today.” Fenton opens a leather pouch and takes out two gold coins. “Hold, there’s money for thee; let me have thy voice in my behalf,” he urges. “If thou seest her before me, commend me!”
“Will I?—i’ faith, that we will! And I will tell Your Worship more of the wart, the next time we have confidence. And of other wooers,” she adds.
Fenton frowns; he doesn’t wish to hear there are rivals—but he does want to examine that mole before seeing Anne Page again. “Well, farewell; I am in great haste now.”
“Farewell to Your Worship,” she cries, as he hurries away, touching at his face. Truly, an honest gentleman! she thinks to herself, holding the still-warm gold. But Anne loves him not; for I know Anne’s mind as well as another does.
She frowns, thinking. Out upon’t, what have I forgot?
Fenton is to have no warning about a rival’s lethal anger.
Walking from her house down the tree-lined Windsor street early this cool morning, Margaret Page is again upset, thinking about the message she received late yesterday.
What?—have I ’scaped love letters in the holiday-time of my beauty, and am I now a subject for them? Let me see….
She reads again: ‘Ask me no reason why I love you; for though Love use Reason for his physician, he admits him not for his counsellor!
‘You are not young; no more am I; go to, then—there’s sympathy! You are merry; so am I—ha, ha!—then there’s more sympathy!
‘You love sack, and so do I!’ In fact, she eschews the cheap, sweet wine. ‘Would you desire better sympathy?
‘Let it suffice thee, Mistress Page—at the least, if the love of a soldier can suffice—that I love thee!
‘I will not say “pity me”—’tis not a soldier-like phrase—but I say, love me!
‘By me: Thine own true knight, By day or night, Or any kind of light, With all his might, For thee to fight! —John Falstaff.’
She looks up, shaking her head. What a Herod is this! —a raver whose words are steeped in duplicity. Oh, wicked world!—one who is well-nigh worn to pieces with age, to show himself as a young gallant!
What unweighèd behavior hath this Flemish drunkard picked—conjured, with the Devil’s name!—out of my conversation, that he dares in this manner assay me? Why, he hath not been thrice in my company!—and then I was frugal of my mirth! Heaven forgive me!
What should I say to him?
Her anger rises. Why, I’ll exhibit a bill in the Parliament for the putting down of men!
How shall I be revenged on him? For revengèd I will be, as sure as his guts are made of puddings!
She sees a neighbor, Mistress Ford emerging, despite the early hour, from her home.
“Mistress Page!” cries Alice, hurrying forward. “Trust me, I was going to your house!”
“And, trust me, I was coming to you!” She regards her friend. “You look very ill”—distressed.
“Nay, I’ll ne’er believe that,” says Alice, who takes pride in her usually composed demeanor. “I have need to look the contrary.”
“Faith, but you do, in my mind—”
“Well, I do, then! Yet I say I could show you something….” She gathers her thoughts. “Oh, Mistress Page, give me some counsel!”
“What’s the matter, woman?”
“Oh, woman,” she begins, with a laugh, “if it were not for one trifling matter, I could come to such honour!”
“Hang the trifle, woman!—take the honour! What is it? Dispense with trifles; what is it?”
Mistress Ford blushes. “If I would go to Hell for but an eternal moment or so, I could be knighted!”
“What? Thou liest! Sir Alice Ford!” laughs Margaret. “These knights will hack,” she says sourly, “but thou wouldst not alter an article of thy gentry!”
“We burn daylight,” says Alice impatiently. “Here, read, read!—perceive how I might be knighted!” She hands her friend the letter Robin brought. “I shall think the worse of fat men as long as I have an eye to see difference in men’s looking!” she says, as Margaret glances over the paper—with increasing interest.
Alice is peeved. “If he would not swear—praised women’s modesty, and gave such orderly and well-behavèd reproof to all uncomeliness—I’d have sworn his disposition would have supported the truth of his words. But they do no more adhere and keep place together than the hundred Psalms to the tune of ‘Greensleeves!’
“What tempest, I ask, threw this whale, with so many tuns of oil in his belly, ashore at Windsor? How shall I be revenged on him?
“I think the best way were to entertain him with hope—till the wicked fire of lust have melted him in his own grease!
“Did you ever hear the like?”
“Letter for letter!” says Margaret, “but that the name of Page in Ford differs! To thy great comfort in this mystery of ill opinions,”—strange set of affronts, “here’s the twin brother of thy letter!” She hands Alice her own. “But let thine inherit first, for I protest mine never shall!
“I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with blank space for different names!” says Margaret. “Surely more!—he will print them, out of doubt—and these are of the second edition! For he cares not what he puts into the press—where he would put us two!
“I had rather be a giantess and lie under Mount Pelion!” she fumes, picturing the massive knight. “Well, I will find you twenty lascivious turtledoves”—a paradox; the birds are symbols of chastity—“ere one chaste man!”
Alice Ford has examined her friend’s letter. “Why, this is the very same—the very hand, the very words!” She looks up, aghast. “What doth he think of us?”
“Nay, I know not! It makes me almost ready to quarrel with mine own honesty! I’ll consider myself like one that I am not acquainted withal! For, surely, unless he know of some strain in me that I know not myself, he would never have boarded me in this fury!”
“‘Boarding’ call you it?” laughs Alice. “I’ll be sure to keep him above deck!”
“So will I!—if he come under my hatches, I’ll never ‘to sea’ again!”
Margaret regards her neighbor, thinking. “Let’s be revenged on him! Let’s appoint him a meeting, give him a show of comfort for his suit, and lead him on, finely baited, with delay—till he hath pawned his horses to mine host of the Garter!”
Alice agrees eagerly: “Aye! I will consent to act any villainy against him that may not sully the chariness of our honesty.” She shakes the egregious epistle. “Oh, if my husband saw this letter!—it would give eternal feed to his jealousy!”
Mistress Page glances down the street, where four men are coming around a corner. “Why, look where he comes—and my good man, too! He’s as far from jealousy as I am from giving him cause—and that, I hope, is an unmeasurable distance!”
“You are the happier woman,” Mistress Ford admits.
Meg motions Alice aside. “Let’s consult together against this greasy knight. Come hither,” she says, and they move behind some tall hedges fronting the Ford mansion.
As the men walk, Ford is listening to Pistol, while Page hears Nym.
“Well, I hope it be not so….” says Frank Ford.
“Hope is a curtal dog in some affairs!” says Pistol. “Sir John affects thy wife!”
They stop in front of the house. “Why, sir?” asks Ford. “My wife is not young….”
Pistol shrugs. “He wooes both high and low, both rich and poor, both young and old, one with another, Ford. He loves the gallimaufry!”—stew-like variety. “Ford, perpend!”—consider.
Frank frowns. “Loves my wife?”
“With liver burning hot!” Pistol assures him. “Prevent!—or go thou like Sir Actaeon—with Ringwood at thy heels!”—the prototypical cuckold was pursued to his death by his own hounds. “Oh, odious is the name!”
“What name, sir?”
“Of the horn, I say!” cries Pistol. “Farewell! Take heed!—have open eye, for thieves do foot by night! Take heed ere summer comes, or cuckoo-birds”—cuckoldry’s heralds—“do sing!” He turns to the others. “Away, Sir Corporal Nym! Believe it, Page!” he urges. “He speaks sense.”
Ford’s jaws are clenched. I will be patient! I will explore this!
Nym is finishing with Page: “…and this is true!—I like not the humour of lying! He hath wronged me in some humours! I would have borne the humoured letter to her but that I have a sword—and it shall bite upon my necessity!
“He loves your wife!—there’s the short and the long! My name is Corporal Nym—I speak, and I avouch: ’tis true my name is Nym—and Falstaff loves your wife!
“Adieu! I love not the humour of ‘bread and cheese,’”—meatless poverty, “and there’s the humour of it.” He looks expectantly from Ford to Page, but no gratuity is forthcoming. “Adieu!”
The cohorts return to their customary posts at the Garter Inn’s dark bar.
Page chuckles. “‘The humour of it,’ quoth ’a! Here’s a fellow frights English out of its wits!”
But Ford is vowing to himself: I will seek out Falstaff!
“I never heard such a drawling, affecting rogue!” laughs Page.
Ford glowers. If I do find it… well!
“I would not believe such a scoundrel though the priest o’ the town commended him for a true man!” says Page.
But Ford, having just heard his fears spoken aloud, thinks grimly, ’Twas a good, sensible fellow. Well….
The two matrons come forward, as if they were just leaving the Fords’ house.
Page smiles at his wife. “How now, Meg!”
“Whither go you, George?” she asks. “Hark you,” she says, drawing him aside.
“How now, sweet Frank!” says Mistress Ford to her husband. “Why art thou melancholy?”
“I melancholy? I am not melancholy!” says Ford. “Get you home!—go!”
Alice only laughs. “Faith, thou hast some crotchet in thy head! Now, will you go, Mistress Page?”
Margaret nods. “Have with you.” She wants her husband to return home by noon; “You’ll come to dinner, George.” She spots Mistress Quickly walking up the street.
- “Look who comes yonder,” she says privately to Alice. “She shall be our messenger to this paltry knight!”
- Alice whispers, nodding. “Trust me, I thought of her! She’ll befit it!”
Mistress Page asks the doctor’s housekeeper, “You are come to see my daughter, Anne?”
“Aye, forsooth!” says Mistress Quickly. “And, I pray, how does good Mistress Anne?”
“Go in with us and see!” says Margaret, cordially. “We’ll have an hour’s talk with you.” The three walk on along to the Pages’ house.
George sees the anger in Frank’s face. “How now, Master Ford?”
“You heard what this knave told me, did you not?”
“Yes, and you heard what the other told me!”
“Do you think there is truth in them?”
Page scoffs. “Hang ’em—slaves! I do not think the knight would offer it—and these that accuse him of this intent towards our wives are a pair of his discarded men!—very rogues, now they be out of service!”
“Were they his men?”
“Marry, were they!”
Ford is still worried. “I like it never the better for that. Does he lie at the Garter?”—reside there.
“Aye, marry, he does!”—a gibe about Falstaff’s well-known and colorful fabrications. “If he should intend this voyage towards my wife, I would turn her loose on him!—and what he gets from her more than sharp words, let it lie on my head!”
“I cannot be thus satisfied; I would have nothing lie on my head!” Nothing can be a term for cunt; but, considering his friend’s agitation, George refrains from teasing.
“I do not misdoubt my wife,” claims Frank, “but I would be loath to turn them loose together! A man may be too confident!”
Page points down the street. “Look where my ranting host of the Garter comes! There is either liquor in his pate or money in his purse, when he looks so merry!”
The ever-eager innkeeper, followed doggedly by Robert Shallow, who is staying at the Garter, hurries toward the neighbors.
“How now, mine host!” says Page.
“How now, bully-rook! Thou’rt a gentleman!” He turns to see if the white-haired J.P. has kept pace. “Cavaleiro Justice, I say!”
“I follow, mine host, I follow!” gasps Shallow, arriving out of breath. “Good even and twenty,”—many more, “good Master Page!” He smiles mischievously. “Master Page, will you go with us?… We have sport in hand!”
“Tell him, Cavaleiro Justice; tell him, bully-rook!”
“Sir, there is a fray to be fought between Sir Hugh, the Welsh priest, and Caius, the French doctor!”
Frank Ford draws the innkeeper aside purposefully. “Good mine host o’ the Garter, a word with you….”
“What sayest thou, my bully-rook?” They talk privately.
Shallow asks George Page, “Will you go with us to behold it? My merry host hath had the measuring of their weapons,” he says, still trying to catch his breath, “but, I think, hath appointed them contrary places!”—sent them to different sites for the duel. “For, believe me, I hear the parson is no jester!” The man of the cloth is surprisingly adept with a sword.
“Hark, I will tell you what our sport shall be!”
Asks the host cautiously, “Hast thou no suit against my knight—my guest-cavaleire?”
“None, I protest,” Ford tells him. “And I’ll give you a pottle of burnt sack”—a half-gallon of sweetened wine—“to give me recourse to him, and tell him my name is ‘Brook’—only for a jest.”
The host loves a prank. “My hand, bully; thou shalt have egress and regress!—said I well?—and thy name shall be ‘Brook.’ It is a merry knight!” he says, of the generally genial Falstaff.
Turning back to Shallow, he asks them all, “Will you go and hear us?”
“Have with you, mine host!” says the justice of the peace.
Page is concerned. “I have heard the Frenchman hath good skill with his rapier….”
Shallow scoffs. “Tsk!—sir, I could have shown you more! In these times you stand on distance—your passes, stoccadoes, and I know not what!” he says, disparagingly. “’Tis the heart, Master Page!” he cries, a bony fist clenched at his chest, “’tis here, ’tis here! I have seen the time when with my long-sword I would have made your tall fellows skip like rats!”
“Hear, boys, hear, hear!” cries the host. He motions for them to follow him. “Shall we wag?”
“Have with you,” says George—but he notes, “I would rather hear them scold than fight.”
The host leads Page and Shallow southward, out of the town.
Frank, following, ruminates sourly: Though Page be a secure fool, and stand so firmly on his wife’s frailty, yet I cannot put off my opinion so easily! She was in his company at Page’s house—and what they made there, I know not!
Well, I will look further into’t! And I have a disguise to sound Falstaff.
If I find her honest, I lose not my labour; if she be otherwise, ’tis labour well bestowed!
Falstaff and Pistol talk at a heavy corner table in an upstairs dining area of the Garter Inn. The knight is annoyed—and adamant. “I will not lend thee a penny!”
“Why then the world’s mine oyster—which I with sword will open!” mutters Pistol.
“Not a penny!” says Falstaff. “I have been content, sir, that you should lay my countenance at pawn!—I have grated upon my good friends for three reprieves for you and your coach-fellow Nym—or else you had looked through the grate”—prison bars—“like a geminy of baboons!”—twin apes. “I am damned in hell for swearing to gentlemen—my friends—that you were good soldiers and tall fellows! And when Mistress Bridget ‘lost’ the ivory handle of her fan, I took’t upon mine honour thou hadst it not!”
“Didst not thou share?” protests Pistol. “Hadst thou not fifteen pence?”—part of the proceeds.
“Reason, you rogue, reason!—thinkest thou I’ll endanger my soul gratis?
“In a word: hang no more about me!—I am no gibbet for you! Go!—a short knife and a throng!”—find the venue of a cutpurse. “Go to your manor of Pickt-hatch!
“You’ll not bear a letter for me, you rogue?—you stand upon your honour!” he growls, still irked by the man’s refusal. “Why, thou unconfinable baseness, it is as much as I can do to keep the precise terms of my honour! Aye, I—I myself!—sometimes leaving the fear of God on the left hand, and hiding mine honour in my necessity, am fain to shuffle, to hedge and to lurch! And yet you, you rogue, will ensconce your rags, your cat-a-mountain looks, your red-lattice”—whorehouse—“phrases, and your boldly beating oaths under the shelter of your honour?
“You will not do it, you!” he bellows.
“I do relent!” cries Pistol. “What would thou more of a man?” he pleads, in a tone of wounded obeisance.
Robin leans in at the door. “Sir, here’s a woman would speak with you.”
“Let her approach,” he tells the boy grandly.
Mistress Quickly soon arrives, puffing, after climbing the stairs, and she curtseys. “Give Your Worship good morrow!”
He rises at the table. “Good morrow, good wife.”
“Not so, an’t please Your Worship!” she says demurely, making eyes at him. She is dressed in her most revealing frock—a stunning image, if one less than alluring.
“Good maid, then.”
“I’ll be sworn,” she nods, affirming chastity, “as my mother was, the first hour I was born!”
“I do believe a swearer,” says Falstaff dryly. “What with me?”
“Shall I vouchsafe to Your Worship a word or two?”
“Two thousand, fair woman! And I’ll vouchsafe thee their hearing!” He sits, and motions for her to join him and Pistol at the table. Robin waits nearby—listening.
“There is one Mistress Ford, sir,” she says, taking a seat. “I pray, come a little nearer this way….” She hopes to stir his interest. “I myself dwell with Master Doctor Caius….”
“Well, on. Mistress Ford, you say.”
“Your Worship says very true!” She slides closer. “I pray Your Worship, come a little nearer this way!”
Falstaff scans the dim room, and declines. “I warrant thee, nobody hears. Mine own people, mine own people.” He takes a swig of ale.
“Are they so?” She eyes the idlers, smiling but thinking, God bless them and make them his servants!
“Well. Mistress Ford—what of her?”
“Why, sir, she’s a good creature! Lord, Lord! Your Worship’s a wanton!” she says coyly. “Well, heaven forgive you—and all of us, I pray!”
Falstaff grows impatient. “Mistress Ford; come, Mistress Ford—”
“Marry, this is the short and the long of it: You have brought her into such canaries as ’tis wonderful! The best courtier of them all when the court lay at Windsor could never have brought her to such a canary!”—feverish pitch, as in the lively Spanish dance.
Apparently fascinated by him, she continues liltingly: “Yet there has been knights—and lords, and gentlemen, with their coaches, I warrant you, coach after coach, letter after letter, gift after gift; smelling so sweetly, all musk; and so rustling, I warrant you, in silk and gold; and in such alligant terms; and in such wine and sugar of the best and the fairest, that would have won any woman’s heart—
“And, I warrant you, they could never get an eye-wink from her!”
She thinks of Master Fenton’s bribe. “I had myself twenty angels given me this morning; but I defy all angels of any such sort but, as they say, in the way of honesty. And, I warrant you, they could never get her to so much as sip on a cup with the proudest of them all! And yet there has been earls—nay, which is more, pensioners…! But, I warrant you, all is one with her.”
Falstaff taps his fingers on the wet spot between his mug and a flagon. “But what says she to me? Be brief, my good she-Mercury.”
Mistress Quickly’s voice drops by a register. “Marry, she hath received your letter—for the which she thanks you a thousand times!—and she gives notice to you that her husband will be in absence from his house between ten and eleven.”
“Ten and eleven?”
“Aye, forsooth—and then you may come and see the picture, she says, that you wot of. Master Ford, her husband, will be from home. Alas! the sweet woman leads an ill life with him: he’s a very jealousy man! She leads a very frampold life with him, good heart!”
“Ten and eleven,” says Falstaff. “Woman, commend me to her; I will not fail her.”
“Why, you say well.
“But I am another messenger to Your Worship: Mistress Page hath her hearty commendations to you, too!” She leans closer, imperiling her bosoms’ modesty. “And let me tell you in your ear, she’s as fartuous”—her pronunciation of virtuous—“a civil, modest wife as any in Windsor, whoe’er be the other!—one, I tell you, who will not miss your morning nor evening prayer!”
She touches his hand. “And she bade me tell Your Worship that her husband is seldom from home; but she hopes there will come a time!” She regards the knight admiringly. “I never knew a woman to dote so upon a man! “Surely I think you have charms!” she gushes, squeezing his hand. “La, yes, in truth!”
“Not I, I assure thee!” says Falstaff. “Setting the attractions of my good parts aside, I have no other charms!” he adds, affecting modesty.
“Blessing on your heart for’t!”
“But, I pray thee, tell me this: have Ford’s wife and Page’s wife acquainted each other how they love me?”
Mistress Quickly laughs at the idea, wagging her head. “Oh, no sir!—that were a jest indeed! They have not so little grace, I hope! That were a trick indeed!
“But Mistress Page would desire you to send her your little Robin, of all loves”—as a favor. “Her husband has a marvellous infection to the little page!”—affection for the lad.
“And truly Master Page is an honest man,” she says. “Ne’er a wife in Windsor leads a better life than she does!” she says, enviously. “Do what she will, say what she will; take all, pay all; go to bed when she list, rise when she list—all is as she will!
“And truly she deserves it; for if there be a kind woman in Windsor, she is one,” says Mistress Quickly. “You must send her your page; no remedy!”
Falstaff glances at Robin; the boy is frowning. “Why, I will….”
“Nay, but do so! Then, look you, he may come and go between you both! But in any case, have a nay-word,”—a secret term, “so that you may know one another’s mind, yet the boy never need to understand anything; for ’tis not good that children should know any wickedness!
“Old folks, you know, have discretion, as they say, and know the world….” Her eyelashes flutter.
“Fare thee well,” says Falstaff, rising. “Commend me to them both!” He opens a worn leather pouch and hands her a pair of coins. “There’s my purse; I am yet thy debtor!
“Boy,” he tells Robin, “go along with this woman.”
Mistress Quickly rises and curtseys. She leads the young page down the stairs and out of the Garter.
Falstaff muses. “This news distracts me….”
Pistol is impressed with the messenger. “This punk”—courtesan—“is one of Cupid’s carriers! Clap on more sails,” the warrior cries to himself, rising. “Pursue!—up with your flags! Give fire!
“She is my prize!—or ocean whelm them all!” He troops off after the woman.
Falstaff watches, amused. Sayest thou so, old Jack? Go thy ways!
But the knight is resolved to continue with his scheme to become solvent. I’ll make more of my old body than I have done. Surveying his considerable circumference, he thinks of the wealthy women. Will they yet look after thee? he wonders. Wilt thou, after the expense of so much money, be now a gainer?
Good body, I thank thee! he decides. Let them say ’tis grossly done; so it be fairly done, no matter!
Bardolph, now wearing the ale-stained apron of his trade, enters the room. “Sir John, there’s one Master Brook below would fain speak with you and be acquainted with you—and he hath sent Your Worship a morning’s draught of sack!” He slides a pewter flagon of the wine onto the dark, rough table.
“Brook is his name?”
“Call him in!” says Falstaff, happily.
Bardolph—hardly surprised—goes to bring the visitor.
Think Falstaff, Such brooks—that o’erflow with liquor!—are welcome to me!
He chuckles in warm self-satisfaction as he pours. Ah, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, have I encompassed you? Go to! Via!
Bardolph returns to the door and ushers in a gentleman.
“Bless you, sir!” says Ford, disguised in outdated clothes from a back bedroom, and sporting a large false moustache.
“And you, sir! Would you speak with me?”
“I make bold to press upon you with so little preparation,” says Ford apologetically.
“You are welcome. What’s your will?” He waves Bardolph away. “Give us leave, drawer.” The tapster goes back down to the bar.
“Sir,” says Ford, “I am a gentleman that have spent much!—my name is brook!” he says, in apparent frustration.
The introduction—wine, wealth and profligacy—charms Falstaff. “Good Master Brook, I desire more acquaintance of you!”
“Good Sir John, I sue for yours! But not to charge you; for I must let you understand I think myself in a plight, better to be lender than you are—which hath somewhat emboldened me to this unseasoned intrusion. For they say that if money go before, all ways do lie open….”
“Money is a good soldier, sir, and will on,” the knight confirms.
“Troth!—and I have a bag of money here that… troubles me,” says Ford, with tactical tact, pulling a pouch from his coat. “If you will help me to bear it, Sir John, take half, or all, for easing me of the carriage!”
“Sir, I know not how I may deserve to be your porter.”
“I will tell you, sir, if you will give me the hearing.”
“Speak, good Master Brook! I shall be glad to be your servant.”
“Sir, I hear you are a scholar….” He rubs his mustache thoughtfully. “I will be brief with you, as you have been a man long known to me, though I never had a reason so good as desire to make myself acquainted with you.
“I shall uncover a thing to you wherein I must very much lay open mine own imperfection! But, good Sir John, as you have one eye upon my follies, as you hear them unfolded, turn another into the register of your own, that I may pass with a reproof the easier, sith you yourself know how easy it is to be such an offender.”
The accomplished offender nods. “Very well, sir. Proceed.”
“There is a gentlewoman in this town; her husband’s name is Ford.”
“I have long loved her, and, I protest to you, bestowèd much on her!—followed her with a doting observance; engrossèd opportunities to meet her; fee’d every slight occasion that could but niggardly give me sight of her; not only bought many presents to give her, but have given largely to many just to know what she would have given her!
“Briefly: I have pursued her as Love hath pursuèd me—which hath been on the wing of all occasions!
“But of whatsoever I have merited, meed for either my mind or my means, I am sure I have receivèd none!—unless experience be a jewel that I have purchased at an infinite rate, and that hath taught me to say this: ‘Love like a shadow flies, and substance it subdues, pursuing that which flies, fleeing what pursues!’”
“Have you received no promise of satisfaction at her hands?” asks Falstaff.
“Have you importuned her to such a purpose?”
“Of what quality was your love, then?”
Ford shrugs. “Like a fair house built on another man’s ground!—so that I have lost my edifice by mistaking the place where I erected it!”
Falstaff stifles a smile for the gentleman’s failed erection. “To what purpose have you unfolded this to me?”
Frank leans forward. “When I have told you that, I’ll have told you all!
“Some say that, though she appear honest to me, yet in other places she enlargeth her mirth so far that there is harsh construction made of her!
“Now, Sir John, here is the heart of my purpose! You are a gentleman of excellent breeding, admirable discourse—of great admittance, authentic in your place and person, generally allowèd for your many war-like, court-like, and learnèd preparations!”
Falstaff feigns modesty. “Oh, sir….”
“Believe it, for you know it!”
Ford lays the heavy leather pouch on the table; coins clinking within it. “There is money!—spend it, spend it; spend more; spend all I have!—only give me so much of your time in exchange for it as to lay an amiable siege to the honesty of this Ford’s wife! Use your art of wooing—win her to consent to you!
“If any man may,” he says, “you may as soon as any!”
Falstaff accepts that dubious compliment, but he is puzzled. “Would it supply well the vehemency of your affection that I should win what you would enjoy? Methinks you prescribe to yourself very preposterously!”
Ford can explain. “Oh, understand my drift! She dwells so securely on the excellency of her honour that the folly of my soul dares not present itself!—she is too bright to be looked against!
“Now… could I could come to her with any detection in my hand, my desires had instance and argument to commend themselves! I could drive her then from the ward of her purity, her reputation, her marriage-vow, and a thousand other of her defences, which now are too, too strongly embattled against me!
“What say you to’t, Sir John?”
Falstaff takes the pouch. “Master Brook, I will first make bold with your money; next, give me your hand!” They shake hands warmly. “And last, as I am a gentleman, you shall, if you will, enjoy Ford’s wife!”
“Oh, good sir!” cries Frank Ford.
Falstaff encourages his lustful patron. “I say you shall!”
“Want no money, Sir John!—you shall want none!”
Falstaff bows. “Want no Mistress Ford, Master Brook!—you shall want none!
“I shall be with her, I may tell you, by her own appointment!” he boasts. “Even as you came in to me, her assistant, or go-between, parted from me! I say I shall be with her between ten and eleven!—for at that time the jealous, rascally knave her husband will be forth.
“Come you to me at night; you shall know how I speed!”
Frank, now pale behind his false whiskers, mutters, “I am blest in your acquaintance.” He wonders what’s been said about him. “Do you know Ford, sir?”
“Hang him, poor cuckoldly knave! I know him not. Yet I wrong him to call him poor: they say the jealous, wittolly knave hath masses of money—for the which his wife seems to me well-favorèd; I will use her as the key to the cuckoldly rogue’s coffer—and there’s my harvesting home!”
“I would you knew Ford, sir,” says Frank, defensively. He quickly adds, “So that you might avoid him if you saw him.”
Falstaff scoffs. “Hang him, mechanical salt-butter rogue! I will stare him out of his wits; I will awe him with my cudgel!—it shall hang like a meteor o’er the cuckold’s horns!
“Master Brook, thou shalt know I will predominate over the peasant!—and thou shalt lie with his wife!
“Come to me soon at night. Ford’s a knave, and I will aggravate his style: thou, Master Brook, shalt know him for knave and cuckold! Come to me soon at night!”
Master Ford nods. He bows and takes his leave.
Downstairs, as he stalks out past the long bar of the Garter Inn, Frank Ford’s anger and dismay grow. What a damnèd, Epicurean rascal is this!
The assignation Falstaff revealed stunned him. My heart is ready to crack with impatience! Who says this is improvident jealousy?—my wife hath sent to him!—the hour is fixèd!—the match is made!
Would any man have thought this?
See the hell of having a false woman: my bed shall be abused, my coffers ransacked, my reputation gnawn at!—and I shall not only receive this villainous wrong, but stand under the adoption of abominable terms!—and from him that does me this wrong!
Terms—names! Lucifer sounds well; Amaimon, well; Barbason, well!—yet they are devils’ additions, the names of fiends! But cuckold, wittol! —a man who accepts his wife’s infidelity.
Cuckold! The Devil himself hath not such a name!
Page is an ass, a secure ass! He will trust his wife!—he will not be jealous!
I will rather trust an Irishman with my bottle of spirits, a Fleming with my butter, Parson Hugh the Welshman with my cheese, or a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife with herself! Then she plots, then she ruminates, then she devises!
And what they think in their hearts, they may effect; they will break their hearts but they will effect!
God be praisèd for my jealousy!
Eleven o’clock’s the hour. I will prevent this!—detect my wife, be revenged on Falstaff, and laugh at Page!
I will about it! Better three hours too soon than a minute too late!
Fie, fie, fie! Cuckold! Cuckold! Cuckold!
Ready to Duel
At a grassy field on the southern outskirts of Windsor, Doctor Caius waits impatiently this bright morning, eager for an imminent combat of honor. “Jack Rugby!” he cries, calling his second, who, tired of waiting, has wandered away.
“Vat is ze clock, Jack?”
“’Tis past the hour, sir, that Sir Hugh promised to meet.”
“By Gar, he has save his soul, zat he is no come!—he has pray his Pible well, zat he is no come! By Gar, Jack Rugby, he is dead already, if he be come!”
As usual, Rugby concurs. “He is wise, sir; he knew Your Worship would kill him if he came.”
“By Gar, ze herring is not so dead as I vill kill him!” He craves action. “Take your rapier, Jack; I vill tell you how I vill kill him.” He draws his own blade, and slashes it through the air.
“Alas, sir, I cannot fence!”
“Villainy, take your rapier!” insists Caius.
“Forbear!—here’s company!” Jack points with relief to the arriving spectators.
Page approaches, with the Garter Inn’s host, Justice Shallow, and a young man whom Caius doesn’t know—Master Slender, the very rival Sir Hugh has endorsed for matrimony with Anne.
The innkeeper hails the sword-wielder wryly: “Bless thee, bully doctor!”
“’Save you, Master Doctor Caius,” says old Shallow.
Page bows. “Now, good doctor.”
Lovesick Slender looks up and notices that the others are watching him. “Give you good morrow, sir.”
Caius frowns. “Vat be all you, one, two, tree, four, come for?”
“To see thee fight, to see thee foin!” cries the host, vigorously mimicking fencing moves, “to see thee traverse!—to see thee here, to see thee there—to see thee pass thy punto, thy stock, thy reverse, thy distance, thy montant!
“Is he dead, my Ethiopian?” he demands of a fantasy second, waving his imagined sword aloft in triumph. “Is he dead, my Francisco? Eh, bully?”
He turns to the healer. “What says my Aesculapius?”—god of medicine, “my Galen!”—renowned second-century Greek physician, “my heart of elder!”—exemplar of the hidebound. “Eh? Is he dead, bully stale? Is he dead?”
Doctor Caius assumes he means Hugh—and he fumes. “By Gar, he is ze coward Jack priest of ze vorld!—he is not show his face!”
“Thou art a castle-and-king”—royal—“urinal!”—a glass cylinder for perusing patients’ piss, the innkeeper assures the French practitioner, “a Hector of grease, my boy!”—promoter of ointments; with a wry play on Greece, whose warriors were wounded by the Trojan.
Doctor Caius appeals to the others. “I pray you, bear vitness that me have stay since six or seven—two, tree hours for him, and he is no come!”
“He is the wiser man, Master Doctor,” says Justice Shallow. “He is a curer of souls, and you a curer of bodies; if you should fight, you go against the hair of your professions. Is it not true, Master Page?”
George nods. “Master Shallow, you have yourself been a great fighter, though now a man of peace.”
“’Od’s bodykins, Master Page,” says Shallow, “though I now be old and ‘of the peace,’ if I see a sword come out, my finger itches to take up one! Though we are justices and doctors and churchmen, Master Page, we have some salt of our youth in us!—we are the sons of women, Master Page!”
“’Tis true, Master Shallow.”
“It will be found so, Master Page,” says the septuagenary. “Master Doctor Caius, I am come to fetch you home. I am sworn of the peace! You have showed yourself a wise physician, and Sir Hugh hath shown himself a wise and patient churchman. You must go with me, Master Doctor.”
“Pardon, guest-justice,” the host intervenes, with further mischief in mind. “A word, Mounseur Mockwater….”
Caius frowns. “Mock-vater! Vat is zat?”
“Mock-water, in our English tongue, is valour, bully,” the host tells him.
“By Gar, den, I have as mush mock-vater as ze Englishman! Scurvy jack-dog priest! By Gar, me vill cut his ears!”
“He will clapper-claw thee quickly, bully!”
“Clapper-de-claw… vat is zat?”
“That is, he will make thee amends.”
“By Gar, me do look he shall clapper-de-claw me; for, by Gar, me vill have it!”
“And I will provoke him to’t, or let him wag!” the host promises.
“Me tank you for zat,” says Doctor Caius.
“And, moreover, bully….” the host begins. He turns to the others. “But first, Master Guest,” he tells Shallow, “and Master Page, and eke Cavaleiro Slender, go you through the town to Frogmore.” The edge of that suburb lies just east of them.
- George whispers, “Sir Hugh is there, is he?”
- “He is there,” the host confirms. “See what humour he is in, and I will bring the doctor about by the fields. Will it do well?”
- “We will do it!” grins Shallow. Beside him, Abraham Slender is lost in a reverie centering on Anne Page.
“Adieu, good master doctor,” says George, with a wave, as he, Shallow and Slender head toward Frogmore.
Doctor Caius’s annoyance continues, unabated. “By Gar, me vill kill ze priest; for he speak for a jackin’-ape to Anne Page!”
Says the innkeeper, “Let him die! Sheathe thy impatience; throw cold water on thy choler! Go about the fields with me through Frogmore. I will bring thee where Mistress Anne Page is—at a farm-house a-feasting—and thou shalt woo her!
“Cried I aim?”—on the mark, he demands. “Said I well?”
“By Gar, me tank you for zat!” says the doctor. “By Gar, I love you; and I shall procure-a you ze good guests: ze earl, ze knight, ze lord, ze gentlemen, my patients!”
The Garter Inn’s host bows. “For the which I will be thy adversary toward Anne Page! Said I well?”
“By Gar, ’tis good! Vell said!”
“Let us wag, then!”
Doctor Caius motions to his man. “Come at my heels, Jack Rugby.”
On the green turf of an open field near Frogmore, the Welshman waits, highly distressed. Hugh Evans has a Bible in one hand, a sword in the other. With him, holding his clerical robe, is his young second for the expected duel.
“I pray you now, good Master Slender’s serving-man, and friend Simple by your name,” says Hugh, “which way have you looked for Master Caius, that calls himself doctor of physic?”
Peter replies, pointing around, “Marry, sir, to the pittie-ward, the park-ward, and every way old Windsor way! Every way but the town way.”
“I most fehemently desire you you will also look that way.”
“I will, sir.” The boy trots toward Frogmore.
Pless my soul, how full of chollors I am, and trempling of mind! thinks the clergyman. I shall be glad if he have deceived me. How melancholies I am!
But his indignation rises. I will knog his urinals —glass specimen-receptacles— about his knave’s costard —apple-head— when I have good opportunities for the ’ork, bless my soul!
To calm and reassure himself, he sings a solemn song:
“‘By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sings madrigals,
There will we make our peds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies.
To shallow—’” He stops, his voice choked with emotion.
Mercy on me! I have a great dispositions to cry! He sings again, tremulously: “‘Melodious birds sing madrigals— When as I sat in Pabylon— And a thousand vagram posies— By shallow….’”
“Yonder he is, coming this way, Sir Hugh!”
Evans is resigned to facing the French man. “He’s welcome.” He sings: “‘By shallow rivers, to whose falls—’
“Heaven prosper the right,” says Hugh softly. “What weapons is he?”
The boy sees none in hand. “No weapons, sir. There comes my master, Master Shallow, and another gentleman—from Frogmore, over the stile, this way.”
“Pray you, give me my gown,” Sir Hugh tells Peter. “Or else keep it in your arms,” he amends, with neither hand free, as Page, Shallow and Slender reach him.
“How now, Master Parson!” says Justice Shallow, savoring the sunshine. “Good morrow, good Sir Hugh! Keeps a gamester from the dice, and a good student from his book, but it is wonderful!”
Smitten Slender continues in the thrall of his affection. Ah, sweet Anne Page! he muses.
“’Save you, good Sir Hugh,” says George.
Pastor Evans is relieved, for now. “’Pless you from his mercy’s sake, all of you!”
Old Shallow, noting the heavy book and steel blade, demands, “What?—the sword and the Word? Do you study them both, Master Parson?”
Evans, motioning Peter forward, trades the sword for his cloak.
“And youthful still,” says Page, eying the minister. “In your doublet and hose this raw, rheumatic day!”
“There is reasons and causes for it,” Hugh says glumly.
“We are come to you to do a good office, Master Parson,” Page tells him.
“Fery well. What is it?”
“Yonder is a most reverent gentleman,” says George, “who, believing he received a wrong by some person, is more at odds with his own gravity and patience than ever you saw!”
Shallow concurs. “I have lived fourscore years and upward; I never heard a man of his place, gravity and learning so wide of his own respect!”—so out of countenance.
“Who is he?” asks Hugh.
“I think you know him: Master Doctor Caius, the renowned French physician.”
“Got’s will, and his passion of my heart!” cries Sir Hugh, angrily, “I had as lief you would tell me of a supper of porridge!”
“Why?” asks George.
“He has no more knowledge than Hibocrates and Galen!” Evans scorns medicine’s authorities, classical and current; they purport only to heal the body. “And he is a knave besides!—as cowardly a knave as you would desires to be acquainted withal!”
George motions toward the schoolmaster. “I warrant you, here’s the man should fight with him….”
But Slender, oblivious, is sighing. Oh, sweet Anne Page!
“It appears not so, by his weapons,” says Shallow. “Keep them asunder,” he warns. “Here comes Doctor Caius!”
The Garter’s host leads the French gentleman and Rugby toward the others.
“Nay, good Master Parson,” warns George, “keep in your weapon!”
“So do you, good Master Doctor!” commands Shallow.
“Disarm them,” says the innkeeper, “and let them question!”—debate. As he grabs Caius’s scabbard from Rugby, George firmly takes Hugh’s rapier from Peter. “Let them keep their limbs whole, and hack our English!”
Caius confronts Hugh. “I pray you, let-a me speak a word with your ear. Vherefore vill you not meet-a me?”
“Pray you, use your patience,” Evans tells the doctor, intending no play on patients. “In good time….”
“By Gar, you are ze coward, ze Jack dog, John ape!” cries Caius.
“Pray you, let us not be laughing-stocks to other men’s humours!” urges the pastor. “I desire you in friendship, and I will one way or other make you amends….” But he sees the continuing glare. “I will knog your urinals about your knave’s cockscomb, for missing your meetings and appointments!”
“Diable!” shouts Doctor Caius. He appeals to the witnesses: “Jack Rugby—mine host ze Jarteer—have I not stay for him to kill him? Have I not, at ze place I did appoint?”
“As I am a Christian’s soul, no!” cries Sir Hugh Evans. “Look you, this is the place appointed! I’ll be judgement by mine host of the Garter!”
“Peace, I say,” calls the innkeeper, “Gallia and Gaul—French and Welsh—soul-curer and body-curer—”
“Aye,” nods Doctor Caius, approving the terms, “zat is very good; excellent.”
“—peace, I say!—hear ‘mine host of the Garter,’” says the innkeeper. “Am I a politician? Am I subtle? Am I a Machiavel?
“Shall I lose my doctor? No!—he gives me the potions and the motions.
“Shall I lose my parson, my priest, my Sir Hugh? No!—he gives me the proverbs and the no verbs.
“Give me thy hand, terrestrial,” he says to the physician. “So.
“Give me thy hand, celestial,” he says to the cleric. “So.
“Boys of art, I have deceived you both!—I have directed you to wrong places! Your hearts are mighty, your skins are whole! Then let burnt sack”—mulled wine—“be the outcome!
“Come, lay their swords to pawn!”—let them be held aside, he tells his companions. He sweeps a grand wave of invitation toward Windsor. “Follow me, lads of peace!—follow, follow, follow!”
“Trust me, a mad host!” laughs Justice Shallow. “Follow, gentlemen, follow!”
Thinks young Slender, Oh, sweet Anne Page! He drifts, dreamingly, after the innkeeper, Page and Shallow, all three still chuckling as they head into town.
The would-be duelists now hold the sunny field.
“Huh! Do I perceive zat?” asks Caius. He mutters, watching the jolly innkeeper depart, “Have you make-a ze sot of us?”
Hugh, too, feels sheepish—and irked. “This is well!” he says peevishly. “He has made us his vlouting-stog!”—flouting stock. “I desire you that we may be friends,” he tells Caius, “and let us knog our prains together to be revenge on this same scall, scurvy, cogging companion, the host of the Garter!”
“By Gar, with all my heart!” says Caius, grasping his hand. “He promise to bring me where is Anne Page; by Gar, he deceive me too!”
“Well, I will smite his noddles!” vows Hugh Evans. “Pray you, follow.”
They, too, head toward the renowned Garter Inn and its revered tap room.
And so are combined the auras of two vast realms, both bent on punishing a prankster.
Mistress Page chides a new page—Robin—for walking beside her on the street in Windsor this morning. “Nay, keep your way, little gallant; you were wont to be a follower, but now you are a leader. Which had you rather,” she asks, “lead mine eyes, or eye your master’s heels?”
“I had rather, forsooth, go before you like a man, than follow him like a dwarf!”
“Oh, you are a flattering boy,” says Margaret dryly. “Now I see you’ll be a courtier!”
She encounters Frank Ford just outside his stately brick mansion.
“Well met, Mistress Page,” says he. “Whither go you?”
“Truly, sir, to see your wife. Is she at home?”
“Aye—and as idly as she may hang together, for want of company; I think if your husbands were dead, you two would marry!”
“Be sure of that—to other husbands!”
Ford’s smile is strained. “Where had you this pretty weather-cock?” He has not seen Robin with her before.
Meg feigns annoyance. “I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him from.” She asks Robin: “What do you call your knight’s name, sirrah?”
“Sir John Falstaff.”
Ford’s eyes widen. “Sir John Falstaff!”
“He, he; I can never hit on’s name, though there is such a league between my good man and he,” claims Meg. “Is your wife at home, indeed?”
His face darkens. “In deed she is.”
She passes by him and heads toward the door. “By your leave, sir; I am sick till I see her!” After being prompted again, Robin darts forward to precede her into the house.
Frank is aghast. Has Page any brains? Hath he any thinking? Hath he any eyes? Surely they sleep!—he hath no use of them!
Why, this boy will carry a letter twenty miles as easily as a cannon will shoot twelve score point-blank! He has no doubt that Robin will quickly tell Falstaff all he can find out.
Frank is appalled by George’s carelessness. He pieces out his wife’s inclination! —contributes to her transgression. He gives her folly motion and advantage! And now she’s going to my wife—and Falstaff’s boy with her! A man may hear this shower sing in the wind!
And Falstaff’s boy with her!
Good plots, they are laid! he thinks—intending no play on the word. And our revolted wives share damnation together!
He is comforted by his own scheme to confront the knight during the attempt. Well, I will take him!—then torture my wife, pluck the borrowed veil of modesty from the so-seeming Mistress Page, divulge Page to himself as a secure and wilful Actaeon! And to these violent proceedings all my neighbours shall cry ‘aim!’ —well shot!
He hears bells in a town tower chime nine. The clock gives me my cue, and my assurance bids me search!—there I shall find Falstaff! I shall be praised for this, rather than mocked—for it is as positive as the earth is firm that Falstaff is there! I will go!
He turns resolutely toward home, but encounters the men returning from Frogmore.
“Well met, Master Ford!”
“Trust me, a good joining!” says Frank, managing to smile at the others. “I have good cheer”—food and drink—“at home, and I pray you all go with me!”
“I must excuse myself, Master Ford,” says Shallow.
“And so must I, sir!” says Abraham. “We have appointed to dine with Mistress Anne, and I would not break with her for more money than I’ll speak of!”
Shallow explains their stay in town: “We have lingered, about a match between Anne Page and my cousin Slender, and this day we shall have our answer.”
Slender looks at George. “I hope I have your good will, father Page….”
“You have, Master Slender; I stand wholly for you!
“But my wife, Master Doctor, is for you altogether,” he tells Caius.
“Aye, by Gar; and ze maid is love-a me!” says the French gentleman. “My nursh-a Quickly tell me so mush!”
The athletic innkeeper savors all sporting competitions. “What say you to young Master Fenton?” he asks George. “He capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth; he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May! He will carry’t, he will carry’t! ’Tis in his buttons!”—harbored beneath his doublet, in the heart. “He will carry’t!”
“Not by my consent, I promise you,” sniffs Page. “The gentleman is of no having”—without wealth, and therefore unacceptable. “He kept company with the wild prince”—during the intemperate youth of King Henry V—“and Poins; he is of too high a region—he knows too much!
“No, he shall not knit a knot in his fortunes with the fingers of my substance!” says George haughtily. “If he take her, let him take her simply!” Despite the host’s grin, he means marry her without dowry. “The wealth I have waits on my consent, and my consent goes not that way.”
Frank is eager to have witnesses observe Falstaff’s ignominy. “I beseech you heartily, some of you go home with me to dinner! Besides your cheer, you shall have sport!” he promises. “I will show you a monster!
“Master doctor, you shall go; so shall you, Master Page; and you, Sir Hugh….”
“Well, fare you well,” says Robert Shallow. “We shall have the freer wooing at Master Page’s!” He and Abraham go down the street to speak with Anne.
Doctor Caius dismisses his man. “Go home, John Rugby; I come anon.” Rugby goes—as usual, by way of the Garter tavern.
The hostel’s host bows. “Farewell, my hearts! I will go to my honest knight, Falstaff, and drink canary with him!”
Canary’s meanings prompt Master Ford. I think I shall drink in pipe-wine with him first! I’ll make him dance!
“Will you go, gentles?” he asks, motioning for the others to follow him.
The pastor is curious, as he and the doctor walk along together. “Have with you, to see this ‘monster!’” says Evans amiably to Caius—unaware that a green-eyed one leads the way.
Within the Fords’ mansion, the mistress of the house summons servants. “What, John! What, Robert!” cries Alice.
“Quickly, quickly!” urges Margaret, peering out a tall rear window. “Is the buck-basket—”
“I’ll warrant,” Alice assures her. “What?—Robert, I say!” she calls.
Two burley men come in from outside. Swinging between them, slung from a strong staff between their right shoulders, is a very large brown hamper for the household’s buck, clothes to go down to the river for washing.
“Come, come, come!” cries Meg.
“Here, set it down,” Alice tells the men, pointing to a space along the back-room wall near a window. The servants lower the woven wicker to the floor near a heap of soiled laundry, and Robert settles the wide lid back into place.
Meg frets about the hour—it is almost ten. “Give your men their charge; we must be brief!”
“Marry, as I told you before, John and Robert, be ready here, hard by in the brew-house,” says Mistress Ford, pointing toward the side door, “and when I call you, come forth suddenly, and without any pause—or staggering—take this basket on your shoulders.
“That done, trudge with it in all haste, and carry it among the whitsters”—women who wash white linen clothes, then spread them out for the sun to bleach and dry—“in Datchet Mead, and there empty it in the muddy ditch close by the Thames’ side!”
“You will do it?” demands Mistress Page. They nod, caps in hand.
“I ha’ told them over and over!—they lack no direction!” insists Mistress Ford. She tells the two, “Be gone, and come when you are called!” They bow and head outside to wait in the pungent air near the wooden building where the family’s supply of beer is brewed.
“Here comes little Robin,” observes Meg, as the boy enters, by a rear door near the pantry.
“How now, my eyas-musket!”—toy gun. “What news with you?” asks Alice.
The lad grins. “My master, Sir John, is coming to your back door, Mistress Ford, and requests your company!”
Meg Page eyes him. “You little Jack-a-Lent, have you been true to us?”
“Aye, I’ll be sworn!” says Robin. “My master knows not of your being here, and hath threatened to put me into everlasting liberty if I tell you of it—for he swears he’ll turn me away!”—dismiss him.
“Thou’rt a good boy! This secrecy of thine shall be a tailor to thee, and shall make thee a new doublet and hose!”—fresh livery; she’ll assure his employment. Meg turns to Alice. “I’ll go hide me!”
“Do so!” Mistress Ford motions Robin along: “Go tell thy master I am alone!” He nods, and runs back to the rear entrance. “Mistress Page, remember you your cue!”
“I warrant thee!—if I do not act it, hiss me!” She conceals herself in a far corner, behind a tall stack of dusty crates, boxes and stored holiday decorations by the door.
“Go to, then! We’ll use this unwholesome humidity!—this gross, watery pumpion!”—pumpkin. “We’ll teach him to know doves from jays!”—soft from harsh, true from faithless.
From the back, the clumping of heavy boots heralds the arrival of Sir John Falstaff.
At the door, the knight beams at Alice, arms spread wide. “Have I caught thee, my heavenly jewel? Why, now let me die, for I have lived long enough!—this is the period to my ambition! Oh, this blessèd hour!”
“Oh, sweet Sir John!” she gushes.
“Mistress Ford, I cannot cog, I cannot prate, Mistress Ford! Now shall I sin in my wish: I would thy husband were dead! I’ll speak it before the best lord: I would make thee my lady!”
“I, your lady, Sir John!—alas, I should be a pitiful lady!” He hears humility—but she can guess at the Crown pensioner’s comparatively paltry income.
“Let the court of France show me such another!” says the knight grandly. “I see how thine eye would emulate the diamond! Thou hast the right-archèd beauty of the brows that becomes the ship-’tire, the ’tire-valiant, or any ’tire ”—fashionably styled false hair—“of Venetian admittance!”
“A plain kerchief, Sir John!” murmurs Alice. “My brows become nothing else—nor that well, neither!”
“By the Lord, thou art a traitor to say so! Thou wouldst make an absolute courtier!—and the firm fixture of thy feet would give an excellent motion to thy gait in a semi-circled farthingale!”—hoops, swaying under a gown. “I see what thou wert, even if Fortune were thy foe: Nature is thy friend! Come, thou canst not hide it!”
She must hide annoyance, though. “Believe me, there is no such thing in me!” says Alice—instantly regretting the phrase: thing can be a term for the male member.
Counters Falstaff loftily, “What made me love thee? Let that persuade thee there’s something extraordinary in thee!” She has a good idea of what the threadbare degenerate sees in her.
He moves closer. “Come, I cannot cog, and say thou art this and that, like a-many of these lisping hawthorn-buds,”—young suitors, “that come like women in men’s apparel, and smell like Bucklersbury at simple time!”—London’s fragrance district when a season’s new aromatics arrive. “I cannot! But I love thee!—none but thee!—and thou deservest it!”
Despite such high acclaim, Alice expresses a concern: “Do not betray me, sir!—I fear you love Mistress Page!”
Falstaff snorts scornfully. “Thou mightst as well say I love to walk by the Counter gate,”—at a debtor’s prison, “which is as hateful to me as the reek of a lime-kill!”—rotten smell of a dead bird too long in a trap.
“Well, Heaven knows how I love you,” she says dryly, “and you shall one day find out!”
“Keep in that mind!” says Falstaff smugly. “I’ll deserve it!”
She nods. “Aye, I must tell you, so you do, or else I would not be of that mind.”
Suddenly Robin rushes in at the back. “Mistress Ford, Mistress Ford! Here’s Mistress Page at the door, sweating and blowing and looking wildly, and would needs speak with you immediately!”
Falstaff is highly alarmed. “She shall not see me!” He glances around. “I will ensconce me behind the arras!”
“Pray you, do so!” pleads Alice. “She’s a very tattling woman!”
He soon eases his bulk behind the drapery—creating a distinctive bellying in the heavy fabric.
“What’s the matter? How now!” demands Alice, as Margaret emerges to join her and Robin.
“Oh, Mistress Ford, what have you done?” cries Meg. “You’re shamed, you’re overthrown, you’re undone forever!”
“What’s the matter, good Mistress Page?”
“Oh, well-a-day, Mistress Ford!—having as honest a man as your husband—and giving him such cause of suspicion!”
“What cause of suspicion?”
“What cause of suspicion! Out upon you! How I am mistook in you!”
“Why, alas, what’s the matter?”
“Your husband’s coming hither, woman!” announces Meg, “with all the officers in Windsor, to search for a gentleman that he says is here now in the house, by your consent, to take an ill advantage of his absence! You are undone!”
Alice sounds dismayed: “’Tis not so, I hope!”
“Pray heaven it be not so that you have such a man here! But ’tis most certain your husband’s coming—with half of Windsor at his heels—to search for such a one! I come before to tell you: if you know yourself clear, why, I am glad of it!—but if you have a ‘friend’ here, convey, convey him out!
“Be not amazèd!—call all your senses to you!—defend your reputation, or bid farewell to your good life forever!”
“What shall I do?” cries Alice. “There is a gentleman—my dear friend!—and I fear not mine own shame so much as his peril! I had rather than a thousand pound he were out of the house!”
“For shame!” says Meg. “Your ‘had rather’ will never stand!—your husband’s here at hand! Bethink you of some conveyance! In the house you cannot hide him!
“Oh, how you have deceived me!” moans Margaret. But then she points. “Look!—here is a basket! If he be of any reasonable stature, he may creep in here! Then throw foul linen upon him, as if it were going to bucking”—laundering. “And, as it is whiting-time, send him by your two men to Datchet Mead….”
“He’s too big to go in there,” groans Alice. “What shall I do?”
Falstaff pushes the drape aside and hurries forward. “Let me see’t, let me see’t, oh, let me see’t! I’ll in!—I’ll in! Follow your friend’s counsel!” he tells Mistress Ford. “I’ll in!”
Mistress Page is stunned. “What, Sir John Falstaff?” From her purse she snatches papers. “Are these your letters, knight?”
“I love thee!” says Falstaff, lifting the hamper lid. “Help me away! Let me creep in here,” he mumbles, leaning heavily onto the creaking , snapping wicker, then struggling to cram himself down into the big, wiggling basket. “I’ll never—”
His vow is muffled as they quickly pile dirty linen over his quivering mass.
“Help to cover your master, boy!” cries Meg. “Call your men, Mistress Ford!” She smacks the side of the basket. “You dissembling knight!”
Robin runs to open the side door, and Alice summons the servants: “What, John! Robert! John!
“Go, take up these clothes here quickly!” she cries, as they rush in. “Where’s the cowl-staff?”—the shoulder bar for carrying the filled basket. “Look how you drumble!” she chides, urging the men on. “Carry them to the laundress in Datchet Mead—quickly, come!”
But just then Master Ford bursts into the room from the front of the house—followed by Master Page, Doctor Caius and Sir Hugh Evans.
“Pray you, come near!” cries Frank to the men. “If I suspect without cause, why then make sport of me! Then let me be your jest; I’ll deserve it!”
The big brown basket, hanging heavily between Robert and John, catches his eye. “How now! Whither bear you this?”
“To the laundress, forsooth,” says Robert.
“Why, what have you to do with whither they bear it?” demands Alice. “You were best not meddle with buck-washing!”
“Buck! I would I could wash myself of the ‘buck!’” cries Frank, again reminded of a horned beast. He sees her frown. “Buck, buck, buck! Aye, buck; I warrant you, buck!—and it shall appear just in season, too!”—in time for lawful hunting.
The two servants, straining under the weight of their bulging basket, trudge out past the side door, followed by Robin.
Ford begins his dramatic exposure: “Gentlemen, I have dreamed last night; I’ll tell you my dream!
“Here, here, here be my keys! Ascend to my chambers!—search, seek, find out! I’ll warrant we’ll unkennel a fox!
“Let me stop this way, first,” he says, locking both doors, “so no escape!”
George says soothingly, “Good Master Ford, be contented. You wrong yourself too much!”
“True, Master Page,” says Frank gravely—of previously misplaced trust. “Up, gentlemen! You shall see sport anon! Follow me, gentlemen!” He heads back toward the front of the house, and the stairs to its second-floor bedrooms.
Sir Hugh Evans is quite put out. “This is fery fantastical humours and jealousies!”
Doctor Caius concurs. “By Gar, ’tis no the fashion of France; it is not jealous in France!”
“Nay, follow him, gentlemen,” says George. “See the issue of this search.”
The three men attend Frank Ford in the frantic ransacking of his own house.
Left with her friend, Meg can’t help but laugh. “Is there not a double excellency in this?”
“I know not which pleases me better,” laughs Alice, “that Sir John is deceivèd, or my husband!”
“What a quaking was he in when your husband asked what was in the basket!” says Meg.
Alice grins. “I am half afraid he will have need of washing!—so throwing him into the water will do him a benefit!”
“Hang him, dishonest rascal! I would all of the same stain were in the same distress!”
Mistress Ford frowns at an inference: “I think my husband hath some special suspicion of Falstaff’s being here, for I never saw him so gross in his jealousy till now….”
Mistress Page regards her neighbor. “I will lay a plot to try that—and we will yet have more tricks with Falstaff! His dissolute disease will scarcely obey only this medicine!”
Alice, too, is thinking. “Shall we send that foolish carrion Mistress Quickly to him—and ignore his throwing into the water?—then give him another hope, to betray him to another punishment!”
“We will do it! Let him be sent for tomorrow, eight o’clock, to ‘make amends.’”
Ford returns, follow by Page, Caius, and Evans.
“I cannot find him,” Frank admits. “Maybe the knave bragged of that which he could not compass!”
- Meg frowns. “Heard you that?” she whispers to Alice; now they know that Frank has talked with Falstaff.
Says Alice indignantly. “You abuse me well, Master Ford, do you not?”
“Aye, I do so,” Frank mumbles, crestfallen.
“Heaven make you better than your thoughts!”
“Amen,” says Frank, his head hanging.
Margaret glares. “You do yourself a mighty wrong, Master Ford!”
“Aye, aye; I must bear it.”
Hugh Evans confirms the futility of their search. “If there be any pody in the house, and in the chambers, and in the coffers, and in the presses, Heaven forgive my sins at the Day of Judgment!”
“By Gar, nor I too!” says Doctor Caius. “There is no bodies.”
George scolds his friend. “Fie, fie, Master Ford!—are you not ashamed? What spirit, what devil suggests this imagination? I would not ha’ your distemper of this kind for the wealth of Windsor Castle!”
Ford is fully humbled. “’Tis my fault, Master Page; I suffer for it.”
“You suffer for a pad conscience!” declares Pastor Evans. “Your wife is as honest a ’oman as I will desires among five thousand, and five hundred, too!”
The doctor concurs: “By Gar, I see ’tis an honest woman!”
“Well,” says Ford, “I promised you a dinner….” It is due to be served in about an hour, at noon. “Come, come, walk in the Park. I pray you, pardon me; I will hereafter make known to you why I have done this.
“Come, wife; come, Mistress Page. I pray you pardon me!—pray heartily, pardon me!”
“Let’s go in, gentlemen,” says George, motioning toward the parlor at the front. “But, trust me, we’ll mock him!
“I do invite you tomorrow morning to my house for breakfast,” Page tells the men. “After, we’ll go a-birding together! I have a fine hawk for the bush!”—a falcon trained for sport. “Shall it be so?”
Frank, well chastened, is quietly compliant. “Anything.”
“If there is one, I shall make two in thy company,” says Hugh happily.
“If dere be one or two, I shall make-a the turd!” adds Caius.
“Pray you, go, Master Page,” says Frank, amiably, as they follow the ladies out for their walk.
Hugh Evans looks at the doctor. “I pray you now, remembrance tomorrow for the lousy knave, mine host!”
Caius nods. “Dat is good!—by Gar, with all my heart!”
“A lousy knave, to have his gibes and his mockeries!”
They have found three clever traveling men, and have induced them to sample the hospitality and amenities of Windsor’s Garter Inn.
A tall nobleman-suitor has come to the Pages’ house to call on their daughter. He stands outside with her, near the front door. “I see I cannot get thy father’s love,” says Fenton, frowning in frustration. “Therefore no more turn me to him, sweet Nan.”
“Alas, how then?” she protests.
“Why, thou thyself must see: he doth object that I am too great of birth—and that, my estate being gallèd with my expenses, I seek only to heal it by his wealth!
“Besides, other bars he lays before me—my riots past, my wild societies—and tells me ’tis a thing impossible I should love thee but as a property.”
Her eyes search his face. “May be he tells you true.”
“No!—so heaven speed me in my time to come!” he says, taking her hand. “Albeit I will confess thy father’s wealth was the first reason I wooed thee, Anne, yet wooing thee I found thee of more value than stamps in gold or sums in sealèd bags!—and ’tis the very riches of thy self that now I aim at!”
“Gentle Master Fenton, yet seek my father’s love!—still seek it, sir! If opportunity and humblest suit cannot attain it, why, then—” She looks around. “Hark you hither….” She leads him to the side of the porch, by the window; there they talk earnestly, in hushed voices.
And now Justice Shallow comes calling, with his nephew Abraham Slender—both abetted by Mistress Quickly.
Shallow spots Anne with Fenton. “Break their talk, Mistress Quickly! My kinsman shall speak for himself!”
She nods, and ambles toward the couple.
“I’ll make a shaft or a bolt on’t!”—take a shot, says Slender tremulously, wringing his hands. “’Slid!—’tis but venturing….”
“Be not dismayed,” Shallow tells him calmly.
“No, she shall not dismay me,” says Abraham. “I care not about that, except that I am afeard!”
Mistress Quickly tells Anne Page, “Hark ye, Master Slender would speak a word with you….”
The beautiful girl nods. “I’ll come to him.” This is my father’s choice, she thinks, looking at the bashful young teacher, come to court her in his Sunday clothes. Her father has told her what her coming-of-age inheritance will be, and she is genuinely modest. Oh, what a world of vile, ill-favored faults looks attractive in three hundred pounds a-year!
Mistress Quickly cheerfully seizes the taller suitor’s arm and pulls him away. “And how does good Master Fenton? Pray you, a word with you….”
“She’s coming,” whispers Justice Shallow. “To her, coz! O boy, thou hadst a father!” he says encouragingly.
Abraham smiles bravely. “I had a father, Mistress Anne. My uncle can tell you good jests of him,” he stammers. “Pray you, Uncle, tell Mistress Anne the jest—how my father stole two geese out of a pen, good uncle….”
Says the old man, stepping forward, “Mistress Anne, my nephew loves you!”
“Aye, that I do—as well as I love any woman in Gloucestershire.”
“He will maintain you like a gentlewoman!” promises Shallow.
“Aye, that I will—come cut- and long-tail,”—in any event, “under the degree of a squire.” The bumpkin clearly considers that an inducement for a town-dweller.
“He will make you a hundred and fifty pounds’ jointure!”—wedding settlement, Shallow declares.
Anne smiles, kindly, touching the old man’s sleeve. “Good Master Shallow, let him woo for himself.”
“Marry, I thank you for it!” says he. “I thank you for that good comfort! She calls you, coz! I’ll leave you.” He goes to join Mistress Quickly and Fenton.
Anne begins. “Now, Master Slender—”
“Now, good Mistress Anne—” says he at the same time.
“What is your will?” she asks politely.
“My will! ’Od’s heartlings, that’s a pretty jest indeed! I ne’er made my will yet, I thank heaven!—I am not such a sickly creature, I give heaven praise!”
“I mean, Master Slender, what would you with me?”
“Truly, for mine own part, I would little or nothing with you,” says Abraham meekly. “Your father and my uncle have made motions…. If it be my luck, so; if not, happy man be his dole!”—the one she does marry. “They can tell you how things go better than I can,” he notes. “You may ask your father—here he comes.”
Page and his wife have returned home. “Now, Master Slender!” says George warmly, coming to him. “Love him, daughter Anne!” he urges.
George spots the other suitor. “Why, how now? What does Master Fenton here?” he asks angrily. “You wrong me, sir, thus still to haunt my house!—I told you, sir, my daughter is disposed of!”
Fenton tries to appease. “Nay, Master Page, be not impatient….”
Margaret is abrupt: “Good Master Fenton, come not to my child!”
“She is no match for you,” says George.
“Sir, will you hear me?” pleads the young man.
“No! good Master Fenton,” says Page. “Come, Master Shallow; come in, son Slender,” he says, starting past the door. He looks back, frowning. “Knowing my mind, you wrong me, Master Fenton!”
Shallow and Slender follow George into the house.
Mistress Quickly now encourages Fenton: “Speak to Mistress Page!”
He nods, and goes to Meg. “Good Mistress Page,” he says, hat in hand, “for that I love your daughter, in such a righteous fashion as I do, perforce against all checks, rebukes and manners I must advance the colours of my love, and not retire! Let me have your good will!” he beseeches.
Anne glances toward Slender as he enters the house. “Good mother, do not marry me to yond fool!”
“I mean it not,” Meg assures her. “I seek you a better husband!”
“That’s my master—master doctor.” says Mistress Quickly.
“Alas!—I had rather be set alive i’ the earth,” Anne tells them all, “and bowled to death with turnips!”
Meg waves away her concern. “Come, trouble yourself not!
“Good Master Fenton, I will not be your friend nor enemy; my daughter will I question how she loves you, and as I find her, so am I affected. Till then, farewell, sir! She must needs go in; her father will be angry.”
Fenton bows. “Farewell, gentle mistress. Farewell, Nan.”
Margaret and her daughter proceed into the tall house.
Mistress Quickly clasps Fenton’s arm and claims credit for the gentlewoman’s apparent neutrality. “This is my doing, now! ‘Nay,’ said I, ‘will you cast away your child on a fool, or a physician? Look on Master Fenton!’ This is my doing!”
“I thank thee,” he says, “and I pray thee, sometime tonight give my sweet Nan this ring!” He hands her two more gold coins as well. “There’s for thy pains.”
Mistress Quickly curtseys. “Now heaven send thee good fortune!” she says, as Fenton bows and goes on his way.
A kind heart he hath! A woman would run through fire and water for such a kind heart!
But yet I would my master had Mistress Anne. Or I would Master Slender had her! Or, in sooth, I would Master Fenton had her….
I will do what I can for them, all three; for so I have promised, and I’ll be as good as my word! She looking fondly at the gold. But speciously for Master Fenton! She slips the money into her pocket.
Well, I must go on another errand to Sir John Falstaff from my two mistresses, she sighs. What a beast am I to slack it!
But postpone she does; she goes into the house to say goodbye to Anne—and to give her Fenton’s ring.
Falstaff, his clothes still damp, boots caked with remnant mud, broods crossly this morning in a booth at the Garter Inn. “Bardolph, I say!”
“Go fetch me a quart of sack.” He realizes it’s time for breakfast, and that he needs sustenance. “Put a toast in’t.”
The tapster nods and goes.
Have I lived to be carried in a basket, and to be thrown, like a barrow of butcher’s offal, into the Thames? Well, if I be served another such trick, I’ll have my brains ta’en out and buttered, and give them to a dog for a New Year’s gift!
The rogues slided me into the river with as little remorse as they would have drowned a blind bitch’s puppies, fifteen i’ the litter!
And one may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity for sinking!—if the bottom were as deep as Hell, I should down!
But that the shore was shelvy and shallow, I had been drownèd—a death that I abhor, for the water swells a man—and what a thing should I have been when I had been swelled! I should have been a mountain of mummy!
Bardolph returns with the wine. “Here’s Mistress Quickly, sir, to speak with you.”
Falstaff grabs for the restorative. “Let me pour some sack into the Thames-water!—for my belly’s as cold as if I had swallowed snowballs as pills to cool the rage!
“Call her in,” he says, after finishing a second long draught.
“Come in, woman,” says Bardolph at the door.
“By your leave, I cry you mercy,” says Mistress Quickly courteously, as she moves toward Falstaff. “Give Your Worship good morrow!”
“Take away these chalices,” Falstaff tells Bardolph, who picks up the empty mugs. “Go brew me a pottle of sack, finely”—heated, with spice.
“With eggs, sir?”
“Simple of itself—I’ll no pullet-sperm in my brewage!”
Bardolph goes back downstairs.
The knight regards Mistress Quickly. “How now?”
“Marry, sir, I come to Your Worship from Mistress Ford—”
“Mistress Ford! I have had ford enough!” he cries. “I was thrown into the ford!—I have my belly full of ford!”
“Alas the day!” says Mistress Quickly sympathetically. “Good heart, that was not her fault! She does so take on with her men!”—rebuke Robert and John. “They mistook their erections!”—directions.
“So did I mine,” growls Falstaff, “to build upon a foolish woman’s promise!”
“Well, she laments, sir, for it, such that it would yearn your heart to see it!” She examines her gloves carefully. “Her husband goes a-birding this morning….”
The knight pictures the handsome, wealthy woman, left by herself in that big house.
Mistress Quickly comes to the point: “She desires you once more to come to her, between eight and nine! I must carry word to her”—return his answer—“quickly.
“She’ll make you amends, I warrant you!” promises Mistress Quickly, raising a heavily drawn eyebrow.
“Well, I will visit her,” says Falstaff gruffly. “Tell her so. And bid her think what a man is! Let her consider his frailty—and then judge of my merit!” he adds with ponderous dignity.
“I will tell her.”
“Do so. Between nine and ten, sayest thou?” He wants to finish his breakfast, such as it is.
“Eight and nine, sir.”
“Well, be gone; I will not miss her,” he grumbles.
“Peace be with you, sir,” says Mistress Quickly, taking her leave.
Falstaff again drinks deeply. I marvel I hear not from Master Brook; he sent me word to stay within. I like his money well! Over the pewter rim of his raised mug he spots movement. Oh, here he comes!
“Bless you, sir,” says Brook, bowing curtly at the door.
Falstaff waves him in. “Now, Master Brook, you come to know what hath passed between me and Ford’s wife?”
Frank mutters, “That, indeed, Sir John, is my business.”
“Master Brook, I will not lie to you: I was at her house the hour she appointed me.”
“And sped you, sir?”
“Very ill-favoredly, Master Brook.”
“How so, sir? Did she change her determination?”
“No, Master Brook!—but the peeking cornuto her husband, Master Brook, dwelling in a continual alarum of jealousy, comes upon me in the instant of our encounter, after we had embraced, kissed, protested, and, as it were, spoken the prologue of our comedy!
“And at his heels, a rabble of his companions, thither provoked and instigated by his distemper, began, forsooth, to search his house for his wife’s lover!”
Ford is stunned. “What?—while you were there?”
“While I was there.”
“Then, did he search for you, but could not find you?”
“You shall hear,” says the knight. He takes another swig. “As good luck would have it, comes in one Mistress Page, gives intelligence of Ford’s approach, and, in her invention and Ford’s wife’s distraction, they conveyed me into a buck-basket.”
“By the Lord, a buck-basket! Rammed me in with foul shirts and smocks, socks, foul stockings, greasy napkins—so that, Master Brook, there was the rankest compound of villainous smells that ever offended nostril!”
“And how long lay you there?”
“Nay, you shall hear, Master Brook,” says Falstaff, after quaffing again, “what I have suffered to bring this woman to evil for your good!” He belches copiously. “Being thus crammed in the basket, a couple of Ford’s knaves, his hinds, were called forth by their mistress to carry me, under the name of foul clothes, to Datchet-lane! They took me on their shoulders, met the jealous knave their master in the door—who asked them once or twice what they had in their basket!
“I quaked for fear, lest the lunatic knave would have searched it; but Fate, ordaining he should be a cuckold, held back his hand!
“Well! On went he for a search—and away went I for foul clothes!
“But mark the sequel, Master Brook! I suffered the pangs of three several deaths: first, an intolerable fright, to be detected by a jealous, rotten bell-wether; next, to be compassed like a good bilbo”—sheathed like a dagger—“in the circumference of a peck, hilt to point, heel to head; and then, to be stoppered in, like a strong distillation, with stinking clothes that fretted in their own grease!
“Think of that!—a man of my kidney!—think of it!—who am as subject to heat as butter, a man of continual dissolution and thaw! It was a miracle to ’scape suffocation! And in the height of this bath—when I was more than half stewed in grease like a Dutch dish—to be thrown into the Thames, and cooled in that surge, glowing hot like a horse-shoe! Think of that—hissing hot!—think of that, Master Brook!”
The thoughts and images in fact delight Ford; but Master Brook looks concerned. “In good sadness,” he says mournfully, “I am sorry that for my sake you have suffered all this!
“My suit then is desperate,” he groans. “You’ll undertake her no more?”
“Master Brook, I will be thrown into Etna”—the volcano—“as I have been into Thames, ere I will leave her thus! Her husband has this morning gone a-birding,” he says, contemptuously. “I have received from her another embassy of meeting! ’Twixt eight and nine is the hour, Master Brook.”
Croaks Ford, again stricken, “’Tis past eight already, sir,”
“Is it? I will then address me to my appointment.
“Come to me at your convenient leisure, and you shall know how I’ve sped; and the conclusion shall be crownèd with your enjoying her!
“Adieu! You shall have her, Master Brook! Master Brook, you shall cuckold Ford!” He drains his mug, and marches, a bit unsteadily, to the stairs.
Hmh! thinks Frank. Is this a vision? Is this a dream? Do I sleep? Master Ford, awake! Awake, Master Ford!—there’s a hole made in your best coat, Master Ford!
This ’tis to be married! This ’tis to have linen and buck-baskets!
Well, I will proclaim myself what I am: I will now take the lecher!
He is at my house—he cannot ’scape me; ’tis impossible he should! He cannot creep into a halfpenny purse, nor into a pepper-box! But, lest the devil that guides him should aid him, I will search impossible places!
Though what I am I cannot avoid, yet being what I would not shall not make me tame!
If I have horns to make one mad, let the proverb go with me!—I’ll be horn-mad!
On the street near the Pages’ home, Mistress Quickly spots Margaret and her young son, William, walking toward the grammar school; she hurries to meet them.
Asks Meg, “Is he at Ford’s already, think’st thou?”
Mistress Quickly has already visited Alice. “Surely he is by this—or will be presently!” she advises. “But, truly, he is very courageous mad about his throwing into the water! Mistress Ford desires you to come suddenly!”
“I’ll be with her by and by,” says Meg calmly. “I’ll but bring my young man here to school. Look, where his master comes,” she says, as Sir Hugh Evans emerges from the rectory next door. “’Tis a playing-day, I see. How now, Sir Hugh! No school today?”
“No; Master Slender is let the boys have leave to play.”
“Blessing on his heart!” says Mistress Quickly, who has often done the same.
Margaret has a concern. “Sir Hugh, my husband says my son profits nothing in the world at his books. I pray you, ask him some questions about his accidence”—Latin inflections.
Sir Hugh Evans nods. “Come hither, William; hold up your head; come.”
William, eight, wants to play with the other boys.
“Come on, sirrah; hold up your head,” his mother commands. “Answer your master; be not afraid.”
Hugh asks, “William, how many numbers is in nouns?”
“Two,” says William.
“Truly I thought there had been one number more,” says Mistress Quickly, “because they say, ‘’Od’s ’ounds!’” Odds would imply three or more.
“Peace your tattlings!” frowns Sir Hugh, offended at hearing the oath, a version of God’s wounds, spoken before the child. “What is ‘fair,’ William?”
The lad thinks. “Pulcher,” he mumbles.
Mistress Quickly is surprised; she’s heard something else. “Polecats? There are fairer things than polecats, surely!” The term is also used for women of ill repute.
Hugh Evans is annoyed. “You are a very simplicity ’oman! I pray you peace!
“What is ‘lapis,’ William?”
“And what is ‘a stone,’ William?”
Mistress Quickly stares; the word can mean testicle.
“No, it is ‘lapis,’” chides Sir Hugh. “I pray you, remember in your prain!”
William nods; his schooling is, after all, mainly repetition. “Lapis.”
“That is a good William. What is it, William, that does lend articles?”
“Articles are borrowed from the pronoun,” William answers dutifully, “and be thus declinèd: singulariter, nominativo, hic, haec, hoc.”
“Nominativo, hig, hag, hog,” says the Welshman. “Pray you, mark: genitivo, huius.
“Well, what is your accusative case?”
William frowns, trying to recall. “Accusative… hinc….”
“I pray you, have your remembrance, child: accusative—hung, hang, hog.”
“‘Hang-hog’ is Latin for bacon, I warrant you,” says Mistress Quickly.
“Leave your prabbles, ’oman,” demands Sir Hugh. “What is the focative case, William?”
Hugh shakes his head; Latin grammar has no vocative case. “Remember, William: focative is caret!”—lacking.
“And that’s a good root!” says Mistress Quickly, who likes carrots.
“’Oman, forbear!” insists Sir Hugh.
“Peace,” Margaret tells both, laughing in spite of herself.
“What is your genitive case, plural, William?”
William thinks. “Genitive—horum, harum, horum!”
Mistress Quickly thinks she’s heard Jenny, ’tis whoring. “’Vengeance on Jenny’s case; fie on her!—never name her, child, if she be a whore!”
“For shame, ’oman!” cries Sir Hugh.
But Mistress Quickly is scandalized too. “You do ill to teach the child such words!” She appeals to Meg. “He teaches him to hic, and to hack—which they’ll do fast enough by themselves—and to call whoredom!” She frowns at the clergyman. “Fie upon you!”
“’Oman, art thou lunatics? Hast thou no understandings for thy cases and the numbers of the genders? Thou art as foolish a Christian creatures as I could desire!”
Margaret smiles. “Prithee, hold thy peace!” Each adult thinks she addresses the other.
Hugh turns to the boy. “Show me now, William, some declensions of your pronouns.”
“Forsooth, I have forgot,” William Page admits.
“It is qui, quae, quod!” Hugh’s eyebrows rise in admonition: “If you forget your quies, your quaes, and your quods, you must be preeches!”—britches, slid down for a whipping. “Go your ways, and play; go!” he says kindly. The boy trots off happily to join his mates.
Meg tells Mistress Quickly—dryly, “He is a better scholar than I thought he was.”
Hugh Evans bows. “He is a good, sprag memory! Farewell, Mistress Page.”
She nods politely. “Adieu, good Sir Hugh.” She summons William. “Get you home, boy!
“Come, we stay too long!” she tells Mistress Quickly.
The women hurry away, going up the street to support Alice Ford.
Falstaff is forgiving: “Mistress Ford, your sorrow hath eaten up my sufferance,” he tells her, once again at the back of her home. “I see you are obsequious in your love; and I profess requital at a hair’s breadth: not only, Mistress Ford, in the simple office of love, but in all the accoutrement, complement and ceremony of it!
“But are you sure of your husband now?”
“He’s a-birding, sweet Sir John.”
Mistress Page calls from the front entrance. “What ho, gossip Ford! What ho!”
Alarmed, Alice points to the pantry. “Step into the chamber, Sir John!” He does so, and she quickly closes the door, concealing the knight—and blocking his view.
“How now, sweet heart,” says Margaret, coming in. “Who’s at home, besides yourself?”
Alice gives her a meaningful nod: “Why, none but mine own people.”
“No, certainly.” She moves close to her friend, and whispers, nodding toward the pantry door. “Speak louder.”
“Truly, I am so glad you have nobody here!” says Meg.
“Why, woman, your husband is in his old lines again! He so takes on yonder with my husband—so rails against all married mankind, so curses all Eve’s daughters of what complexion soever, and so buffets himself on the forehead, crying, ‘Peer out, peer out!’—that any madness I ever yet beheld seemed but tameness, civility and patience, to this distemper he is in now!
“I am glad the fat knight is not here!”
“Why?—does he talk of him?”
“Of none but him!—and swears he was carried out, the last time he searched for him, in a basket—protests to my husband he is now here!—and hath drawn him and the rest of their company from their sport to make another experiment of his suspicion! But I am glad the knight is not here! Now he shall see his own foolery!”
“How near is he, Mistress Page?”
“Hard by, at street end; he will be here anon.”
“I am undone!” cries Alice. “The knight is here!”
“Why then you are utterly shamèd—and he’s but a dead man!” moans Meg. “What a woman are you! Away with him, away with him!—better shame than murder!”
Alice sounds frantic: “Which way should be go? How should I bestow him?—shall I put him into the basket again?”
Falstaff bursts from the pantry. “No!” he exclaims. “I’ll come no more i’ the basket! May I not go out ere he come?”
“Alas,” cries Margaret, “three of Master Ford’s brothers watch the door with pistols, so that none shall issue out!—otherwise you might slip away ere he came.” She frowns at her erstwhile suitor. “But what make you here?”
“What shall I do?” wonders Falstaff, looking around. He goes to the large stone hearth, unused this late in the spring. “I’ll creep up into the chimney!”
Alice shakes her head. “There they always use to discharge their birding-pieces!”—fire off the weapons, to unload them of powder and shot, and to dislodge soot. “Creep into the kiln-hole!”
“Where is it?” demands Falstaff, desperate; the kitchen’s oven is big, but hardly large enough for Falstaff.
Mistress Ford shakes her head, distraught. “He will seek there, on my word! Neither press, coffer, chest, trunk, well, vault, but he hath an abstract for the remembrance of such places, and goes to them by his note! There is no hiding you in the house!”
Falstaff turns toward the door. “I’ll go out then!”
“If you go out in your own semblance, you die, Sir John!” warns Mistress Page. “Unless you go out disguisèd—”
“How might we disguise him?” asks Alice.
“Alas the day, I know not! There is no woman’s gown big enough for him; otherwise he might put on a hat, a scarf and a kerchief, and so escape!”
“Good hearts, devise something!” pleads Falstaff. “Any extremity rather than a mischief!”
Alice grasps her friend’s arm. “My maid’s aunt, the fat woman of Brentford, has left a gown above!”
“On my word, it will serve him!” cries Meg. “She’s as big as he is!—and there’s her thrummed hat, and her scarf, too! Run up, Sir John!”
“Go, go, sweet Sir John! Mistress Page and I will look for some linen for your head!”
“Quick, quick!” cries Mistress Page. “We’ll come dress you straight! Put on the gown the while….”
Falstaff does not wish to be shot—at the door, nor in the chimney or oven; he hurries through the corridor to the front, and clambers heavily up the stairs.
“I would my husband would meet him in that shape!” laughs Alice. “He cannot abide the old woman of Brentford! He swears she’s a witch!—forbade her my house, and hath threatened to beat her!”
“Heaven guide him to thy husband’s cudgel,” says Meg, “and the Devil guide his cudgel afterwards!”
Mistress Ford is surprised. “But is my husband coming?”
“Aye, in all seriousness, he is!—and talks of the basket, too, howsoever he hath had that intelligence.”
Alice grins mischievously. “We’ll try that!”—attempt to find out. “For I’ll appoint my men to carry the basket again—to meet him at the door with it as they did last time!”
Meg agrees. “Aye—but he’ll be here presently! Let’s go dress him like the witch of Brentford!”
“I’ll first direct my men what they shall do with the basket,” says Alice. “Go up; I’ll bring linen for him straight!” She goes to find Robert and John.
Margaret can hear Falstaff’s rummaging upstairs. Hang him, dishonest varlet! We cannot misuse him enough!
She is irked by Frank Ford’s jealousy—his foolish eagerness, springing from fear, not love, to embrace suspicions of her friend, a decent and lively wife. We leave approval, by that which we will do; but wives may be merry, and yet honest, too!
We do not act, who often jest and laugh! ’Tis old, but true: ‘Still swine eat all the draff!’—as ever, pigs will devour brewery refuse.
Meg finds pieces of women’s wear among the articles of laundry, and hurries toward the stairs and up to the wives’ swinish suitor.
At the back of the house, Alice directs the servants. “Go, sirs, take the basket again on your shoulders! Your master is hard at door; if he bid you set it down, obey him quickly! Dispatch!”
“Come, come, take it up,” says Robert, shouldering one end of the basket pole.
John grins, grasping the other. “Pray heaven it be not full of knight again!”
Robert laughs. “I hope not!—I had as lief bear so much lead!”
Just then Ford bursts in at the back, with Shallow, Caius, and Evans close on his heels.
Says Frank testily, “Aye, but if it prove true, Master Page, have you any way then to unfool me again?” He points to the hamper. “Set down the basket, villains! Somebody call my wife!
“You in the basket!” he cries angrily. He shouts, glaring at the servants, “Out, you pandering rascals! There’s a knot, an engine, a pack, a conspiracy against me! Now shall the devil be shamed!
“What?—wife, I say!” roars Ford, as John and Robert flee. “Come, come forth! Behold what honest clothes you send forth to bleaching!”
Page is appalled. “Why, this surpasses! Master Ford!—you are not to go loose any longer; you must be pinioned!”
Sir Hugh Evans concurs. “Why, this is lunatics! This is mad as a mad dog!”
“Indeed, Master Ford, this is not well in deed,” says old Justice Shallow.
“So say I too, sir!” counters Ford, as his wife comes into the kitchen. Frank motions to her. “Come hither, Mistress Ford—Mistress Ford the honest woman, the modest wife, the virtuous creature that hath a jealous fool as her husband! I suspect without cause, do I, mistress?”
Alice is calm. “Heaven be my witness you do, if you suspect me in any dishonesty.”
“Well said, brazen-face!” says Frank. “Hold it out!”—maintain the manner.
He throws the lid from the basket and begins furiously pulling out soiled garments, tossing linens into the air. “Come forth, sirrah!” he commands.
George stares. “This ’passes!”
Mistress Ford watches in disgust. “Are you not ashamed? Let the clothes alone!”
“I shall find you anon!” cries Frank, now leaning deep into the hamper.
“’Tis un-reasonable,” says Sir Hugh. He asks, gently. “Will you pick up your wife’s clothes? Come, away….”
“Empty the basket, I say!” demands Frank, standing red-faced beside it.
“Why, man, why?” asks Alice.
Frank is exasperated. “Master Page, as I am a man there was one conveyed out of my house yesterday in this basket! Why may not he be there again? In my house I am sure he is! My intelligence is true; my jealousy is reasonable,” he says, trying to appear calm. But then: “Pluck out all the linen!” he cries, heaving the hamper onto its side.
“If you find a man there,” says Alice dryly, “he shall die a flea’s death!”
George glances into the big, empty shell of brown wicker. “Here’s no man,” he says—looking hard at Ford.
“By my fidelity, this is not well, Master Ford,” says Shallow sadly. “This wrongs you.”
“Master Ford, you must pray,” Pastor Evans advises, “and not follow the imaginations of your own heart! This is jealousies.”
“Well, he’s not here I seek for,” mutters Frank, standing amid the tumble of clothing.
“No—nor nowhere else but in your brain!” says George.
“Help to search my house this one time!” Frank beseeches. “If I find not what I seek, allow no cover for my extremity!—let me for ever be your table-sport!—let them say of me, ‘As jealous as Ford—that searched a hollow walnut for his wife’s leman!’
“Satisfy me once more,” he begs. “Once more search with me!”
Alice rolls her eyes, clearly wanting to end the disturbance. She goes to the corridor. “What ho, Mistress Page! Come you and the old woman down; my husband will be coming into the chamber.”
“Old woman?” says Frank. “What old woman’s that?”
“Nay, it is my maid’s aunt, of Brentford.”
“A witch, a quean, an old cozening quean!”—a bawd, cries Ford, livid. “Have I not forbid her my house? She comes on errands, does she? We are simple men,” he says, with heavy sarcasm, “we do not know what’s brought to pass under profession of fortune-telling! She works by charms, by spells, by the symbol—and such daubery as that is beyond our element; we know nothing!” he tells the stunned men. “Come down, you witch, you hag, you!—come down, I say!”
“Nay, good, sweet husband!” says Mistress Ford, trying to calm him. “Good gentlemen, let him not strike the old woman!” she pleads.
Leading the aunt, Mistress Page is backing toward them through the corridor. “Come, Mother Prat; come, give me your hand….”
“I’ll prat her!” cries Frank, swatting at the ungainly visitor with his wide hat. “Out of my door, you witch, you hag, you baggage, you polecat, you runyon! Out, out! I’ll conjure you, I’ll fortune-tell you!”
In a huge blur of pink taffeta and white lace beneath a wide purple bonnet—one with a long veil—Sir John Falstaff moves with surprising speed past the side door and away through the yard.
“Are you not ashamed?” Mistress Page asks Frank. “I think you have killed the poor woman!”
“Nay, he will do it!” says Mistress Ford. “’Tis a goodly credit to you!” she tells her husband angrily.
“Hang her, the witch!” says Frank, still fuming.
Standing by the door, Sir Hugh Evans got a glimpse of the old woman’s face as she sailed past, veil flying. “By the yea and no, I think the ’oman is a witch indeed!—I like it not when a ’oman has a great peard! I spied a great peard under this scarf!”
For a moment the men just stare, blinking.
“Will you follow, gentlemen?” cries Frank. “I beseech you, follow!—see but the issue of my jealousy! If I cry out thus upon no trail,”—howl like a hound tracking a false scent, “never trust me when I opine again!”
George nods. “Let’s obey his humour a little further. Come, gentlemen!”
The men all rush out in pursuit of Mother Prat, who is now in full flight—in the direction of the inn.
Meg laughs, happily recalling Ford’s attack upon his wife’s would-be lover: “Trust me, he beat him most pitifully!”
“Nay, by the mass, that he did not!” says Alice, “he beat him most unpitifully, methought! I’ll have the hat hallowed and hung o’er the altar!” she laughs, pointing to a spot over the hearth. “It hath done meritorious service!”
Alice ponders. “What think you? May we, with the warrant of womanhood and the witness of good conscience, pursue him with any further revenge?”
“The spirit of wantonness is, surely, scared out of him! If the Devil have him not in fee-simple with fine and recovery,”—at law, completely, “he will never, I think, in the way of waste attempt us again!”
Alice regards her artful accomplice. “Shall we tell our husbands how we have served him?”
“Yes, by all means!—if it be but to scrape the figures”—jealous notions—“out of your husband’s brains!
“If they can find in their hearts that the poor, fat, unvirtuous knight shall be any further afflicted, we two will still be the ministers!” Meg promises.
“I’ll warrant they’ll have him shamed publicly,” says Alice, “and methinks there would be no period”—proper conclusion—“to the jest, should he not be publicly shamed!”
“Come!—to the forge with it then,” laughs merry Mistress Page. “Shape it! I would not have things cool!”
Together, with indignation still glowing red, the imps hammer out their resolved revenge.
Bardolph has good news for the host of the inn, concerning several foreign guests. “Sir, the Germans desire to have three of your horses! The duke himself will be tomorrow at court, and they are going to meet him.”
“What duke should that be, comes so secretly?” the innkeeper wonders. “I hear not of him in the court”—the Garter’s courtyard, not the king’s court. “Let me speak with the gentlemen. They speak English?”
“Aye, sir; I’ll call them to you.”
“They shall have my horses, but I’ll make them pay!—I’ll sauce them!” He is somewhat concerned about the prosperous Germans’ bespoken stay. “They have had my house a week at command!—I have turned away my other guests!
“They must come off; I’ll souse them!”—soak them thoroughly. He ponders the business for a moment, then motions for the tapster to follow. “Come.”
Plots for the Park
Sir Hugh Evans, after learning of Falstaff’s escape in disguise, has joined the conspiracy, plotting at the Fords’ home with them and the Pages. “’Tis one of the best discretions of a ’oman as ever I did look upon!” he declares, of the newest deception proposed by Margaret.
George holds some papers. “And did he send you both these letters at an instant?”
Meg nods. “Within a quarter of an hour!”
Frank is amazed by what the women have revealed. “Pardon me, wife,” he says, bowing deeply. “Henceforth do what thou wilt; I will rather suspect the sun of cold than thee of wantonness! Now doth thine honour stand, in him that was of late an heretic, as firm as faith!”
“’Tis well, ’tis well—no more!” chuckles Page. “Be not as extreme in submission as in offence!
“But let our plot go forward! Let our wives yet once again, to make for us a public sport, appoint a meeting with this old, fat fellow where we may catch him and disgrace him for it!”
“There is no better way than that they spoke of,” says Frank.
But George has reservations. “How?—to send him word they’ll meet him in the park at midnight? Fie, fie!—he’ll never come!”
Hugh concurs. “You say he has been thrown in the rivers and has been grievously peaten as an old ’oman! Methinks there should be terrors in him that he should not come; methinks his flesh is punishèd. He shall have no desires.”
“So think I too,” says George.
But Alice is confident; Frank has confessed his actions in the guise of Master Brook, and she is certain that the allure of money will continue to arouse the knight. “Devise but how you’ll use him when he comes,” she tells the men, “and let us two devise to bring him thither!”
Meg steps forward. “There is an old tale which goes that ‘Herne the Hunter,’ a sometime keeper there in Windsor Forest, doth in all but winter-time, at still midnight, walk round about an oak, with great, raggèd horns—and there he shivers the tree, scares the cattle, and makes milch-kine”—milk‑cows—“yield blood!—and shakes a chain in a most hideous and dreadful manner!
“You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know that our superstitious, idle-headed elders received, and did deliver to this age, the tale of Herne the Hunter as a truth.”
George nods. “Why, yet there want not many but do fear to walk by Herne’s Oak in deep of night!” The queen’s men sometimes fell trees and saw timber in the woods south of the castle—in daylight. “But what of that?”
Says Meg, eyes twinkling, “Marry, this is our device: that Falstaff at that oak shall meet with us—disguised as Herne—with horns on his head!”
George laughs, now willing to listen. “Well, let it not be doubted he’ll come, and in this shape! But when you have brought him thither, what shall be done with him? What is your plot?”
“That, likewise, have we thought upon,” says his wife, “and thus: Nan Page my daughter, and my little son, and three or four more of their growth, we’ll dress like fairies and their children, urchins in green and white—with crowns of waxen tapers on their heads, and rattles in their hands!
“Upon a sudden, as Falstaff, she and I are newly met, let them rush forth at once from the sawing pit, with some diffusèd song! Upon their sight, we two in great amazèdness will fly!
“Then let them all encircle him about and, fairy-like, pinch the unclean knight, and ask him why—that hour of fairy revel, in their so-sacred paths—he dares to tread in shape profane!”
“And till he tell the truth,” laughs Alice, “let the supposèd fairies pinch him soundly and burn him with their tapers’ wax!”
Meg concludes: “The truth being known, we’ll all present ourselves, dis-horn the spirit, and mock him home to Windsor!”
Ford considers. “The children must be practised well to this, or they’ll ne’er do’t.”
“I will teach the children their behaviors,” Sir Hugh offers, “and I will be like a jack-an-apes also, to burn the knight with my taber!”
“That will be excellent!” Frank tells the others. “I’ll go and buy them vizards!”—masks.
Margaret beams. “My Nan shall be the queen of all the fairies, finely attired in a robe of white!”
The idea pleases George. “That silk will I go buy!” He thinks, And in that attire shall Master Slender steal my Nan away, and marry her at Eton! The town is to the north, just outside Windsor. “Go, send to Falstaff straight!”
“Nay,” says Frank, “I’ll to him again in name of Brook; he’ll tell me all his purposes. For sure, he’ll come!”
“Fear you not for that!” says Meg. “Go, get us properties and tricking”—accessories—“for our fairies!”
Hugh Evans rubs his hands together happily. “Let us about it! It is admirable pleasures and fery honest knaveries!”
The three gentlemen set off to fulfill their assigned tasks.
“Go, Mistress Ford,” says Meg, “send quickly to Sir John, to know his mind!”
As her friend speaks with Robin, Mistress Page ponders a further scheme of her own: I’ll to the doctor! He hath my good will—and none but he—to marry with Nan Page!
That Slender, though well-landed, is an idiot—and he my husband best of all affects! The doctor is well-moneyèd, and has friends potent at court!
He, none but he, shall have her, though twenty thousand worthier come to crave her!
“What wouldst thou have, boor?—what, thicks’ kin?” the innkeeper asks the wiry lad. “Speak, breathe, discuss—brief, short, quick, snap!”
“Marry, sir,” says pert Peter Simple, “I come from Master Slender to speak with Sir John Falstaff.”
The host goes to a flight of well-worn wooden stairs; above is a gallery of guests’ rooms. He points up to the knight’s door. “There’s his chamber, his house, his castle, his standing-bed and truckle-bed! ’Tis painted about with the story of the Prodigal, fresh and new!” he adds with proprietary pride. “Go, knock and call; he’ll speak unto thee like an Anthropophaginian!”—a cannibal. “Knock, I say!”
The boy is not eager to be seen as a snack. “There’s an old woman, a fat woman, gone up into his chamber; I’ll be so bold as stay, sir, till she come down. I come to speak with her, indeed.”
“Hmm… A fat woman?”—or a capacious disguise for a thief, thinks the innkeeper. “The knight may be robbed!” he cries, alarmed. He goes to the stairs. “I’ll call! Bully knight! Bully Sir John! Speak from thy lungs military!—art thou there? It is thine host, thine Ephesian, calls!”
The door opens a crack, and Falstaff’s voice replies: “How now, mine host.”
“Here’s a Bohemian-Tartar tarries the coming down of thy fat woman!” says the host. “Let her descend, bully, let her descend!” He realizes that others can hear. “My chambers are honourable! Fie! Privacy?”—for clandestine encounters. “Fie!”
Falstaff comes out onto the narrow balcony. “There was, mine host, an old fat woman even now with me; but she’s gone.”
Peter calls up, “Pray you, sir, was’t not the wise woman of Brentford?”
“Aye, marry, was it, mussel-shell; what would you with her?”
“My master, sir, Master Slender, seeing her go through the streets, sent to her to know, sir, whether one Nym, sir, that beguiled him of a chain,”—a gold one, for a man’s neck, “has the chain or no.” The teacher hopes the famous fortune-teller can advise him.
“I spake with the old woman about it,” says Falstaff.
“And what says she, I pray, sir?”
“Marry, she says that the very same man who ‘beguiled’ Master Slender of his chain cozened him of it!”
Says Simple, “I would I could have spoken with the woman herself; I had other things to have spoken with her, too, from him….”
Falstaff is curious. “What are they? Let us know.”
“Aye, come on—quick!” demands the host.
“I may not conceal them, sir,” says Simple—meaning reveal.
Now the host must know. “Conceal them, or thou diest!”
“Why, sir, they were nothing but about Mistress Anne Page,” says Peter. “To know if it were my master’s fortune to have her or no.”
Falstaff nods. “’Tis, ’tis his fortune.”
“To have her or no,” says the knight sourly. “Go; say the woman told me so.”
Peter, who misses the wry jest, is surprised; he hadn’t thought Slender’s faltering suit could succeed. “May I be so bold as to say so, sir?”
“Aye, sir—like anyone more bold!”
“I thank Your Worship,” says Simple. “I shall make my master glad with these tidings!” He goes out through the courtyard.
Falstaff treads heavily down the stairs.
The innkeeper grins knowingly. “Thou art clerkly, thou art clerkly,”—cautiously discreet, “Sir John!” He winks. “Was there a wise woman with thee?”
“Aye, that there was, mine host,” says Falstaff ruefully, “one that hath taught me more wit than ever I learned before in my life!—and I paid nothing for it, neither, but was paid”—beaten—“for my learning!”
The innkeeper has questions, of course, but before he can ask, his new tapster, returning from an errand with several of the inn’s guests, runs up to him. “Out, alas, sir! Cozenage!—mere cozenage!” cries Bardolph, wringing his muddy cap.
“Where be my horses?” cries the host, instantly concerned. “Speak well of them, varletto!”
“Run away with the cozeners!” moans Bardolph. “For so soon as I came beyond Eton, they threw me off from behind one of them—into a slough of mire!—then set spurs, and away like three German devils!—three Doctor Faustuses!”
But the host merely laughs. “They are gone but to meet the duke, villain!” he scoffs. “Do not say they be fled!—Germans are honest men!”
Before old Bardolph can argue, Hugh Evans enters the courtyard, demanding insistently, “Where is mine host?”
“What is the matter, sir?” asks he.
“Have a care of your entertainments!” warns Hugh. “There is a friend of mine come to town tells me there is three German cousins that has cozened all the hosts at Readins, at Maidenhead, at Colebrook, of horses and money!
“I tell you for good will, look you,” he says, with an odd smile. “You are wise, and full of gibes and vlouting-stocks, and ’tis not convenient you should be cozened! Fare you well!”
He chuckles, smiling even more broadly, and goes on his way—leaving the innkeeper to worry.
But the host’s dire thoughts are soon interrupted: Doctor Caius strides into the yard, “Vere is mine host ze Jarteer?”
“Here, Master Doctor—in perplexity and doubtful dilemma!”
“I cannot tell vat is dat,” say Caius, “but it is told a-me zat you make grand preparation for a Duke de Zhermany.” He has just returned, it would seem, from a visit to the palace. “By my trot, dere is no duke zat the court is know to come!
“I tell you for good vill,” he says, with a thin smile. “Adieu.” He, too, leaves the Garter and its fretful host.
The innkeeper has had two warnings—both too late. “Hue and cry, villain!” he suddenly shouts at Bardolph. “Go!” Bardolph runs to find a constable. “Assist me, knight!” the host cries to Falstaff. “I am undone!
“Fly, run!—hue and cry, villain!” he yells, dashing after Bardolph. “I am undone!”
Thinks Falstaff, watching them go, I would all the world might be cozened, for I have been cozened—and beaten too!
If it should come to the ear of the royal court how I have been transformèd—and how in my transformation have been washed and pounded!—they would melt my fat out of me, drop by drop, and lacquer fishermen’s boots with it! I warrant they would whip me with their fine wits till I were as crest-fallen as a dried pear!
I’ve never prospered since I forswore myself at primero! He falsely denied cheating at cards during a game. He sighs. Well, if my wind were but long enough to say my prayers, I would repent!
At the front of the inn, Mistress Quickly walks into the courtyard and approaches the knight.
“Now whence come you?” he demands.
“From thy two parties, forsooth!”
“The Devil take one party, and his dam the other!—and so shall they both be bestowèd!”—sent to hell, cries Falstaff. He sputters, “I have suffered more for their sakes… more than the villainous inconstancy of Man’s disposition is able to bear!”
“And have not they suffered?” counters Mistress Quickly. “Yes, I warrant!—speciously one of them: Mistress Ford, good heart, is beaten so black and blue,” she claims, “that you cannot see a white spot about her!”
“What tellest thou me of black and blue?” cries Falstaff. “I myself was beaten into all the colours of the rainbow!—and I was nearly apprehended—as the witch of Brentford! But that my admirable dexterity of wit, my counterfeiting the action of an old woman, delivered me, the knave constable had set me i’ the stocks!—i’ the common stocks!—as a witch!”
Mistress Quickly tries to calm him. “Sir, let me speak with you in your chamber! You shall hear how things go—and, I warrant, to your content! Here is a letter will say, somewhat,” she says, giving him the new missive from Meg.
“Good hearts, what ado it is to bring you together!” says Mistress Quickly. “Surely one of you does not serve heaven well, that you are so crossèd!”
“Come up into my chamber,” says that one. She may simper and pander, but she still holds the key to unlocking the several treasures of Masters Ford, Page and Brook.
In the host’s own rooms at the Garter Inn, he paces, miserable. “Master Fenton, talk not to me; my mind is heavy!” he groans. “I will give over all!” The theft of his fine horses has overwhelmed his habitual enthusiasm.
“Yet hear me speak,” says the tall youth soothingly. “Assist me in my purpose, and, as I am a gentleman, I’ll give thee a hundred pound in gold more than your loss!”
The innkeeper is immediately attentive. “I will hear you, Master Fenton—and I will at the least keep your counsel”—not reveal it to others.
“From time to time,” says Fenton, “I have acquainted you with the dear love I bear to fair Anne Page—who mutually hath answerèd my affection, so far forth as herself might be her chooser, even to my wish!
“I have a letter from her of such contents as you will wonder at!—the mirth whereof so larded with my matter that neither can be manifested singly without the show of both!
“But hark, good mine host: I’ll show you here, at large, the image of the jest!
“Fat Falstaff hath a great scene tonight at Herne’s Oak! Just ’twixt twelve and one must my sweet Nan present”—play the part of—“the Fairy Queen! The purpose why is here,” he says, tapping the letter. “In which disguise, while other somewhat rank jests are afoot, her father hath commanded her to slip away with Slender—and with him at Eton immediately to marry!
“She hath consented,” he says—and grins at the host’s surprise. “Now, sir, her mother, ever strong against that match, and firmly for Doctor Caius, hath appointed that he shall likewise shuffle her away, while the sports are tasking others’ minds—and at the deanery, where a priest attends, straight marry her! In this, her mother’s plot, she, seemingly obedient, likewise hath made promise to the doctor!
“Now, thus it rests: her father means that she shall be all in white, and when Slender sees his time to take her by the hand and bid her go, she shall go with him in that habit.
“Her mother hath intended, the better to denote her to the doctor, for they must all be masked and vizarded,”—disguised as fairies, “that in quaint green shall she be loose enrobèd, with pendent ribands flaring ’bout her head. And when the doctor spies his ’vantage ripe to pinch her by the hand, then on that token the maid hath given consent to go with him.”
Asks the innkeeper, “Which means she to deceive, father or mother?”
Fenton laughs. “Both, my good host!—and to go along with me!
“Here it rests: that you’ll procure the vicar to stay for me at church ’twixt twelve and one, and, in the lawful name of marrying, to give our hearts united ceremony!”
The mischievous host is delighted—by the match, the pranks, and the gold. “Well, husband your device!—I’ll to the vicar!” he says, pumping Fenton’s hand warmly. “Bring you the maid, you shall not lack a priest!”
“So shall I evermore be bound to thee!” says Fenton gratefully. “Besides,” he quickly confirms, knowing the man, “I’ll make immediate recompense!”
The host smiles; but despite the money, he will miss his prize horses.
Falstaff is annoyed and impatient. “Prithee, no more prattling!—go!” he tells the persuasive Mistress Quickly, in his chambers. “I’ll hold.” But, he points out, “This is the third time. I hope good luck lies in odd numbers!
“Away! I’ll go. They say there is divinity in odd numbers—in nativity, chance, or death. Away!”
Mistress Quickly has been preparing for his imminent nocturnal appearance as Windsor Forest’s haunting spirit, Herne the Hunter. “I’ll provide you a chain; and I’ll do what I can to get you a pair of horns”—a service which she has performed for others.
Falstaff straightens his vast old doublet. “Away, I say; time wears! Hold up your end—and mine!”—his intention.
Mistress Quickly curtseys and leaves.
While he is readying himself for supper, Falstaff hears another visitor knock at his door. He opens it. “How now, Master Brook!” cries the knight to his wealthy patron. “Master Brook, the matter will be known tonight or never! Be you in the park about midnight at Herne’s Oak, and you shall see wonders!”
Frank frowns, and his false whiskers twitch. “Went you not to her yesterday, sir, as you told me you had appointed?”
“I went to her, Master Brook, as you see me, like a poor old man—but I came from her, Master Brook, like a poor old woman! That same knave Ford, her husband, hath the finest mad devil of jealousy in him, Master Brook, that ever governed frenzy!
“I will tell you that he beat me grievously—in the shape of a woman, for in the shape of man, Master Brook, I fear not Goliath with a weaver’s beam!”—one such heavy roller served as the shaft of the giant’s great spear. “Because I know life is also a shuttle!”—the part of a loom that continually pulls yarn against the waiting warp.
“I am in haste,” says the knight, ushering out his guest and closing the door behind them. “Go along with me! I’ll tell you all, Master Brook!
“Since I pluckèd geese, played truant, and whippèd top,”—was a boy, “I knew not what ’twas to be beaten—till lately!
“Follow me; I’ll tell you strange things of this knave Ford—on whom tonight I will be revengèd!—and I will deliver his wife into your hands!
“Follow,” he says, leading the way down the stairs. “Strange things in hand, Master Brook! Follow!”
Across the dark field just south of the royal residence and its Windsor Park, George Page, carrying a lantern, leads Justice Shallow and his nephew up toward the woods. “Come, come!” he tells them, at the edge, “we’ll crouch i’ the castle ditch till we see the light of our fairies! Remember, son Slender, my daughter!”
“Aye, forsooth,” says the teacher. “I have spoke with her, and we have a nay-word how to know one another: I come to her who’s in white and cry ‘budget’; she cries ‘mum,’ and by that we know one another.”
Says Shallow, “That’s good to do, but what needs either your budget or her mum? The white will decipher her well enough.” They hear chimes. “It hath struck ten o’clock.”
George peers into the ancient forest, from which land for the castle was cleared some five centuries ago. “The night is dark; lights and spirits will become it well!
“Heaven prosper our sport! No man means evil but to the devil—and we shall know him by his horns!
“Let’s away! Follow me!”
They make their way among the tall trees, and soon they lie waiting, hidden in a quiet gully.
Walking with Alice Ford on a street leading to the park, Margaret Page advises the middle-aged bridegroom. “Master Doctor, my daughter is in green: when you see your time, take her by the hand!—away with her to the deanery, and dispatch it quickly!
“Go before me into the park,” she tells him. “We two must go together.”
Doctor Caius nods. “I know vat I have to do. Adieu!” He strides on ahead.
“Fare you well, sir!” calls Mistress Page to her French son-in-law-to-be. She admits to Alice, “My husband will not rejoice so much at the abuse of Falstaff as he will chafe at the doctor’s marrying my daughter!
“But ’tis no matter; better a little chiding than a great deal of heartbreak!”
Mistress Ford concurs; Abraham Slender has not impressed her. “Where is Nan now, and her troop of fairies—and the Welsh ‘devil’ Hugh?”
“They are all couched in a pit hard by Herne’s Oak,” Meg tells her, “with obscurèd lights”—shuttered lanterns—“which, at the very instant of Falstaff’s and our meeting, they will at once display to the night!”
“That cannot choose but amaze him!”
“If he be not amazèd, he will be mocked; if he be amazed, he will in every way be mocked!”
Mistress Ford laughs. “We’ll betray him finely!”
“Against such lewdsters and their lechery, those that betray them do no treachery!”
“The hour draws on. To the oak, to the oak!” cries valiant Alice Ford.
Sir Hugh Evans, disguised as a red fiend, shepherds his company of young people to the rim of a dell in the park. “Trib, trib, fairies!”—trip along quickly. They are all dressed as woodland sprites. “Come!—and remember your parts! Be pold, I pray you!
“Follow me into the pit!’ cries the devil, “and when I give the watch-’ords, do as I pid you!
“Come, come! Trib, trib!”
At Herne’s Oak
In the near-darkness, substantial Sir John Falstaff approaches a massive old tree. He wears, in accordance with the gentlewomen’s whimsy, a long coat of brown leather and a quiver of arrows, and he drags a heavy chain, all in the guise of a grim local legend, Herne the Hunter.
The Windsor bell hath struck twelve, he thinks. The minute draws on! May the hot-blooded gods now assist me!
Loath to don the headpiece with antlers, provided by Mistress Quickly, he muses: Remember, Jove, when thou wast a bull for thy Europa? Love set on thy horns!—oh, powerful love!—that in some respects makes a beast of a man, in some other, a man a beast! You were also, Jupiter, a swan for the love of Leda! Oh, omnipotent love!—how near the god drew to the complexion of a goose! A fault done first in the form of a beast, O Jove—a beastly fault! And then another fault, in the semblance of a fowl! Think on’t, Jove—a foul fault!
When gods have hot backs, what shall poor men do? He sighs, and puts on the horns. As for me, here I am, a Windsor stag—and the fattest, I think, i’ the forest! Send me a cool rutting-time, Jove, or who can blame me for pissing my tallow?
He hears footsteps in the dark. Who comes here? He perceives a woman walking toward him. “My doe?”
“Sir John!” calls Mistress Ford softly, “art thou there, my dear?—my male deer?”
“My doe with the black scut!”—tail, cries Falstaff eagerly. “Let the sky thunder to the love-tune of ‘Greensleeves,’ rain sweet yams! Let it hail kissing comfits, and snow eringoes!” Both sweets are thought to arouse passion. “Let there come a tempest of provocation!—I will shelter me here!”
Alice informs him. “Mistress Page is come with me, sweet heart.”
Falstaff is surprised—but greedily delighted: Divide me like a bribèd buck: to each a haunch! he thinks, as if he were an ill-gotten hart whose its rump is to be shared. I will keep my sides to myself, my shoulders for the fellow of this walk —the game warden. And my horns I bequeath your husbands!
He asks boldly, “Am I a woodman? Speak I like Herne the Hunter?” He has no bow, he realizes; he rattles the arrows before the double display of pulchritude. “Why, now is Cupid a child of conscience: he makes restitution!” Falstaff smiles. “As I am a true spirit, welcome!”
But then a clamor arises nearby—and dim figures glide ominously toward them from the surrounding woods.
“Alas, what noise?” cries Meg.
“Heaven forgive our sins!” cries Alice.
“What should this be?” mutters Sir John.
The gentlewomen run. “Away, away!”
Falstaff backs toward the oak and peers around—and sees the approach of many tiny flames bobbing toward him. I think the Devil will not have me damned, lest the oil that’s in me should set Hell on fire! Else he would never cross me thus! —with mere warnings, he hopes.
In the flickering light, he can now discern full-sized forms: a red devil, a hobgoblin, and two fairies. Gathering in a circle around them are five smaller fairies, all crowned with candles, and carrying lighted tapers.
The larger nymph—considerably larger—addresses the others: “Fairies, black, grey, green, and white,” cries masked Mistress Quickly, “you moonshine revellers and shades of night, you orphan heirs of fixèd destiny, attend your office and your quality!” She frowns; some are still giggling.
“Crier Hobgoblin, make the fairy oyez!”—call the roll and issue orders, she tells the thin and sinister figure.
“Elves, listen for your names!” growls Pistol. “Silence, you airy toys!
“Cricket, to Windsor chimneys shalt thou leap! Where fires thou find’st unrakèd, and hearths unswept, there pinch the maids as blue as bilberry! Our radiant queen hates sluts and sluttery!” The young Fairy Queen smiles, with a delicately proper nod.
- The old knight moans, trembling; conversing with such spirits is believed to be lethal. They are fairies!—he that speaks to them shall die! He decides to feign death instead. I’ll blink and couch! No man their works must eye! He lies down, rolls onto one side, and covers his face with his hands.
“Where’s Bede?” demands Hobgoblin. A fairy steps forward. “Go you—and where you find a maid that sleeps ere she has thrice her prayers said, sleep she as sound as careless infancy, raise up the organs of her fantasy!
“And those as sleep, and think not on their sins,” he scowls, “pinch them, arms, legs, backs, shoulders, sides and shins!”
Behind him, Falstaff shivers.
The plump fairy now issues kindlier commands:
“About, about! Search Windsor Castle, elves, within and out!
Strew good luck, young ones, in every sacred room,
That it may stand till the perpetual doom
In state as wholesome as in state ’tis fit,
Worthy the owner!—and the owner it!” Queen Elizabeth is the owner.
The fairy adds a special charge, regarding the highest chivalric honor for knights of the realm, the Order of the Garter—and its famous motto, Evil unto him who evil thinks:
“The several chairs of one Order look you scour
With juice of balm and every precious flower!
Each fair instalment coat, and the several crests
With loyal blazon evermore be blest!
And nightly, meadow-fairies, look you sing,
Like the garter’s compass, in a ring!
The expressure that it bears, green let it be,
More fertilely fresh than all the field to see!
And ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ write
In emerald tufts, flowers purple, blue and white!
Let sapphire, pearl, and rich embroidery,
Buckle below fair knighthood’s bending knee—
Fairies, use flowers for their charactery!
“But,” she cries, halting them, “till ’tis one o’clock, our dance of custom, round about the oak of Herne the Hunter, let us not forget!”
“Pray you, lock hand in hand,” says the red devil, “yourselves in order set; and many glow-worms shall our lanterns be, to guide our measure round about the tree!”
The fairies clasp hands.
“But, stay!” cries Hugh—apparently alarmed. “I smell a man of middle-earth!”
Falstaff groans. Heavens defend me from that Welsh fairy, lest he transform me to a piece of cheese!
Pistol nudges the cowering knight with a foot. “Vile worm, thou wast nearly o’erlookèd even in thy birth!”
The largest fairy suggests a test: “With trial-fire touch his finger end!” she says. “If he be chaste, the flame will back descend, and turn him to no pain—but if he start, it is the flesh of a corrupted heart!”
Pistol motions the light-bearers forward. “A trial, come!” He approaches the knight and kneels beside him.
“Come, will this wood take fire?” wonders the demon, as the flame of Pistol’s candle nears Falstaff’s hand.
“Ow, ow, ow!” cries the knight, sitting up suddenly, eyes squeezed shut, and blowing on the black-smudged tips of his fingers.
“Corrupt, corrupt, and tainted in desire!” cries Mistress Quickly. “About him, fairies! Sing a scornful rhyme!—and, as you trip, still pinch him to your time!”
The sprites, large and small, dance around Sir John, who lies, eyes still tightly closed, sprawled on the oak’s dead leaves. They sing tauntingly, as little hands dart forward, tiny fingers pinching.
“Fie on sinful fantasy!
Fie on lust and luxury!
Lust is but a bloodly fire,
Kindled with unchaste desire,
Fed in heart, whose flames aspire,
As thoughts do blow them higher and higher!”
As the fairies prance, holding aloft their tallow tapers, three are drawn by the hand from the shadowy circle: Doctor Caius steals away, pulling one in green; Master Slender tugs one in white; and Master Fenton makes off with another.
“Pinch him, fairies, mutually!—
Pinch him for his villainy!
Pinch him, and burn him, and turn him about,
Till candles and starlight and moonshine be out!”
And then all are startled by the nearby blare of a hunter’s brass horn. At the sound, harsh in the night, the fairies flutter from the dell up into the woods beyond. As the children run away, Falstaff sits up and looks around. He rises as Margaret and Alice walk down the slope toward him.
Their husbands have come, too—with lanterns now open and bright.
“Nay, do not fly!” cries George, as Falstaff gapes around him. “I think we have watchèd you now!”—stationed a watch. Smiling people of the town are emerging in a throng from the forest above, where they have witnessed the sight. All begin to chat—and laugh.
Page frowns at the knight. “Will none but hernia hunter serve your turn?”
“I pray you, come, hold up the jest no higher!” laughs Margaret, as Falstaff lifts the headpiece, to take off the leather strap with buck’s horns attached. “Good Sir John, how like you Windsor wives now?” She points to the antlers. “See you these, husband? Do not these fair yokes”—dual symbols of lust—“become the forest better than the town?”
“Now, sir—who’s a cuckold now?” demands Frank. Addressing the false mustache held up in his left hand, he mocks the knight’s words: “Master Brook, Falstaff’s a knave, a cuckoldly knave! Here are his horns, Master Brook!
“And, Master Brook, he hath enjoyed nothing of Ford’s but his buck-basket, his bonnet, and twenty pounds of money!—which must be repaid to Master Brook,” notes Ford. “His horses are arrested for it, Master Brook,” he adds, having taken steps to recover his gold.
Alice sighs with theatrical sorrow. “Sir John, we have had ill luck!—we could never meet! I will never take you for my love again—but I will always count you my deer!”
Falstaff watches as the folks from Windsor come closer, their fairy-like children beside them, laughing and pointing. “I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass,” he says dryly.
Ford laughs. “Aye—and an ox too! The proofs of both are extant!”
Slowly, Sir John smiles. “And these are not fairies? I was three or four times in the thought they were not fairies—and yet the guiltiness of my mind, the sudden surprise of my powers, drove the grossness of the foppery into a receivèd belief—in despite of the teeth of all rhyme and reason—that they were fairies!” he confesses. “See now how wit may be made a Jack-a-Lent, when ’tis upon ill employment!” he says, a bit sheepishly.
Evans has removed his devilish mask and pointed tail. “Sir John Falstaff, serve Got, and leave your desires; then fairies will not pinse you!”
“Well said, fairy Hugh!” says Ford.
The good pastor turns to Ford. “And leave your jealousies, too, I pray you.”
Frank promises, “I will never mistrust my wife again—till thou art able to woo her in good English!”
Falstaff, now having reached full, if unwelcome, sobriety, is distraught. “Have I laid my brain in the sun and dried it, that it wants matter to prevent so gross o’erreaching as this? Am I ridden like a Welsh goat, too?—shall I have a coxcomb of fleece? ’Tis time I were choked—with a piece of toasted cheese!”
Hugh shakes his head, regarding the delicacy: “Seese is not good to give to putter—your pelly is all putter!”
“‘Seese’ and ‘putter’!” moans Falstaff. “Have I lived to stand under the taunt of one that makes fritters of English?” He wags his head sadly. “This is enough to be the decay of lust and late-walking”—carousing—“through the realm!”
Margaret is highly indignant. “Why, Sir John, do you think that, even if we had pulled Virtue out of our hearts by the head and shoulders, and had given ourselves, without scruple, to Hell, that even the Devil could have made you our delight?”
“What?” laughs Frank, “a hodge-pudding? A bag of flax?”
“A puffèd man!” says Meg.
“Old, cold, and of withered, intolerable entrails!” says her husband.
“And one that is as slanderous as Satan!” adds Ford.
“And as poor as Job!” says Page.
“And as wicked as Lot’s wife!” adds Meg—no one could be more salty.
Even Hugh joins in: “And given to fornications, and to taverns, and sack, and wine, and metheglins, and to drinkings and swearings and starings, pribbles and prabbles!”
Falstaff regards them glumly. “Well, you have the start on me; I am your theme. I am dejected at not being able to answer this Welsh flannel—but ignorance itself is a-plummet o’er me.” He spreads his arms in surrender. “Use me as you will!”
“Marry, sir, we’ll bring you to Windsor, to one Master Brook,” says Frank, “whom you have cozened out of money, for whom you would have been a pander! Over and above what you have suffered, I think repaying that money will be a biting affliction!”
“Yet be cheerful, knight!” says George. “Thou shalt eat a posset”—a sweet dessert made with wine—“tonight at my house—where I will desire thee to laugh at my wife, who now laughs at thee!” He looks at her, triumphant. “Tell her that Master Slender hath married her daughter!”
Thinks Mistress Page, Doctors doubt that! If Anne Page be my daughter, by this time she is Doctor Caius’s wife!
“Who-ah, ho!” cries Abraham Slender, pushing his way through the circle around the lanterns. “Ho! Father Page!”
Page smiles. “Son, how now! How now, son?—have you dispatched?”
“Dispatchèd! I’ll make the best in Glou’ster know of’t!—would I were hanged else!”
George frowns. “Know of what, son?”
“I came yonder at Eton to marry Mistress Anne Page—and she’s a great lubberly boy!
“If I had not been i’ the church, I would have swinged him, or he should have swingèd me! If I did not think it had been Anne Page, would I might never stir!—but ’twas the postmaster’s boy!”
Cries George, “Upon my life, then you took the wrong one!”
“What need you tell me that? I think so!—when I took a boy for a girl!
“If I had been married to him, for all he was in woman’s apparel I would not have had him!”
George is furious. “Why, this is your own folly! Did not I tell you how you should know my daughter by her garments?”
“I went to her in white!—and cried ‘Budge it,’ and she cried ‘Mum,’ as Anne and I had appointed, and yet it was not Anne, but the postmaster’s boy!”
Margaret, laughing, tells her husband, “Good George, be not angry! I knew of your purpose!—turned my daughter into green! And, indeed, she is now with the doctor at the deanery—and there marrièd!”
The physician himself arrives at that moment, and he heads toward the lights at the center of the crowd.
“Vere is Mistress Page?” he demands angrily. “By Gar, I am cozened!—I ha’ married un garçon, a boy; un paysan, by Gar—a boy! It is not Anne Page! By Gar, I am cozened!”
Meg is appalled. “Why, did you take her in green?”
“Aye, by Gar!—and ’tis a boy!” cries Caius. “By Gar, I’ll raise all Windsor!”
Frank Ford peers around the ring of conspirators. “This is strange! Who hath got the right Anne?”
“My heart misgives me,” moans George, looking over the observers’ heads. “Here comes Master Fenton!”
And indeed, that nobleman strides to the front—with Anne on his arm.
“How now, Master Fenton?” demands Page.
“Pardon, good father!” says the blushing Anne, curtseying. “Good my mother, pardon!”
George frowns. “Now, mistress, how chance you went not with Master Slender?”
Margaret glares. “Why went you not with Master Doctor, maid?”
But Fenton raises a palm politely. “You do distress her! Hear the truth of it!
“You would have married her most shamefully, where there was no proportion held in love!
“The truth is, she and I, long since contracted, are now so sure”—securely united—“that nothing can dissolve us!
“The offence is holy that she hath committed,” the proud young husband insists, “and this deceit loses the name of craft, of disobedience, or ‘unduteous’ title, since therein she doth vitiate and shun the thousand irreligious, cursèd hours which forcèd marriage would have brought upon her!”
The bride and groom display their wedding rings.
“Stand not amazèd; there is no remedy,” Frank tells the others. “In love, the heavens themselves do guide the state: money buys lands—but wives are sold by Fate!”
Falstaff looks up and cries out, to Cupid: “Though you have ta’en a special stand to strike at me, I am glad that your arrow hath glancèd off!”
George Page can only shrug. “Well, what remedy? Fenton, heaven give thee joy! What cannot be eschewed must be embraced!” He shakes the hand of his son-in-law, then kisses his daughter’s cheek.
And now Falstaff can laugh. “When night-dogs run, all sorts of deer are chased!”
Mistress Page comes to the new couple. “Well, I will muse no further! Master Fenton, heaven give you many, many merry days!
“Good husband, let us every one go home, and laugh this sport o’er by a country fire!—Sir John and all!”
“Let it be so!” cries Ford, finally happy.
And as they all walk up the banks and head for the Pages’ house, Frank forgives the debt of gold; he has seen the fat knight’s poor nags.
He claps Falstaff jovially on the back. “Sir John, to Master Brook you yet shall hold your word,” he says mischievously, “for he tonight shall lie with Mistress Ford!”