The Merry Wives of Windsor Summary
by William Shakespeare

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The Merry Wives of Windsor Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Sir John Falstaff is, without doubt, a rogue. True, he is fat, jolly, and in a way lovable, but he is still a rogue. His men rob and plunder the citizens of Windsor, but he himself is seldom taken or convicted for his crimes. His fortunes at low ebb, he hits upon a plan to remedy that situation. He meets Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, two good ladies who hold the purse strings in their respective houses. Falstaff writes identical letters to the two good ladies, letters protesting undying love for each of them.

The daughter of one of the ladies, Anne Page, is the center of a love triangle. Her father wishes her to marry Slender, a foolish gentleman who does not love her or anyone else, but who will marry any girl recommended to him by his cousin, the justice. Mistress Page, on the other hand, wants her daughter married to Doctor Caius, a French physician then in Windsor. Anne herself loves Fenton, a fine young gentleman deeply in love with her. All three lovers pay the doctor’s housekeeper, Mistress Quickly, to plead their cause with Anne, for Mistress Quickly convinces each that she alone can persuade Anne to answer yes to a proposal. Mistress Quickly is, in fact, second only to Falstaff in her plotting and her trickery.

Unknown to poor Falstaff, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page compare the letters received from him, alike except for the lady’s name. They decide to cure him of his knavery once and for all. Mistress Ford arranges to have him come to her house that night when her husband will not be there. Mistress Page writes that she will meet him as soon as she can cautiously arrange it. In the meantime, two former followers of Falstaff tell the two husbands of that knave’s designs on their wives. Page refuses to believe his wife unfaithful, but Ford becomes jealous and plans to spy on his wife. Disguising himself as Mr. Brook, he calls on Falstaff. His story is that he loves Mistress Ford but cannot win her love, and he comes to pay Falstaff to court her for him. His stratagem is successful; he learns from Falstaff that the knight already has a rendezvous with the lady that very night.

At the appointed time, previously arranging to have several servants assist in the plot, the two ladies are ready for Falstaff. While Falstaff is trying to make love to Mistress Ford, Mistress Page rushes in and says that Ford is on his way home. Quickly the ladies put Falstaff in a clothes basket and have him carried out by the servants, to be dumped into the Thames. Ford does arrive, of course, for, unknown to his wife, he knows Falstaff is to be there. After looking high and low without finding the rogue, he apologizes to his wife for his suspicions. Mistress Ford does not know which was the most sport, having Falstaff dumped into the river or listening to her husband’s discomfited apologies.

The ladies have so much fun over their first joke played on Falstaff that they decide to try another. Mistress Ford then sends him another message, this one saying that her husband will be gone all of the following morning, and she asks Falstaff to call on her at that time so that she can make amends for the previous affair of the basket. Again Ford, disguised as Brook, calls on Falstaff, and again he learns of the proposed assignation. He learns also of the method of Falstaff’s previous escape and vows the old roisterer should not again slip through his fingers.

When Mistress Ford hears from Mistress Page that Ford is returning unexpectedly, the ladies dress Falstaff in the clothes of a fat woman whom Ford hates. Ford, finding the supposed woman in his house, drubs the disguised knight soundly and chases him from the house. Again Ford searches everywhere for Falstaff, and again he is forced to apologize to his wife in the presence of the friends he brought with him to witness her disgrace. The two ladies think his discomfiture the funniest part of their joke.

Once more the wives plan to plague poor Falstaff, but this time they take their husbands...

(The entire section is 1,941 words.)