The Merry Wives of Windsor | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Merry Wives of Windsor | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

This long scene takes place at the Garter Inn and consists of several conversations between Falstaff and other characters. First to approach Falstaff is Pistol, who demands a loan, which Falstaff refuses. Robin, Falstaff's page, then enters to announce the arrival of Mistress Quickly. She brings tidings from Mistress Ford, who—so she says—has been completely smitten by his love letter. Mistress Ford, says Quickly, now wishes Falstaff to meet her between 10 and 11 o'clock. Mistress Page, meanwhile, sends word of her own infatuation with Falstaff and her hope to set up a tryst sometime soon. Perhaps dimly sensing a trap, Falstaff asks whether the two wives have revealed their love for Falstaff to one another. Mistress Quickly says no, but she asks Falstaff to send Robin along to Mistress Page's house as a sign of affection and goodwill. He agrees, and Mistress Quickly and Robin both leave. Pistol, after announcing his intention to woo Mistress Quickly, exits as well.

Left alone for a moment, Falstaff muses about his sudden good fortune. Bardolph arrives with a draught of wine, compliments of one "Master Brook." Falstaff, pleased with the gesture, asks Bardolph to call Brook up to his room. Moments later, "Brook"—actually Ford in disguise—enters. He asks for Falstaff's help in wooing Mistress Ford in exchange for which he offers a bag of money. The idea, he explains, is if Falstaff can tempt Mistress Ford into adultery, she will no longer be able to insist upon her "honor," meaning her chastity. At that point, "Brook" reasons, the way will be open for other wooers, including him. Falstaff accepts and reveals he will be seeing Mistress Ford this very morning. He laughs about how easily Ford will be duped and then leaves the stage. At this point Ford gives vent in an angry soliloquy about his wife's apparent infidelity. He then hurries anxiously offstage to plan Falstaff's downfall.

Analysis

This scene puts the reader on notice that Pistol and Falstaff still haven't truly reconciled—a detail that will be helpful to remember toward the end of the play. In his argument with Pistol, Falstaff raises a good point: like most of Falstaff's followers, Pistol hasn't always been so keen on honor. Why then, Falstaff wonders aloud, did Pistol suddenly refuse to participate in Falstaff's scheme in Act 1, Scene 3? If The Merry Wives premiered after Henry IV, Part 2 (see Context), audiences would have had plenty of evidence of Pistol's violent, dishonest ways. Even within The Merry Wives, however, Pistol is presented as a disreputable sort who, allegedly, picks the pockets of country gentlemen. Falstaff is right to be surprised, and maybe even a little indignant, at Pistol's apparently sudden conversion into respectability.

The real surprise, however, is how convincingly Mistress Quickly lies to Falstaff and how readily he believes her. At this point Falstaff has an unearned confidence in the success of his scheme, but he is still somewhat skeptical about how easily it seems to have worked. He isn't too skeptical, though: lust and greed already have begun to cloud his judgment. What he wants from Mistress Quickly is reassurance—not proof—that all is going according to plan.

Like Falstaff, Mistress Quickly is a holdover from Henry IV, Part 1; she reappears in Henry IV, Part 2, a play written about the same time as The Merry Wives. In both of the Henry IV plays, Mistress Quickly is portrayed as a silly character—forgetful, talkative, and prone to mixing up her words. All three traits are still present in The Merry Wives; examples of the last one include her tendency to say "allicholy" for melancholy and "canary" for quandary. Yet there's more to Mistress Quickly this time around. In Act 1 she shrewdly plays the suitors off against one another, hoping to get gifts from Slender and Fenton without getting fired by Doctor Caius. Here she smoothly lies her way through an encounter with Falstaff, using her "silly innkeeper" act to divert suspicion. Then in the play's finale, a costumed Quickly will take a remarkably dignified turn as the Queen of the Fairies. If Falstaff is the breakout star of the Henry IV plays, Mistress Quickly is arguably the breakout star of The Merry Wives.

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