The Merry Wives of Windsor | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Merry Wives of Windsor | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary



In a field outside Windsor, Doctor Caius is ready to fight his duel with Sir Hugh, who hasn't yet arrived. As Doctor Caius proposes to pass the time by showing off his fencing moves, a group of men approaches: Page, Shallow, Slender, and the Host. They have come to see the fight, but the Doctor tells them Sir Hugh—"de coward jack-priest of de vorld"—has failed to show. Shallow and Page reflect that canceling the duel may be for the best. The Host, meanwhile, subtly mocks Doctor Caius's limited knowledge of English. Then, urging Doctor Caius to forget the duel with Sir Hugh, he offers to lead the Doctor to a farmhouse where Anne Page is "a-feasting." The gullible Doctor agrees to follow him.


Throughout his conversation with Doctor Caius, the Host drops hints to the audience he is playing the Doctor for a fool. He deliberately uses colloquial English terms like "clapper-claw," meaning "scold or abuse," that Doctor Caius is unlikely to understand. Then when the Doctor asks for clarification, the Host gives him incorrect or misleading definitions. The result of this rather cruel wordplay is the Host's English listeners hear one story—Sir Hugh is still waiting to fight the Doctor—while the Doctor hears another—Sir Hugh is ready to apologize and make "amends." At the end of their conversation, the Host promises to act as the Doctor's "adversary," a term the Doctor unquestioningly takes to mean "ally" or "friend."

In ridiculing Doctor Caius, however, the Host is playing with fire. By the very next scene the Doctor will realize the Host is laughing at him and vow to get his revenge. So incensed at the Host's smug behavior, he will forget his grudge against Sir Hugh, who has been similarly mocked. In Act 4 they will team up to play a joke on the Host—one with serious consequences for the Garter Inn's bottom line.

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