The Merry Wives of Windsor | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

At the Ford residence, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page brew up a prank for the unsuspecting Falstaff. Mistress Ford orders her servants John and Robert to bring a large "buck-basket" (laundry hamper) onstage. When she calls for them again, she explains, they are to carry the basket to a muddy ditch by the riverside and dump it out. The manservants depart, and Robin the page enters to announce Falstaff's arrival. Mistress Page hides offstage as Falstaff enters.

Immediately Falstaff starts spouting love poetry to Mistress Ford, calling her his "heavenly jewel" and wishing her "husband were dead" so he could marry her. As Mistress Ford pretends to flirt with him, Robin runs onstage to introduce Mistress Page, who has come to the door, so he says, in a panic. Falstaff hides behind a curtain as Mistress Page rushes in with a startled look. Ford, she announces, has returned home to search for a "gentleman" he suspects to be hiding within the house. Mistress Ford confesses such a gentleman is indeed with her, and Mistress Page urges her to think of a "conveyance" to get the man out. Falstaff, of his own accord, hops into the buck-basket, which the two wives fill with dirty laundry to hide him. Then, on their signal, John and Robert haul the basket away.

As the servants are on their way out, Ford arrives with Page, Doctor Caius, and Sir Hugh in tow. He urges the other men to help him search for the intruder, but they chide him for being overly suspicious. All four exit, leaving the wives to congratulate one another on their successful trick. When the four men reenter, Ford is chagrined to be proved wrong. He promises to explain himself later. All exit except Sir Hugh and Doctor Caius, who remind one another of their plot, as yet undisclosed, against the Host of the Garter Inn.

Analysis

The horn imagery, as promised, continues to accumulate in this scene after its subtler appearances in Act 2, Scene 1 and Act 3, Scene 2. As his jealousy reaches an almost manic pitch, Ford exclaims, "I would I could wash myself of the buck. Buck, buck, buck!" This comes in response to his wife's innocent comment about "buck-washing," or laundry. Just as in the previous scene, Ford uses horn- and antler-themed puns to underscore his anxieties about being cuckolded by Falstaff. He here construes his wife's presumed cheating not only as a disgrace but also as an indelible blot that will not come out in the laundry. Falstaff, meanwhile, gets dunked offstage in the ditch by the river. Although the water chills him to the marrow, it fails to cool his lust for long. "Once bitten, twice shy" is, evidently, not the John Falstaff way.

To their credit, Ford's neighbors quickly surmise he is taking things too far. Page, out of sincere and friendly concern, warns Ford of the harm he is doing to his own reputation. Sir Hugh says Ford's suspicions are "fantastical," implying they have no basis in reality. Even Mistress Ford senses something unusual in the "gross[ness]," the extreme and exaggerated nature, of her husband's jealousy. Doctor Caius, however, slips on a virtual banana peel of verbal irony when he chides "'tis no the fashion of France. It is not jealous in France." If jealousy truly is unfashionable in France, then Doctor Caius is a very unusual Frenchman, since his own enormous jealousy leads him to challenge clergymen to duels.

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