The Merry Wives of Windsor | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Merry Wives of Windsor | Act 4, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

Back in the Garter Inn, Simple has come to pay a visit to "the wise woman of Brentford," whom he saw going into Falstaff's room. The Host calls up to see if the woman is still there, but Falstaff says she is gone. Simple is disappointed because—believing her to be a fortuneteller—he wanted to ask some questions, the first of which is whether Nym stole Slender's watch chain. However, he wishes, most of all, to know whether it is Slender's "fortune" to marry Anne Page. Speaking on the wise woman's behalf, Falstaff says yes: it is Slender's fortune either to marry Anne Page or not. Simple accepts this answer and rushes off to tell Slender.

Bardolph runs in to announce the three Germans have run off with the horses they borrowed (in Act 4, Scene 3). The Host refuses to believe he has been cheated, because "Germans are honest men." Then, however, Sir Hugh and Doctor Caius report separately there is no visiting duke. Worse yet, a bunch of thieves claiming to be Germans have been roaming the surrounding countryside, cheating innkeepers out of horses and money. The Host and Bardolph run after the supposed horse thieves, while Falstaff sullenly reflects he has been "cozened" (cheated), too.

Mistress Quickly enters, bearing a message from "the two parties"—Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. Falstaff, however, is irritated and suspicious after his close call at Mistress Ford's house. Mistress Quickly insists Falstaff hear her out and offers him a letter to read—in his room. Falstaff, relenting, invites her upstairs.

Analysis

The identity of the trio of "cozen-Germans" is never definitively revealed. Historically, however, critics have suspected the Germans to be a disguised Pistol and Nym, working alongside Doctor Caius's manservant John Rugby. The latter, according to this hypothesis, would be taking part in the scheme under the Doctor's direct orders, with perhaps some threats thrown in. Pistol and Nym, meanwhile, are appealing candidates because their dismissal by Falstaff (Act 1) leaves them in desperate need of money. Both are already known to indulge in petty theft, so stealing horses, although less petty, would hardly be out of the question. Moreover, both have a score to settle with the Host, who encouraged Falstaff to "cashier" (turn loose) his followers in the first place. "Let them wag," the Host rather callously says in Act 1, Scene 3 before offering to hire one—and only one—of the men. Another strike in favor of the Pistol/Nym/Rugby hypothesis is the absence of these three characters throughout Act 4. Pistol shows up briefly in Act 5, but Nym disappears altogether after Act 2, and Rugby follows suit in Act 3.

It might be argued the Host of the Garter Inn would recognize Pistol and Nym since he meets them in Act 1. However, the Host doesn't appear to interact with the "Germans" directly. Instead he leaves Bardolph—Pistol's and Nym's old war buddy—to do most of the talking. Moreover, disguises in Shakespearean comedies seem to have an almost Superman-like property of never being seen through. If Pistol and Nym put on, say, fake beards and spoke with "German" accents, the Host would be none the wiser in the same way Ford doesn't recognize Falstaff in women's clothes.

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