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The Merry Wives of Windsor | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Merry Wives of Windsor | Quotes


I do despise a liar as I do despise one that is false, or as I despise one that is not true.

Sir Hugh Evans, Act 1, Scene 1

Although he influences the plot at a few crucial junctures, Sir Hugh serves primarily as a source of easy laughs. For the most part, Shakespeare and his English characters content themselves with taking cheap shots at Sir Hugh's thick Welsh accent. As a clergyman, however, Sir Hugh is also stereotyped as needlessly grand and verbose in his speech. Often, as this quotation illustrates, he finds two or three different ways to make a point rather than choose just one.


Women, indeed, cannot abide [bears]; they are very ill-favored rough things.

Slender, Act 1, Scene 1

By the end of this scene, two things are clear about Slender: he is wooing Anne Page for her money, and he is inept at small talk. Here he means to say women are frightened of bears, a proposition Anne Page may or may not find insulting. His phrasing, however, leaves open the possibility he means women are "ill-favored rough things."


O base Hungarian wight! Wilt thou the spigot wield?

Pistol, Act 1, Scene 3

Pistol, like many of the play's characters, has a distinctive and rather ridiculous manner of speech. As this line shows, he is fond of speaking in stilted verse, even when other characters opt for prose. Bardolph has just found a new job as a bartender, but Pistol inflates the concept by using the martial term "wield" and high-flown language ("base ... wight"). It's not too much of a stretch to see Pistol, with his overly "stagey" language, as a bit of self-parody on Shakespeare's part.


Revenged I will be, as sure as his guts are made of puddings.

Mistress Page, Act 2, Scene 1

Mistress Page reacts to Falstaff's love letters with a mixture of amusement and indignation. She seeks "revenge" because, in writing to her like this, Falstaff has implied she is willing to cheat on her husband. In Elizabethan England, where adultery was a criminal offense and a source of widespread moral outrage, such an insinuation was a grave insult. At the same time, Mistress Page's anger at Falstaff is tempered by the realization of what a ridiculous man she is dealing with. Falstaff's huge girth, the target of many jokes in the play, comes to symbolize all that is excessive or unrestrained about him.


If money go before, all ways do lie open.

Ford, Act 2, Scene 2

Having been tipped off by Pistol about Falstaff's schemes, Master Ford knows how to manipulate the impoverished old knight. Falstaff's pressing need for money causes him to take "Master Brook" (the disguised Ford) into his confidence without a second thought.


I think if your husbands were dead, you two would marry.

Ford, Act 3, Scene 2

Master Ford here quips about the close friendship between Mistress Page and his own wife. The two women are indeed thick as thieves, and their camaraderie is essential in helping them hatch a revenge plot against Falstaff. Their closeness also contrasts with the less cordial relationship between surly Master Ford and cheery Master Page. In response to Ford's remark, Mistress Page jokes that she and Mistress Ford would indeed marry—"two other husbands," that is.


I would I could wash myself of the buck. Buck, buck, buck!

Ford, Act 3, Scene 3

This is Master Ford's response to an apparently innocent quip about "buck-washing," or laundry. By reacting in such a histrionic fashion, Ford shows his overpowering anxiety about being cuckolded by Falstaff. If Mistress Ford really is cheating on him, Ford will be wearing the proverbial "horns" of the cuckold. Here he uses a pun to equate those horns with the antlers of a buck, or male deer.


Alas, I had rather be set quick i' th' earth / And bowled to death with turnips!

Anne Page, Act 3, Scene 4

Given how much she dislikes the "fool" Shallow, one might mistakenly suppose Anne sees Doctor Caius as the lesser of two evils. This colorful exclamation shows this is not the case.

"Bowls" is a lawn game, similar to bocce, in which balls are rolled toward a small goal-marker. Invented in medieval England, it was still popular in Shakespeare's day. The balls are not necessarily meant to hit their target, let alone to do so forcefully. Thus, Anne may be implying death from boredom rather than from blunt trauma.


I will be thrown into Etna, as I have been into Thames, ere I will leave her thus.

Sir John Falstaff, Act 3, Scene 5

Here, Falstaff mock-valiantly declares his willingness to undergo great trials to sleep with Mistress Ford. Downplaying his dunk into the Thames, he claims he would rather be thrown into a volcano than give her up. This bombastic statement makes Falstaff sound braver than he is. In reality, Ford's money is what tempts Falstaff to try his luck again.


Wives may be merry and yet honest too.

Mistress Page, Act 4, Scene 2

Mistress Page, speaking on behalf of both herself and Mistress Ford, declares there's a point to their pranks beyond mere amusement. In tricking Falstaff without getting their husbands involved, the wives are showing they can be trusted to handle themselves. They can be "honest"—meaning, first and foremost, "chaste"—even when, to a jealous man like Ford, their behavior seems suspicious.


I rather will suspect the sun with cold / Than thee with wantonness.

Ford, Act 4, Scene 4

Master Ford is as excessive in apologizing as he was in accusing. He now suggests it is as impossible for Mistress Ford to be unfaithful as it is for the sun to be cold. Master Page, Ford's calm and easygoing neighbor, replies by asking him to try being less "extreme" for a change.


The devil take one party, and his dam the other, and so they shall both be bestowed.

Sir John Falstaff, Act 4, Scene 6

After being dumped in the Thames, dressed up as an old lady, and beaten with a club, Falstaff is at his wit's end. Hearing Mistresses Page and Ford want to meet him one more time, he curses them both and almost refuses to see them again. Fortunately for them—though not for him—Falstaff is eventually talked into meeting the wives in Windsor Park. Some people never learn.


O powerful love, that in some respects makes a beast a man, in some other a man a beast!

Sir John Falstaff, Act 5, Scene 5

One of Falstaff's signature traits is his fondness for grand rhetorical gestures. While biding his time in Windsor Park, the old knight rhapsodizes about his "transformation" into Herne the Hunter. In donning the horned mask, Falstaff says, he has become like Jove (Jupiter), king of the "hot-blooded gods." The resemblance Falstaff has in mind is Jove's tendency to assume the forms of animals, which he did to make love to mortal women.


I will never take you for my love again, but I will always count you my deer.

Mistress Ford, Act 5, Scene 5

This little pun underscores Mistress Ford's lack of malice toward Falstaff. Having had a few hearty laughs at his expense, she readily forgives him for his shameless behavior. In calling him her "deer," she also affirms she is the hunter and Falstaff the quarry. He thought he was pursuing her, but she ended up catching him in a trap of her own.


To Master Brook you yet shall hold your word, / For he tonight shall lie with Mistress Ford.

Ford, Act 5, Scene 5

At the very end of the play, Master Ford reveals himself as the disguised "Master Brook" who kept visiting Falstaff at the inn. This is news to Falstaff, though not to the audience. Because "Master Brook" and Master Ford are the same person, Mistress Ford is "Brook's" wife already. Thus Falstaff's promise to help Master Brook sleep with Mistress Ford will be kept after all.

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