The Merry Wives of Windsor By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act II: Scene 2

Summary

Pistol begs a loan from Falstaff; after all, it is he who usually takes the risks in their petty crimes. Falstaff reminds the lesser partner that it is only through his — Falstaff's — greater influence and connections that Pistol avoids failure. In typically pompous fashion, Falstaff asks, "Think'st thou I'll endanger my soul gratis?" His rationalization for his crooked ways echoes the Falstaff of King Henry IV, Part 1: "Ay, I myself sometimes, leaving the fear of God on the left hand and hiding mine honor in necessity, am fain to shuffle, to hedge, and to lurch."

Mistress Quickly interrupts with the happy news that both Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford are infatuated with the scholar knight, "The best courtier of them all, when the court lay at Windsor, could never have brought her [Mrs. Ford] to such a canary." Falstaff's ego swells at the idea of a successful conquest (or two!). As he addresses himself affectionately, now alone on stage, one imagines the comic effect that could be had if a large full-length mirror were present for him to peer into:

Will they yet look after thee?
Wilt thou, after the expense of so much money,
Be now a gainer? Good body, I thank thee.
Let them say 'tis grossly [a pun on "fat"] done;
So it be fairly done, no matter." (145-49)

Disguised as "Mr. Brook," Ford solicits the aid of Falstaff in seducing Mrs. Ford (for the purpose of justifying his unfounded jealousy). The "bag of money" which he swings before Falstaff's nose is enough to convince this "gentleman of excellent breeding" to accept the project. "You shall, if you will, enjoy Ford's wife," Falstaff assures "Brook." Falstaff then hurls several gratuitous insults at Ford before the scene ends: "Hang him, mechanical salt-butter [vulgar, smelly] rogue!"

Analysis

The multiple references to money give this scene its special edge. It opens with Falstaff haggling over money with someone he undoubtedly exploits with regularity. Virtually every character in the play has his part determined by his wealth (or lack of it). This is common enough in a farce of this kind, yet it reaches grotesque proportions in this scene. Ford (Brook) knows the great lure of hard cash to a nobleman fallen on hard times. Note the way he entices Falstaff:

There is money. Spend it, spend it;
Spend more; spend all I have. (240-41)

Undoubtedly Ford waves real coins in front of Falstaff at this moment. One can imagine the impecunious knight's pleasure in fingering the silver. The final joke here, though, is on Ford himself, whose obsession with "property," one imagines, extends to his wife. His jealousy has actually distorted his vision of things to the point where he will risk actually having his wife dishonor herself in order to prove his (unfounded) jealousy. His language is almost that of a madman:

Page is an ass, a secure ass. He will trust his wife; he will not be jealous. I will rather trust a Fleming with my butter, Parson Hugh the Welshman with my cheese, an Irishman with my aqua-vitae [whiskey] bottle, or a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife with herself. Then she plots, then she ruminates, then she devises. And what they think in their hearts they may effect; they will break their hearts but they will effect. God be praised for my jealousy!" (316-24)

His next action is to catch his wife "in the act" at "eleven o'clock the hour," as Falstaff has promised.

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