Summary and Analysis
Act I: Scene 4
Simple describes his master to Mistress Quickly, to whom he has gone at Hugh Evans' bidding:
He hath but a little wee face, with a little yellow
beard — a Cain-coloured [red] beard. (22-23)
Quickly agrees to help Shallow in his plans to woo Anne Page, but before she can elaborate, her own master, the "French physician" Doctor Caius, returns home. Simple is shuffled into a "closet," or a small side room, just seconds before Caius enters. The doctor plans to go to the "court," taking his servant John Rugby with him. He discovers Simple and is outraged to learn that the latter is on an errand to curry favor with Anne Page through the agency of Mistress Quickly. Since Caius wants the young lady for himself, he immediately writes a letter of challenge to Sir Hugh and sends it with Simple. The last of the suitors then arrives, a "young gentleman" by the name of Fenton. Quickly assures him that he too will continue his courtship of Anne Page.
Quickly: Have not your worship a wart above your eye?
Fenton: Yes, marry, have I. What of that?
Quickly: Well, thereby hangs a tale. Good faith, it is
such another Nan [girl]; but, I detest, an honest
maid as ever broke bread. We had an hour's talk of that wart. (156-60)
Fenton gives her money for her efforts and exits, whereupon she admits (to the audience) that "Anne loves him not."
Shakespeare expands his gallery of odd characters in this scene — Rugby, whose "worst fault is that he is given to prayer"; Quickly, who is ready to please anyone as a go-between if the price is right, and who fractures the English language every time she opens her mouth ("but, I detest, an honest maid," etc.); and finally, the irascible French doctor and would-be lover, Caius. One of the few more or less "normal" characters in the play, Fenton has a "wart above his eye."
The pacing of this play must be very fast or the farce will not be effective. In the first moments of this short scene, there is a concealment and a near-discovery (Caius first sends Quickly to fetch his "green box" from the "closet" where Simple is hiding), which makes the discovery which follows all the more comical. The joke is compounded by Doctor Caius' unintentional pun when he returns to the "closet" himself:
Dere is some simples in my closset dat I vill not
Vor de varld I shall leave behind. 65-66)
Caius means "medicines" by the word "simples," but Quickly and Rugby (along with the audience) know of the other "Simple" who is hiding in the closet. Added to the complications of rival lovers in this scene is a new subplot, in which an irate Frenchman vows to revenge himself on the cagey Welsh parson. The very thought of these two making "fritters of the English language" (as Falstaff will later say of Hugh) as they battle it out is sure to please an audience.