Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 1
Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford enter with the news that they have received identical letters from Falstaff, pledging his love to each. Needless to say, they are both outraged. Mrs. Page: "One that is well-nigh worn to pieces with age to show himself a young gallant"; Mrs. Ford: "I shall think the worse of fat men as long as I have an eye to make difference of men's liking" [tell the difference between men]. They determine to "be revenged on him" and set off with Mistress Quickly to lay the plot.
Their husbands arrive onstage, discussing what "a yoke of his [Falstaff's] discarded men," Pistol and Nym, have told them concerning Falstaffs amorous plans for their "merry wives." Ford plans to pass himself off as a man named "Brook" to Falstaff in order to get further information.
As the scene ends, the subplot moves forward. Shallow reports that "there is a fray to be fought between Sir Hugh the Welsh parson and Caius the French doctor" and that they have been "appointed contrary [different] places" to meet for the duel. Page says that he would "rather hear them scold [argue] than fight."
Shakespeare differentiates between the two husbands — Page and Ford — and, to a lesser extent, between the two wives in this scene. Mrs. Page is openly contemptuous of Falstaff's scheme right from the start, while Mrs. Ford worries about its consequences and seems fearful at first even to tell her friend about Falstaff's letter. When Mrs. Ford does speak, however, her scathing comments about Falstaff are quite colorful:
What tempest, I trow, threw this whale, with so many tuns of oil in his belly, ashore at Windsor? How shall I be revenged on him? I think the best way were to entertain him with hope, till the wicked fire of lust have melted him in his own grease. (64-68)
Perhaps Mrs. Ford's initial apprehension was justifiable, given the kind of person Ford turns out to be. His jealousy and his tendency to believe that his wife is a willing partner of Falstaff, contrasts sharply with Page's reaction to Falstaff:
Page: If he should intend his voyage toward my wife,
I would turn her loose to him; and what he gets
more of her than sharp words, let it lie on my head.
Ford: I do not misdoubt my wife, but I would be
loath to turn them together. A man may be too confident. (188-92)
Ford's idea to disguise himself as another person — Brook — adds a final wrinkle to the plot's complications, whose working out will be the business of the rest of the play.