Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scenes 1-2
The scene shifts to Frogmore, where Hugh Evans vows to "knog [Caius'] urinals about his knave's costard [head]." When he notices Page, Slender, and Shallow on their way toward him, he quickly puts on his gown and reads from his holy book. They notice the sword, and Shallow asks, "What, the sword and the word [bible]! Do you study them both, Master Parson?" Then Caius arrives, ripe for battle, and Hugh Evans tries his best to pull him aside and postpone the duel: "Pray you, let us not be laughingstocks to other men's humours." The Host takes great pleasure in their embarrassment, commenting, "Peace, I say, Gallia [Wales] and Gaul [France], French and Welsh, soul-curer and body curer!" And then he admits that the whole ruse was his private brainchild: "I have deceived you both: I have directed you to wrong places." Left alone with his adversary, Hugh Evans proposes to Caius a new revenge plot: ". . . let us knog or prains together to be revenge on this same scall [scurvy fellow], scurvy, cogging [conniving] companion, the Host of the Garter."
In Scene 2, Ford comes across Mrs. Page in the company of Falstaff's emissary, the young page Robin. This spurs his jealousy on, and he tests her:
Ford: I think if your husbands were dead, you two[Robin and Mrs. Page] would marry.
Mrs. Page: Be sure of that — two other husbands. (14-15)
The company of duelists and witnesses arrives from Frogmore, and the debate continues as to which of Anne Page's various suitors is most fitting to have her hand. Page explains that he favors Master Slender, while his wife prefers Doctor Caius. When the Host of the Garter mentions the gentleman Master Fenton, Page adamantly refuses to hear of such a thing:
The gentleman is of no having [has no property]. . . .The wealth I have waits on my consent, and my
consent goes not that way. (72; 78-79)
The flow of these two scenes gives us an idea just how much this play belongs to the stage. In reading it, there is nothing remarkable or new, and the literary value of the writing is slim. On stage, however, the mounting confusion and visual high jinks would more than compensate. There is a virtual dance between Caius and Evans, the one eager to fight at all costs, and the other embarrassed by his predicament, first trying to hide behind his holy "cloth" and bible, then trying to explain to the French doctor (in a series of frantic asides) that it would be best to call the whole thing off. Then there is Slender. He has very little to say here, and he hardly needs to be present to advance the plot. His presence, however, as Shakespeare outlines it, is potentially highly comical. Apparently, his two encounters with Anne Page have utterly transformed him from a young (and slow-witted) sport, fit only to discuss such things as the finer qualities of local greyhounds, into a moonstruck lover. Earlier in the play, he was the picture of vagueness when he bowed to Shallow's proposal that he try to win Anne Page's hand; in the present scenes, Shakespeare has him totally enraptured by the very thought of the same woman. "Ah, sweet Anne Page!" is all he can say, which he does repeatedly, in perfect oblivion of the goings-on around him. The fact that Slender is an ass is indisputable; and that Mister Page is convinced that this is the man for his daughter is therefore all the more amazing.
Ford's peculiar madness is stressed in these scenes as well. He is positively gleeful at the thought of surprising his wife and Falstaff together:
Good plots! They are laid, and our revolted wives share damnation together. Well, I will take him
[Falstaff], then torture my wife, pluck the borrowed veil of modesty from the so-seeming
Mistress Page, divulge Page himself for a secure and willful Acteon [cuckold]; and to these
violent proceedings all my neighbours shall cry aim [hurrah!]." (39-45)