At a tavern (probably the Boar's Head) in Eastcheap, a couple of Drawers (waiters) argue about a dish of apples and then reminisce about the time Prince Hal insulted Falstaff by comparing him to a round, withered up, old apple. Falstaff was so mad.
The Drawers can't wait 'til Hal shows up tonight – the Prince and Poins are going to dress up like waiters so they can play a joke on Falstaff. It'll be a barrel of laughs, just like old times.
Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet stumble in and they're rip-roaring drunk.
Quickly says that Tearsheet's face is all red and she herself has had way too much wine.
Enter a drunken Falstaff, who's singing a song about King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, the "worthy knight." Falstaff pauses in between lyrics to shout that someone really ought to clean out the chamber pot. (That's Shakespeare's clever way of telling us Falstaff, who is decidedly not a "worthy knight," has just been using the toilet.)
Then Falstaff greets Tearsheet and Quickly and this is what audiences (especially the "groundlings" in the cheap seats) have been waiting for. Let the trash talking begin.
When Mistress Quickly says she's feeling sick and faint, Falstaff insults her (and all women) by saying that when women aren't feeling sick, they're usually out sleeping around.
Tearsheet says she hopes Falstaff gets the "pox" (syphilis) and Falstaff retorts that men catch venereal diseases from women.
Tearsheet snaps back that the only thing men "catch" from women are their "jewels." Translation: Men, especially Falstaff, are thieves. In other words, she's reminding Falstaff that he's always ripping off Mistress Quickly. (Hmm. Doll Tearsheet appears to be a lot smarter than Mistress Quickly. Good to know.)
Falstaff, not to be outdone, compares sleeping with a woman and catching a venereal disease to being wounded in battle.
Mistress Quickly thinks that all this insulting and sexually charged banter is great fun. It's just like old times. Then Quickly says that Doll Tearsheet is an empty vessel (a common term for a woman and also an empty cargo ship).
Doll Tearsheet quips that an "empty vessel" could never carry such heavy cargo like Falstaff. (Translation: She could never bear the weight of him in bed.) Falstaff drinks so much booze that it would be like carrying an entire cargo of imported wine.
Then Tearsheet makes nice with Falstaff, since he's going to war soon and may get himself killed.
A Drawer enters and announces that Pistol is at the door. Mistress Quickly doesn't want him anywhere near the joint because he's such a "swaggering" trouble maker but Falstaff convinces her to let him in. But first, Falstaff makes a bawdy comment that Doll Tearsheet can "stroke" Pistol like a "puppy."
Pistol enters and he and Falstaff make some lewd comments about how Pistol should "discharge" his "pistol" on Mistress Quickly.
When Pistol turns to Doll Tearsheet and suggests he should "discharge" on her as well, she calls him a slew of names (like "scurvy companion," and "mouldy rogue"). Then she whips out her trusty knife and tells him to get lost before she stabs him between his "mouldy chaps" (his cheeks).
When Pistol threatens Doll Tearsheet, Mistress Quickly begs him not to start any trouble. Tearsheet lays into him again and the two continue to trade insults.
Pistol, who has whipped out his sword, is all riled up and starts misquoting lines from famous plays like Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine Part 2 and George Peele's Battle of Alcazar.
The brawling and smack talk continues until Falstaff takes Pistol's sword and tells him to scram.
Pistol's not having any of that and the brawl ensues. Pistol and Falstaff stab wildly at each other until, finally, Bardolph tosses Pistol out on the street.
Tearsheet and Quickly fawn over Falstaff, who has made quite a heroic showing. They want to make sure he didn't get stabbed in the groin by Pistol.
Doll Tearsheet calls Falstaff pet names like "whoreson chops" as she tenderly wipes the sweat from his brow.
Falstaff continues to show off by threatening to "toss" a sheet over Pistol and beat him to a pulp. Doll Tearsheet lovingly replies that she's going to "toss" Falstaff between her sheets later that night because he's such a brave guy.
A band of musicians arrive and the party heats up. Doll sits on Falstaff's knee and continues to call him pet names like a "tidy Bartholomew boar-pig" (a plump, roasted pig). Falstaff doesn't like being reminded of his mortality when he's about to go off to war and says as much.
Then the talk turns toward Prince Hal and Poins, who, by now, are in the tavern wearing disguises. Falstaff starts badmouthing the pair.
Hal and Poins overhear Falstaff and respond in kind. They should beat up Falstaff, a dried up and impotent old man, in front of his girl, Doll Tearsheet. That would show him.
Poins and Hal continue to eavesdrop on Tearsheet and Falstaff, who, by now, are making out and saying lovey-dovey things to each other. (Tearsheet says she loves Falstaff more than any of the other "scurvy young boy[s]" and Falstaff offers to buy her a nice outfit. Doll Tearsheet says she sure will miss Falstaff when he goes off to war.)
Falstaff calls for more wine so Hal and Poins emerge (since they're pretending to be waiters). Falstaff sees Hal and says "Ha, a bastard son of the King's." Hal insults Falstaff in kind.
Mistress Quickly gets all excited that Prince Hal is there and Poins urges Hal to hurry up and give Falstaff a beating.
Hal asks Falstaff how he could even dare to say such horrible things about him, the prince, in front of such a fine, upstanding, and virtuous "gentlewoman" like Doll Tearsheet.
Mistress Quickly, who doesn't understand that Hal's being a smart-aleck, says that she couldn't agree more. Doll Tearsheet is a great girl.
Falstaff says something like, "Oh, you heard what I just said about you? I didn't know you were in earshot."
Falstaff's in the process of talking his way out of the jam when Peto arrives and says a bunch of army captains are looking for Falstaff (who is supposed to be recruiting soldiers for the war, not having fun in the tavern).
Prince Hal says he feels bad that he's been wasting time in the tavern when so much is going on in the world and the country is in the middle of a rebellion. Hal and Poins leave.
Falstaff laments that he has to go away before he has time to sleep with Doll Tearsheet but, he's such an important guy that he can't ignore the call of duty.
Falstaff leaves but then Bardolph comes back to fetch Doll Tearsheet for Falstaff, presumably so the two can have a proper "goodbye."