NYM My humor shall not cool. I will incense Ford to deal with
poison; I will possess him with yellowness, for this revolt of
mine is dangerous. That is my true humor. (1.3.102-105)
That Nim is more dramatic than a Glee season finale. After learning that Falstaff plans to seduce Ford's wife, Nim tells us he's going to "poison" Ford against Falstaff and fill him with jealousy ("yellowness"). We know that Nim's overly dramatic speech is meant to be funny (and it is). After all, this is a light-hearted comedy and nobody will ever be in any real danger in this play. But we can't help but think that Nim sounds an awful lot like a silly version of Othello's Iago. It's a good thing The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy.
MISTRESS QUICKLY If he had found the young man,
he would have been horn-mad. (1.4.48-51)
This is where Mistress Quickly says her master, Doctor Caius, would have been upset if he had found Simple hiding in the closet. When Mistress Quickly says the doctor would be "horn-mad," she means that he'd be as mad as a bull. But, we also know that "horns" are a classic symbol of cuckoldry (when a guy gets cheated on by his wife). Mistress Quickly isn't married to Caius but we get the point—the guy would be crazy jealous. Check out "Symbols" for more on all this "horn" business.
DOCTOR CAIUS I will cut his troat in de
park, and I will teach a scurvy jack-a-nape priest
to meddle or make. You may be gone. It is not good
you tarry here.—By gar, I will cut all his two
stones. By gar, he shall not have a stone to throw
at his dog. (1.4.114-118)
Yikes! Doctor Caius is pretty ticked off when he finds out that he's got some competition in his pursuit of Anne Page. Here, he threatens to cut off Evans' "two stones" for helping Slender woo Anne. As scary as that sounds, we're not ever really worried that Caius will cut off anyone's genitals. Caius's speech is so over-the-top and ridiculous that we just don't take him seriously. In other words, this play is a comedy and it treats male jealousy as something to be giggled at, not feared.
MISTRESS PAGE Let's be revenged on him. [...] MISTRESS FORD ...I will consent to act any villainy against him that may not sully the chariness of our honesty. (2.1.93; 98-100)
In case you need evidence that the wives aren't cheating on their husbands with Falstaff, here you go. When Falstaff puts the moves on them, they pretend to be interested so they can embarrass him in public. That's why Mistress Page says "[w]ives may be merry, and yet honest, too" (4.2.89). In other words, a sense of humor never hurt anyone. (We think Ford should look into that.)
MISTRESS FORD O, that my husband saw this letter! It would give eternal food to his jealousy. MISTRESS PAGE Why, look where he comes, and my good man too. He's as far from jealousy as I am from giving him cause, and that, I hope, is an unmeasurable distance. (2.1.100-105)
Now this is interesting! Apparently, Master Ford has had a history of jealousy, long before Falstaff came along. It's almost as if Ford's mistrust of his wife is like some kind of weird medical condition or something. But check it out: Page trusts his wife, and she deserves it. It's almost like they're partners or something. Isn't that a novel ideal?
FORD Though Page be a secure fool, an stands so firmly
on his wife's frailty, yet I cannot put off my
opinion so easily. She was in his company at Page's
house, and what they made there I know not. (2.1.229-232)
Jealous Master Ford thinks Page is an idiot for trusting a woman who is obviously "frail" (aka was born with a weakness of moral character). Ford isn't alone. A lot of people in the 16th and 17th centuries thought that all women were born flawed, so they were prone to cheating on their husbands. Fun fact: one dominant theory of gender at Shakespeare's time didn't think of men and women as separate sexes. Women were just like men, only defective.
FORD I think if your husbands were dead, you two would marry. MISTRESS PAGE Be sure of that—two other husbands. (3.2.13-15)
Okay. We already knew that Ford was irrational in his fear that his wife will sleep with other men. But when he implies that the two women have a naughty relationship, we also see that he's jealous of his wife's relationship with her BFF, Mistress Page. But Mistress Page isn't having any of this. Her snappy comeback puts jealous Ford in his place.
FORD ...I will take him, then torture my wife, pluck
the borrowed veil of modesty from the so-seeming
Mistress Page, divulge Page himself for a secure and
willful Actaeon, and to these violent proceedings all
my neighbors shall cry aim. [...]
I shall be rather praised for this than
mocked... (3.2.38-42; 44-45)
Yikes! Not only does Ford want to catch his wife cheating, he wants to "torture" her and humiliate her publicly in front of all the "neighbors." (Maybe he should star in an episode of Cheaters.) The irony of this is that Ford is the one who looks like a fool in front of the entire community, right? After all, he's always inviting his buddies over to his house to try to catch his wife with Falstaff but he just ends up embarrassing himself in front of his neighbors. Fun times.
MISTRESS FORD Why, what have you to do whither they bear it? You were best meddle with buck-washing! FORD Buck? I would I could wash myself of the buck. Buck, buck, buck! Ay, buck! I warrant you, buck, and of the season too, it shall appear. (3.3.153-157)
Gee, why does Ford go berserk when his wife says that he's got no business worrying about "buck-washing" (aka laundry that needs to be bleached)? Because he hears the word "buck" and immediately thinks of an animal with horns, that's why, and horns are a symbol for cuckolds. Since Ford suspects his wife is cheating on him he's feeling a little sensitive about the subject. The great thing about this scene is that Falstaff is actually hiding in the buck-basket (laundry basket) this very moment, but Ford doesn't know it. What's the effect of all this? Well, it makes us feel like we're in on the joke with the "merry wives."
FORD To Master Brook you yet shall hold your word,
For he tonight shall lie with Mistress Ford. (5.5.253-254)
By the end of the play, Ford realizes he's been acting like a fool and promises to never mistrust his wife again. He even manages to crack a joke about his jealous ways when he tells Falstaff that "Master Brooke" is going to sleep with Mistress Ford tonight. Remember, Ford disguised himself as a guy named "Brooke" earlier in the play in an attempt to catch his wife cheating. We've just got one question, Shmooperinos: does this weird joke make you feel as uncomfortable as it makes us?