Study Guide

The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 3, Scene 3

By William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 3

Read the full text of The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 3 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • Over at Ford's house, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page get ready to punk Falstaff and Master Ford.
  • Falstaff's going to show up any minute, so they order the servants to set up a "buck-basket" (a.k.a. laundry basket) in the room.
  • Mistress Ford tells the servants to wait for her signal and then carry the buck-basket down to the river and dump its contents in the water.
  • Ooh, this sounds like it's going to be good.
  • Robin shows up and announces that Falstaff has arrived but totally has no idea what the wives are up to.
  • Mistress Page hides.
  • Falstaff swaggers into the room, thinking he's about to get his swerve on.
  • Not wasting any time, he calls Mistress Ford a "heavenly jewel," and says he wishes her husband were dead. Then he tells her she's got eyes like "diamonds," and a very sexy forehead. (We couldn't make this up.)
  • Mistress Page doesn't seem impressed, so Falstaff switches gears and tries a new approach.
  • He says something like, "Look, honey, I'm not young, and I'm not the kind of guy who gets dressed up or wears cologne when I show up at a woman's house. Also, I'm not going to compare your beauty to this, that, or the other thing. (Even though he just did.) I'll just come straight out and tell you I love you."
  • Mistress Page bats her eyelashes and is all, "I'll bet you say that to all the housewives. In fact, didn't you just tell my best friend that you love her, too?"
  • Just as Falstaff denies wanting anything to do with Mistress Page, Robin runs into the room and says… that Mistress Page is at the door.
  • Falstaff is a coward so, naturally, he hides behind an arras (a screen) just as Mistress Page pretend-storms into the room.
  • Mistress Page and Mistress Ford proceed to have a pretend fight about who gets to be with Falstaff.
  • Mistress Page pretend-warns her friend that Master Ford is on his way home and knows all about her torrid affair with the knight.
  • And then Mistress Page for real suggests that Falstaff should hide under a pile of dirty laundry in the "buck-basket" but Mistress Ford says she thinks he's too big.
  • Falstaff doesn't want to get caught by a jealous husband so he jumps out from his hiding spot and crams himself into the stinky laundry basket.
  • (As we know, the Elizabethans didn't exactly have great hygiene standards. They rarely bathed and washed their clothes and bed linens even less. So, let your imaginations work with that.)
  • Mistress Ford calls in her servants (John and Robert) and orders them to carry the buck-basket outside and down to the river.
  • Master Ford and his pals (Page, Caius, and Evans) burst into the room. Perfect timing!
  • Ford asks the servants where the heck they think they're going with the laundry basket.
  • Mistress Ford speaks up and asks her husband why he cares about "buck-washing."
  • Ford flips out and starts yelling "Buck, buck, buck? Ay, warrant you, buck."
  • Brain snack: "Buck-washing" is just laundry that needs to be bleached with lye, but when Ford hears the word "buck," he immediately thinks of a male deer with horns. (Horns being the universal symbol for cuckolds in Shakespeare's day. A "cuckold" is just another word for a guy whose wife cheats on him. We talk more about this in "Symbols.")
  • The servants leave with the "buck-basket" and Ford runs around locking all the doors so Falstaff can't escape. (Whoops. Too late.)
  • Then he orders his friends to help him search the house for his wife's secret lover.
  • Page, Evans, and Caius are a little embarrassed by their lunatic friend, but they follow Ford around the house anyway.
  • Mistress Ford and Mistress Page can't decide which is better—tricking Falstaff or watching jealous Master Ford make a fool of himself.
  • Mistress Ford snickers that she thinks Falstaff peed his pants in fear, so it's a good thing he's getting tossed in the river along with all her dirty laundry.
  • The ladies decide to engage Mistress Quickly again and play another trick on Falstaff.
  • Meanwhile, Master Ford is still running around like a cuckoo looking for Falstaff.
  • Ford finally gives up the search and apologizes to his wife and buddies, who are still laughing about it behind his back.
  • Master Ford wants to make things up to his pals. He invites them in for the dinner he promised and begs everyone's forgiveness again.
  • Before going in for dinner, Master Page conspires with Doctor Caius and Evans, saying they'll mock Ford yet. 
  • Then he invites all the fellas over for breakfast and birding in the morning. 
  • Then, Evans and Caius plot against the Host.
  • Let the madcap shenanigans continue. 

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