Study Guide

The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 4, Scene 2

By William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 2

Read the full text of The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 4 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • Falstaff show up at the Ford house and starts to sweet talk Mistress Ford.
  • He's worried that her husband will show up, so Mistress Ford promises him that her husband's out bird hunting with his pals.
  • Then Mistress Page shows up (as planned) and Falstaff hides in the next room.
  • Mistress Page acts like she doesn't know Falstaff is hiding and pretend-warns her friend that Master Ford is on his way home to catch his wife cheating.
  • Mistress Ford is all "Oh, no! Falstaff is here. What are we going to do?!"
  • Falstaff wants to run away, but Mistress Page says that Ford's brothers are guarding the doors with pistols—there's no escape.
  • Falstaff refuses to climb back inside the stinky "buck-basket" and offers to hide in the chimney.
  • Instead, the housewives convince Falstaff that he should put on a bunch of women's clothes and pretend to be the "fat woman of Brentford."
  • Brain Snack: Gillian of Brentford (aka "the old woman of Brentford") is a popular English folk figure who appears in a lot of comedies. She's most famous for leaving her friends "a score of farts" in her will (source).
  • Mistress Page declares that they'll teach Falstaff and Ford a lesson they won't soon forget. Then she utters the most famous lines in the play: "wives may be merry and yet honest, too." (Translation: Housewives can be fun-loving, practical jokers—and maybe even flirt a little—but that doesn't mean they're not faithful to their husbands.)
  • Ford bursts into the room like a maniac and screams at the servants to drop the "buck-basket."
  • While he riffles through the dirty laundry, his friends urge him to stop acting like a total psycho.
  • Mistress Ford sweetly tells her husband that her maid's aunt (the "old woman of Brentford") is visiting.
  • Ford flips out and screams that he's forbidden that old "witch" from entering his home. He even grabs a cudgel to hit her with when he sees her. (Hmm. Starting to wonder why Ford hates women so much? Go to "Themes: Gender" for more on this.)
  • Falstaff comes down the stairs in his old woman disguise. (Think Tyler Perry as "Madea.")
  • Ford goes nuts, beats the "old woman," calls "her" a bunch of names, and chases "her" out the door.
  • Ford's friends don't know the "old woman" is actually Falstaff but they stand around and watch anyway. (This usually gets a big laugh from audiences but we have to confess that's we're a little freaked out when Ford beats up someone he thinks is an old lady.)
  • Mistress Page and Mistress Ford think it's hilarious that Falstaff was beaten "most pitifully," and they decide to 'fess us to their husbands.

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