A room in Ford’s house.
(Falstaff; Mistress Ford; Mistress Margaret Page; First Servant; Second Servant; Ford; Page; Caius; Evans; Shallow)
Falstaff meets with Mistress Ford again, when Mistress Page arrives to announce that Ford and others are again on their way. Falstaff refuses to go in the basket again, and the only solution they can find is for him to dress up as a woman and pretend to be the fat woman of Brainford, the aunt of Ford’s maid, whom Ford loathes as a witch. As he disguises himself, Mistress Page warns Mistress Ford that Ford knows about the laundry basket, so she gets her servants to carry it out again. Ford forces them to put it down and searches through it. By this stage his friends are convinced he’s lost his wits. When Falstaff comes downstairs in his disguise, Ford is furious that the old witch has come to his house, which he has forbidden, and has “her” beaten out of doors. Sir Hugh is convinced she must be a witch indeed, given the beard she has. The wives laugh and decide the time has come to tell their husbands everything, hoping to find a new trick to play on Falstaff with their help. (94 lines)
Enter Falstaff, Mistress Ford.
Mistress Ford, your sorrow hath eaten up my sufferance. I see you are obsequious in your love, and I profess requital to a hair’s breadth, not only, Mistress Ford, in the simple office of love, but in all the accoutrement, complement, and ceremony of it. But are you sure of your husband now?
He’s a-birding, sweet Sir John.
What ho, gossip Ford! What ho!
Step into th’ chamber, Sir John.
Enter Mistress Page.
How now, sweet heart, who’s at home besides yourself?
Why, none but mine own people.
Aside to her.
Truly, I am so glad you have nobody here.
Why, woman, your husband is in his old lines again. He so takes on yonder with my husband; so rails against all married mankind; so curses all Eve’s daughters, of what complexion soever; and so buffets himself on the forehead, crying, “Peer out, peer out!” , that any madness I ever yet beheld seem’d but tameness, civility, and patience to this his distemper he is in now. I am glad the fat knight is not here.
Why, does he talk of him?
Of none but him, and swears he was carried out, the last time he search’d for him, in a basket; protests to my husband he is now here, and hath drawn him and the rest of their company from their sport, to make another experiment of his suspicion. But I am glad the knight is not here. Now he shall see his own foolery.
How near is he, Mistress Page?
Hard by, at street end; he will be here anon.
I am undone! The knight is here.
Why then you are utterly sham’d, and he’s but a dead man. What a woman are you? Away with him, away with him! Better shame than murder.
Which way should he go? How should I bestow him? Shall I put him into the basket again?
No, I’ll come no more i’ th’ basket. May I not go out ere he come?
Alas! Three of Master Ford’s brothers watch the door with pistols, that none shall issue out; otherwise you might slip away ere he came. But what make you here?
What shall I do? I’ll creep up into the chimney.
There they always use to discharge their birding-pieces. Creep into the kill-hole.
Where is it?
He will seek there, on my word. Neither press, coffer, chest, trunk, well, vault, but he hath an abstract for the remembrance of such places, and goes to them by his note. There is no hiding you in the house.
I’ll go out then.
If you go out in your own semblance, you die, Sir John—unless you go out disguis’d.
How might we disguise him?
Alas the day, I know not! There is no woman’s gown big enough for him; otherwise he might put on a hat, a muffler, and a kerchief, and so escape.
Good hearts, devise something; any extremity rather than a mischief.
My maid’s aunt, the fat woman of Brainford, has a gown above.
On my word, it will serve him; she’s as big as he is. And there’s her thrumm’d hat and her muffler too. Run up, Sir John.
Go, go, sweet Sir John. Mistress Page and I will look some linen for your head.
Quick, quick! We’ll come dress you straight. Put on the gown the while.
I would my husband would meet him in this shape. He cannot abide the old woman of Brainford. He swears she’s a witch, forbade her my house, and hath threat’ned to beat her.
Heaven guide him to thy husband’s cudgel; and the devil guide his cudgel afterwards!
But is my husband coming?
Ay, in good sadness, is he, and talks of the basket too, howsoever he hath had intelligence.
We’ll try that; for I’ll appoint my men to carry the basket again, to meet him at the door with it, as they did last time.
Nay, but he’ll be here presently. Let’s go dress him like the witch of Brainford.
I’ll first direct my men what they shall do with the basket. Go up, I’ll bring linen for him straight.
Hang him, dishonest varlet! We cannot misuse him enough.
We’ll leave a proof, by that which we will do,
Wives may be merry, and yet honest too:
We do not act that often jest and laugh;
’Tis old, but true: still swine eats all the draff.
Enter Mistress Ford with two Servants.
Go, sirs, take the basket again on your shoulders. Your master is hard at door. If he bid you set it down, obey him. Quickly, dispatch.
Come, come, take it up.
Pray heaven it be not full of knight again.
I hope not, I had lief as bear so much lead.
Enter Ford, Page, Caius, Evans, Shallow.
Ay, but if it prove true, Master Page, have you any way then to unfool me again? Set down the basket, villain! Somebody call my wife. Youth in a basket! O you panderly rascals, there’s a knot, a ging, a pack, a conspiracy against me. Now shall the devil be sham’d. What, wife, I say! Come, come forth! Behold what honest clothes you send forth to bleaching!
Why, this passes, Master Ford. You are not to go loose any longer, you must be pinion’d.
Why, this is lunatics! This is mad as a mad dog!
Indeed, Master Ford, this is not well indeed.
So say I too, sir.
Enter Mistress Ford.
Come hither, Mistress Ford, Mistress Ford, the honest woman, the modest wife, the virtuous creature, that hath the jealous fool to her husband! I suspect without cause, mistress, do I?
Heaven be my witness you do, and if you suspect me in any dishonesty.
Well said, brazen-face! Hold it out. Come forth, sirrah!
Pulling clothes out of the basket.
Are you not asham’d? Let the clothes alone.
I shall find you anon.
’Tis unreasonable! Will you take up your wive’s clothes? Come away.
Empty the basket, I say!
Why, man, why?
Master Page, as I am a man, there was one convey’d out of my house yesterday in this basket. Why may not he be there again? In my house I am sure he is. My intelligence is true, my jealousy is reasonable. Pluck me out all the linen.
If you find a man there, he shall die a flea’s death.
Here’s no man.
By my fidelity, this is not well, Master Ford; this wrongs you.
Master Ford, you must pray, and not follow the imaginations of your own heart. This is jealousies.
Well, he’s not here I seek for.
No, nor no where else but in your brain.
Help to search my house this one time. If I find not what I seek, show no color for my extremity; let me forever be your table-sport. Let them say of me, “As jealous as Ford, that search’d a hollow walnut for his wive’s leman.” Satisfy me once more, once more search with me.
What ho, Mistress Page! Come you and the old woman down; my husband will come into the chamber.
Old woman? What old woman’s that?
Why, it is my maid’s aunt of Brainford.
A witch, a quean, an old cozening quean! Have I not forbid her my house? She comes of errands, does she? We are simple men, we do not know what’s brought to pass under the profession of fortune-telling. She works by charms, by spells, by th’ figure, and such daub’ry as this is, beyond our element; we know nothing. Come down, you witch, you hag you, come down, I say!
Nay, good, sweet husband! Good gentlemen, let him not strike the old woman.
Enter Falstaff disguised like an old woman, and Mistress Page with him.
Come, Mother Prat, come give me your hand.
I’ll prat her. Out of my door, you witch, you rag, you baggage, you poulcat, you runnion! Out, out! I’ll conjure you, I’ll fortune-tell you!
Ford beats him, and he runs away.
Are you not asham’d? I think you have kill’d the poor woman.
Nay, he will do it.—’Tis a goodly credit for you.
Hang her, witch!
By yea and no, I think the oman is a witch indeed. I like not when a oman has a great peard. I spy a great peard under his muffler.
Will you follow, gentlemen? I beseech you follow; see but the issue of my jealousy. If I cry out thus upon no trail, never trust me when I open again.
Let’s obey his humor a little further. Come, gentlemen.
Exeunt Ford, Page, Shallow, Caius, and Evans.
Trust me, he beat him most pitifully.
Nay, by th’ mass, that he did not; he beat him most unpitifully, methought.
I’ll have the cudgel hallow’d and hung o’er the altar; it hath done meritorious service.
What think you? May we, with the warrant of womanhood and the witness of a good conscience, pursue him with any further revenge?
The spirit of wantonness is sure scar’d out of him. If the devil have him not in fee-simple, with fine and recovery, he will never, I think, in the way of waste, attempt us again.
Shall we tell our husbands how we have serv’d him?
Yes, by all means; if it be but to scrape the figures out of your husband’s brains. If they can find in their hearts the poor unvirtuous fat knight shall be any further afflicted, we two will still be the ministers.
I’ll warrant they’ll have him publicly sham’d, and methinks there would be no period to the jest, should he not be publicly sham’d.
Come, to the forge with it, then shape it. I would not have things cool.