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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act IV. Scene II.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

A Room in FORD’S House.


Fal.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?

Mrs. Ford.He’s a-birding, sweet Sir John.

Mrs. Page.[Within.]What ho! gossip Ford! what ho!

Mrs. Ford.Step into the chamber, Sir John.[Exit FALSTAFF.


Mrs. Page.How now, sweetheart! who’s at home besides yourself?

Mrs. Ford.Why, none but mine own people.

Mrs. Page.Indeed!

Mrs. Ford.No, certainly.—[Aside to her.]Speak louder.

Mrs. Page.Truly, I am so glad you have nobody here.

Mrs. Ford.Why?

Mrs. Page.Why, woman, your husband is in his old lunes 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 seemed but tameness, civility and patience, to this his distemper he is in now. I am glad the fat knight is not here.

Mrs. Ford.Why, does he talk of him?

Mrs. Page.Of none but him; and swears he was carried out, the last time he searched 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.

Mrs. Ford.How near is he, Mistress Page?

Mrs. Page.Hard by; at street end; he will be here anon.

Mrs. Ford.I am undone! the knight is here.

Mrs. Page.Why then you are utterly shamed, and he’s but a dead man. What a woman are you! Away with him, away with him! better shame than murder.

Mrs. Ford.Which way should he go? how should I bestow him? Shall I put him into the basket again?

Re-enter FALSTAFF.

Fal.No, I’ll come no more i’ the basket. May I not go out ere he come?

Mrs. Page.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?

Fal.What shall I do? I’ll creep up into the chimney.

Mrs. Ford.There they always use to discharge their birding-pieces.

Mrs. Page.Creep into the kiln-hole.

Fal.Where is it?

Mrs. Ford.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.

Fal.I’ll go out, then.

Mrs. Page.If you go out in your own semblance, you die, Sir John. Unless you go out disguised,—

Mrs. Ford.How might we disguise him?

Mrs. Page.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.

Fal.Good hearts, devise something: any extremity rather than a mischief.

Mrs. Ford.My maid’s aunt, the fat woman of Brainford, has a gown above.

Mrs. Page.On my word, it will serve him; she’s as big as he is: and there’s her thrummed hat and her muffler too. Run up, Sir John.

Mrs. Ford.Go, go, sweet Sir John: Mistress Page and I will look some linen for your head.

Mrs. Page.Quick, quick! we’ll come dress you straight; put on the gown the while.[Exit FALSTAFF.

Mrs. Ford.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 threatened to beat her.

Mrs. Page.Heaven guide him to thy husband’s cudgel, and the devil guide his cudgel afterwards!

Mrs. Ford.But is my husband coming?

Mrs. Page.Ay, in good sadness, is he; and talks of the basket too, howsoever he hath had intelligence.

Mrs. Ford.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.

Mrs. Page.Nay, but he’ll be here presently: let’s go dress him like the witch of Brainford.

Mrs. Ford.I’ll first direct my men what they shall do with the basket. Go up; I’ll bring linen for him straight.[Exit.

Mrs. Page.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.’[Exit.

Re-enter MISTRESS FORD, with two Servants.

Mrs. Ford.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.[Exit.

First Serv.Come, come, take it up.

Sec. Serv.Pray heaven, it be not full of knight again.

First Serv.I hope not; I had as lief bear so much lead.


Ford.Ay, but if it prove true, Master Page, have you any way then to unfool me again? Set down the basket, villains. 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 shamed. What, wife, I say! Come, come forth! Behold what honest clothes you send forth to bleaching!

Page.Why, this passes! Master Ford, you are not to go loose any longer; you must be pinioned.

Eva.Why, this is lunatics! this is mad as a mad dog!

Shal.Indeed, Master Ford, this is not well, indeed.

Ford.So say I too, sir.—


Come hither, 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?

Mrs. Ford.Heaven be my witness, you do, if you suspect me in any dishonesty.

Ford.Well said, brazen-face! hold it out. Come forth, sirrah![Pulls the clothes out of the basket.

Page.This passes!

Mrs. Ford.Are you not ashamed? let the clothes alone.

Ford.I shall find you anon.

Eva.’Tis unreasonable. Will you take up your wife’s clothes? Come away.

Ford.Empty the basket, I say!

Mrs. Ford.Why, man, why?

Ford.Master Page, as I am an honest man, there was one conveyed 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.

Mrs. Ford.If you find a man there he shall die a flea’s death.

Page.Here’s no man.

Shal.By my fidelity, this is not well, Master Ford; this wrongs you.

Eva.Master Ford, you must pray, and not follow the imaginations of your own heart: this is jealousies.

Ford.Well, he’s not here I seek for.

Page.No, nor nowhere else but in your brain.[Servants carry away the basket.

Ford.Help to search my house this one time: if I find not what I seek, show no colour for my extremity; let me for ever be your table-sport; let them say of me, ‘As jealous as Ford, that searched a hollow walnut for his wife’s leman.’ Satisfy me once more; once more search with me.

Mrs. Ford.What ho, Mistress Page! come you and the old woman down; my husband will come into the chamber.

Ford.Old woman! What old woman’s that?

Mrs. Ford.Why, it is my maid’s aunt of Brainford.

Ford.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 the figure, and such daubery as this is, beyond our element: we know nothing. Come down, you witch, you hag, you; come down, I say!

Mrs. Ford.Nay, good, sweet husband! good gentlemen, let him not strike the old woman.

Enter FALSTAFF in women’s clothes, led by MISTRESS PAGE.

Mrs. Page.Come, Mother Prat; come, give me your hand.

Ford.I’ll ‘prat’ her.—[Beats him.]Out of my door, you witch, you rag, you baggage, you polecat, you ronyon! out, out! I’ll conjure you, I’ll fortune-tell you.[Exit FALSTAFF.

Mrs. Page.Are you not ashamed? I think you have killed the poor woman.

Mrs. Ford.Nay, he will do it. ’Tis a goodly credit for you.

Ford.Hang her, witch!

Eva.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 her muffler.

Ford.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.

Page.Let’s obey his humour a little further. Come, gentlemen.[Exeunt FORD, PAGE, SHALLOW, CAIUS, and EVANS.

Mrs. Page.Trust me, he beat him most pitifully.

Mrs. Ford.Nay, by the mass, that he did not; he beat him most unpitifully methought.

Mrs. Page.I’ll have the cudgel hallowed and hung o’er the altar: it hath done meritorious service.

Mrs. Ford.What think you? May we, with the warrant of womanhood and the witness of a good conscience, pursue him with any further revenge?

Mrs. Page.The spirit of wantonness is, sure, scared 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.

Mrs. Ford.Shall we tell our husbands how we have served him?

Mrs. Page.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.

Mrs. Ford.I’ll warrant they’ll have him publicly shamed, and methinks there would be no period to the jest, should he not be publicly shamed.

Mrs. Page.Come, to the forge with it then; shape it: I would not have things cool.[Exeunt.