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

Act II. Scene II.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

A Room in the Garter Inn.


Fal.I will not lend thee a penny.

Pist.Why, then the world’s mine oyster,

Which I with sword will open.

I will retort the sum in equipage.

Fal.Not a penny. I have been content, sir, you should lay my countenance to pawn: I have grated upon my good friends for three reprieves for you and your coach-fellow Nym; or else you had looked through the grate, like a geminy of baboons. I am damned in hell for swearing to gentlemen my friends, you were good soldiers and tall fellows; and when Mistress Bridget lost the handle of her fan, I took ’t upon mine honour thou hadst it not.

Pist.Didst thou not share? hadst thou not fifteen pence?

Fal.Reason, you rogue, reason: thinkest thou, I’ll endanger my soul gratis? At a word, hang no more about me; I am no gibbet for you: go: a short knife and a throng!—to your manor of Picht-hatch! go. You’ll not bear a letter for me, you rogue!—you stand upon your honour!—Why, thou unconfinable baseness, it is as much as I can do to keep the terms of mine honour precise. I, I, I, myself sometimes, leaving the fear of God on the left hand and hiding mine honour in my necessity, am fain to shuffle, to hedge and to lurch; and yet you, rogue, will ensconce your rags, your cat-a-mountain looks, your red-lattice phrases, and your bold-beating oaths, under the shelter of your honour! You will not do it, you!

Pist.I do relent: what wouldst thou more of man?

Enter ROBIN.

Rob.Sir, here’s a woman would speak with you.

Fal.Let her approach.


Quick.Give your worship good morrow.

Fal.Good morrow, good wife.

Quick.Not so, an ’t please your worship.

Fal.Good maid, then.

Quick.I’ll be sworn

As my mother was, the first hour I was born.

Fal.I do believe the swearer. What with me?

Quick.Shall I vouchsafe your worship a word or two?

Fal.Two thousand, fair woman; and I’ll vouchsafe thee the hearing.

Quick.There is one Mistress Ford, sir,—I pray, come a little nearer this ways:—I myself dwell with Master Doctor Caius.

Fal.Well, on: Mistress Ford, you say,—

Quick.Your worship says very true:—I pray your worship, come a little nearer this ways.

Fal.I warrant thee, nobody hears; mine own people, mine own people.

Quick.Are they so? God bless them, and make them his servants!

Fal.Well: Mistress Ford; what of her?

Quick.Why, sir, she’s a good creature. Lord, Lord! your worship’s a wanton! Well, heaven forgive you, and all of us, I pray!

Fal.Mistress Ford; come, Mistress Ford,—

Quick.Marry, this is the short and the long of it. You have brought her into such a canaries as ’tis wonderful: the best courtier of them all, when the court lay at Windsor, could never have brought her to such a canary; yet there has been knights, and lords, and gentlemen, with their coaches, I warrant you, coach after coach, letter after letter, gift after gift; smelling so sweetly—all musk, and so rushling, I warrant you, in silk and gold; and in such alligant terms; and in such wine and sugar of the best and the fairest, that would have won any woman’s heart; and, I warrant you, they could never get an eye-wink of her. I had myself twenty angels given me this morning; but I defy all angels, in any such sort, as they say, but in the way of honesty: and, I warrant you, they could never get her so much as sip on a cup with the proudest of them all; and yet there has been earls, nay, which is more, pensioners; but, I warrant you, all is one with her.

Fal.But what says she to me? be brief, my good she-Mercury.

Quick.Marry, she hath received your letter; for the which she thanks you a thousand times; and she gives you to notify that her husband will be absence from his house between ten and eleven.

Fal.Ten and eleven?

Quick.Ay, forsooth; and then you may come and see the picture, she says, that you wot of: Master Ford, her husband, will be from home. Alas! the sweet woman leads an ill life with him; he’s a very jealousy man; she leads a very frampold life with him, good heart.

Fal.Ten and eleven. Woman, commend me to her; I will not fail her.

Quick.Why, you say well. But I have another messenger to your worship: Mistress Page hath her hearty commendations to you too: and let me tell you in your ear, she’s as fartuous a civil modest wife, and one, I tell you, that will not miss you morning nor evening prayer, as any is in Windsor, whoe’er be the other: and she bade me tell your worship that her husband is seldom from home; but, she hopes there will come a time. I never knew a woman so dote upon a man: surely, I think you have charms, la; yes, in truth.

Fal.Not I, I assure thee: setting the attraction of my good parts aside, I have no other charms.

Quick.Blessing on your heart for ’t!

Fal.But, I pray thee, tell me this: has Ford’s wife and Page’s wife acquainted each other how they love me?

Quick.That were a jest indeed! they have not so little grace, I hope: that were a trick, indeed! But Mistress Page would desire you to send her your little page, of all loves: her husband has a marvellous infection to the little page; and, truly, Master Page is an honest man. Never a wife in Windsor leads a better life than she does: do what she will, say what she will, take all, pay all, go to bed when she list, rise when she list, all is as she will: and, truly she deserves it; for if there be a kind woman in Windsor, she is one. You must send her your page; no remedy.

Fal.Why, I will.

Quick.Nay, but do so, then: and, look you, he may come and go between you both; and in any case have a nay-word, that you may know one another’s mind, and the boy never need to understand any thing; for ’tis not good that children should know any wickedness: old folks, you know, have discretion, as they say, and know the world.

Fal.Fare thee well: commend me to them both. There’s my purse; I am yet thy debtor.—Boy, go along with this woman.—[Exeunt MISTRESS QUICKLY and ROBIN.]This news distracts me.

Pist.This punk is one of Cupid’s carriers.

Clap on more sails; pursue; up with your fights;

Give fire! she is my prize, or ocean whelm them all![Exit.

Fal.Sayest thou so, old Jack? go thy ways; I’ll make more of thy old body than I have done. Will they yet look after thee? Wilt thou, after the expense of so much money, be now a gainer? Good body, I thank thee. Let them say ’tis grossly done; so it be fairly done, no matter.

Enter BARDOLPH, with a cup of Sack.

Bard.Sir John, there’s one Master Brook below would fain speak with you, and be acquainted with you: and hath sent your worship a morning’s draught of sack.

Fal.Brook is his name?

Bard.Ay, sir.

Fal.Call him in.[Exit BARDOLPH.]Such Brooks are welcome to me, that o’erflow such liquor. Ah, ha! Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, have I encompassed you? go to; via!

Re-enter BARDOLPH, with FORD disguised.

Ford.Bless you, sir!

Fal.And you, sir; would you speak with me?

Ford.I make bold to press with so little preparation upon you.

Fal.You’re welcome. What’s your will?—Give us leave, drawer.[Exit BARDOLPH.

Ford.Sir, I am a gentleman that have spent much: my name is Brook.

Fal.Good Master Brook, I desire more acquaintance of you.

Ford.Good Sir John, I sue for yours: not to charge you; for I must let you understand I think myself in better plight for a lender than you are: the which hath something emboldened me to this unseasoned intrusion; for, they say, if money go before, all ways do lie open.

Fal.Money is a good soldier, sir, and will on.

Ford.Troth, and I have a bag of money here troubles me: if you will help to bear it, Sir John, take all, or half, for easing me of the carriage.

Fal.Sir, I know not how I may deserve to be your porter.

Ford.I will tell you, sir, if you will give me the hearing.

Fal.Speak, good Master Brook; I shall be glad to be your servant.

Ford.Sir, I hear you are a scholar,—I will be brief with you, and you have been a man long known to me, though I had never so good means, as desire, to make myself acquainted with you. I shall discover a thing to you, wherein I must very much lay open mine own imperfection; but, good Sir John, as you have one eye upon my follies, as you hear them unfolded, turn another into the register of your own, that I may pass with a reproof the easier, sith you yourself know how easy it is to be such an offender.

Fal.Very well, sir; proceed.

Ford.There is a gentlewoman in this town, her husband’s name is Ford.

Fal.Well, sir.

Ford.I have long loved her, and, I protest to you, bestowed much on her; followed her with a doting observance; engrossed opportunities to meet her; fee’d every slight occasion that could but niggardly give me sight of her; not only bought many presents to give her, but have given largely to many to know what she would have given. Briefly, I have pursued her as love hath pursued me; which hath been on the wing of all occasions. But whatsoever I have merited, either in my mind or in my means, meed, I am sure, I have received none; unless experience be a jewel that I have purchased at an infinite rate; and that hath taught me to say this,

  • Love like a shadow flies when substance love pursues;
  • Pursuing that that flies, and flying what pursues.
  • Fal.Have you received no promise of satisfaction at her hands?


    Fal.Have you importuned her to such a purpose?


    Fal.Of what quality was your love, then?

    Ford.Like a fair house built upon another man’s ground; so that I have lost my edifice by mistaking the place where I erected it.

    Fal.To what purpose have you unfolded this to me?

    Ford.When I have told you that, I have told you all. Some say, that though she appear honest to me, yet in other places she enlargeth her mirth so far that there is shrewd construction made of her. Now, Sir John, here is the heart of my purpose: you are a gentleman of excellent breeding, admirable discourse, of great admittance, authentic in your place and person, generally allowed for your many war-like, court-like, and learned preparations.

    Fal.O, sir!

    Ford.Believe it, for you know it. There is money; spend it, spend it; spend more; spend all I have; only give me so much of your time in exchange of it, as to lay an amiable siege to the honesty of this Ford’s wife: use your art of wooing, win her to consent to you; if any man may, you may as soon as any.

    Fal.Would it apply well to the vehemency of your affection, that I should win what you would enjoy? Methinks you prescribe to yourself very preposterously.

    Ford.O, understand my drift. She dwells so securely on the excellency of her honour, that the folly of my soul dares not present itself: she is too bright to be looked against. Now, could I come to her with any detection in my hand, my desires had instance and argument to commend themselves: I could drive her then from the ward of her purity, her reputation, her marriage-vow, and a thousand other her defences, which now are too-too strongly embattled against me. What say you to ’t, Sir John?

    Fal.Master Brook, I will first make bold with your money; next, give me your hand; and last, as I am a gentleman, you shall, if you will, enjoy Ford’s wife.

    Ford.O good sir!

    Fal.I say you shall.

    Ford.Want no money, Sir John; you shall want none.

    Fal.Want no Mistress Ford, Master Brook; you shall want none. I shall be with her, I may tell you, by her own appointment; even as you came in to me, her assistant or go-between parted from me: I say I shall be with her between ten and eleven; for at that time the jealous rascally knave her husband will be forth. Come you to me at night; you shall know how I speed.

    Ford.I am blest in your acquaintance. Do you know Ford, sir?

    Fal.Hang him, poor cuckoldly knave! I know him not. Yet I wrong him, to call him poor: they say the jealous wittolly knave hath masses of money; for the which his wife seems to me well-favoured. I will use her as the key of the cuckoldly rogue’s coffer; and there’s my harvest-home.

    Ford.I would you knew Ford, sir, that you might avoid him, if you saw him.

    Fal.Hang him, mechanical salt-butter rogue! I will stare him out of his wits; I will awe him with my cudgel: it shall hang like a meteor o’er the cuckold’s horns. Master Brook, thou shalt know I will predominate over the peasant, and thou shalt lie with his wife. Come to me soon at night. Ford’s a knave, and I will aggravate his style; thou, Master Brook, shalt know him for knave and cuckold. Come to me soon at night.[Exit.

    Ford.What a damned Epicurean rascal is this! My heart is ready to crack with impatience. Who says this is improvident jealousy? my wife hath sent to him, the hour is fixed, the match is made. Would any man have thought this? See the hell of having a false woman! My bed shall be abused, my coffers ransacked, my reputation gnawn at; and I shall not only receive this villanous wrong, but stand under the adoption of abominable terms, and by him that does me this wrong. Terms! names! Amaimon sounds well; Lucifer, well; barbason, well; yet they are devils’ additions, the names of fiends: but Cuckold! Wittol!—Cuckold! the devil himself hath not such a name. Page is an ass, a secure ass: he will trust his wife; he will not be jealous. I will rather trust a Fleming with my butter, Parson Hugh the Welshman with my cheese, an Irishman with my aqua-vitæ bottle, or a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife with herself: then she plots, then she ruminates, then she devises; and what they think in their hearts they may effect, they will break their hearts but they will effect. God be praised for my jealousy! Eleven o’clock the hour: I will prevent this, detect my wife, be revenged on Falstaff, and laugh at Page. I will about it; better three hours too soon than a minute too late. Fie, fie, fie! cuckold! cuckold! cuckold![Exit.