Time: The reign of Henry IV, 1399 to 1413
Place: Windsor, England
Scene 1: At the Garter Inn
Sir John Falstaff is carousing with his servants, Bardolfo and Pistola, and a young page when Dr. Caius bursts in. The angry Caius accuses the men of having robbed him the night before while he was drunk. Falstaff dismisses the accusations and Dr. Caius leaves in a fury.
The Innkeeper presents Falstaff with a large bill. Unable to pay for his extravagant expenses, Falstaff devises a plan to repair his precarious finances. In two identical letters he professes passionate love to Alice Ford and Meg Page although it is really their wealthy husbands’ money that he covets. Bardolfo and Pistola refuse to deliver the missives, claiming that “honor” prevents them from carrying out such a deceitful request. Falstaff sends the letters by the page instead and proceeds to ridicule his servants’ newly discovered sense of virtue before throwing them out.
Scene 2: A Garden in Windsor
Alice Ford and Meg Page amuse themselves reading Falstaff’s letters. Along with Alice’s daughter, Nannetta and their friend Mistress Quickly; they resolve to punish the knight. Ford arrives, fuming with jealousy, after being warned of Falstaff’s brazen plot by Bardolfo and Pistola. Dr Caius, who is in love with Nannetta, attempts to curry favor with Ford, her father. The young Fenton, an employee of Ford who is also love-struck with Nannetta, steals a playful moment with his beloved. The women return and plot their revenge: Mistress Quickly will tell Falstaff that Alice is favorable to his passionate outpouring. Meanwhile, Bardolfo and Pistola are persuaded to introduce Ford to Falstaff, but under an assumed name. All swear revenge on Falstaff.
Scene 1: Back at the Garter Inn
Bardolfo and Pistola, now working for Ford, return to Falstaff and pretend to beg for his forgiveness. Mistress Quickly arrives and informs Falstaff that both Alice and Meg are madly in love with him. She suggests it will be easier to seduce Alice, since her husband Ford leaves the house every afternoon, between two and three. She also assures Falstaff that neither woman is aware of the other’s invitation. Falstaff celebrates in anticipation of his success. Ford, in disguise as “Mr. Fontana”, arrives and offers Falstaff expensive wine and money if he agrees to seduce Alice. Falstaff is puzzled at the request, but “Fontana” explains his reasons: he has been long in love with the lady, to no avail. If Alice were to fall for Falstaff, she might then be more likely to fall a second time and give in to “Fontana”. Falstaff agrees with pleasure and reveals that, coincidentally, he already has a rendezvous with Alice between the hours of two and three the very same afternoon. Falstaff leaves to prepare for his assignation and Ford, consumed with jealousy, gives way to his anger. Falstaff returns, dressed in his best clothes and the two men leave together
Scene 2: Inside Ford’s house
Alice, Meg and Mistress Quickly are preparing for Falstaff’s impending arrival. As part of their plan, Alice has a large laundry hamper and a screen strategically placed in the room. Nannetta is distraught to have learned her father intends to marry her to Dr. Caius but the women reassure her that will not happen. All quickly hide as Falstaff arrives and begins to seduce Alice with tales of his past aristocratic glory. When Falstaff becomes more amorous, Meg Page interrupts the seduction to announce, in jest, that Ford is approaching the house. The amusement is cut short when a panicked Mistress Quickly peers through a window and sees that Ford is really on his way. Followed by a mob of angry henchmen, Ford arrives with the goal of catching Falstaff red-handed. When they move to ransack an adjacent room, the women hide Falstaff inside the laundry hamper. In the meantime, Fenton and Nannetta sneak into the house and hide behind the screen. Upon returning from their fruitless search for Falstaff, the men hear the sound of a kiss behind the screen. Ford is thrilled that they will catch Falstaff with Alice at last, but instead find Fenton and Nannetta. As the men resume their frantic search, Alice orders her servants to empty the contents of the laundry hamper through a window and down into the river below. When the ruse is revealed, all cheer and Alice and Ford embrace.
Scene 1: Outside of the Garter Inn
A wet and cold Falstaff laments the wretched state of the world but a mug of hot mulled wine quickly improves his mood. Mistress Quickly appears and blames Alice’s servants for the unfortunate incident at Ford’s home. She reassures him that Alice still loves him and, to prove it, delivers a new letter. In her missive, Alice asks Falstaff to meet her at midnight at Windsor Park dressed as the Black Huntsman. Although suspicious at first, Falstaff promises to go. He enters the Inn with Mistress Quickly to be filled in with more details for his disguise. Nannetta, Meg, and Alice enter to plot the rest of the hoax: Nannetta will dress as Queen of the Fairies and the others, also in disguise, will help advance Falstaff’s punishment. Ford secretly promises Caius that he will allow him to marry Nannetta that same evening but Mistress Quickly overhears their scheming.
Scene 2: Windsor Park at midnight
Alone at Windsor Park, Fenton sings of his happiness. The women arrive and disguise him as a monk, telling him of their plan to thwart Ford’s efforts to marry Dr. Caius with Nannetta. They all hide as Falstaff approaches. On the stroke of midnight, Alice appears and declares her love for Falstaff. As planned, they are interrupted by Nannetta and her followers who, disguised as fairies, elves and witches, attack the terrified Falstaff, pinching and poking him until he promises to give up his dissolute ways. In the midst of the assault, Falstaff recognizes Bardolfo in disguise that ends the joke. Ford reveals he was “Mr. Fontana” and Quickly scolds Falstaff for his attempt to seduce two virtuous women. Ford announces that a wedding shall ensue and Dr. Caius comes forward with a figure in white. Alice brings forward another couple, who also receive Ford’s blessing. When the brides remove their veils it is revealed that Ford has just married Fenton to Nannetta, and Dr. Caius to Bardolfo. With everyone now laughing at his expense, Ford has no choice but to forgive the lovers and bless their marriage.