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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Act I, Scene 1
The scene begins in front of Page's house in Windsor with a conversation between Justice Shallow, Abraham Slender, and Sir Hugh Evans. Justice Shallow, perturbed by John Falstaff's insults, complains to Sir Evans and Slender and wishes to bring up the issue in front of the King's Council. Evans, however, entreats him to forget his grievances, since there are more important matters at hand. Evans wants Justice Shallow to seek the hand of Anne Page, daughter of George Page, for Slender. Evans mentions the handsome dowry that Anne Page would bring with her marriage. After this discussion, they knock at Page's house. Shallow mentions Falstaff's behavior to Page. At that moment, John Falstaff, along with his three cronies, Bardolph, Nym and Pistol enter, and his wrongdoing is brought to his attention. Falstaff acknowledges his mistake, but shows no repentance. Anne Page, Mistress Ford, and Mistress Page (Anne's mother) bring wine and greet the guests. Slender shies away from entering, but Anne entreats him to join them. Slender has a few words with Anne alone, before he joins the rest for dinner.
Justice Shallow has a complaint against Falstaff, who has insulted him. He wants to bring up the matter of his injury before the King's Council, a procedure that is permitted to men of title. Since Shallow is an esquire, his suggestion does not exceed his authority, but his constant repetition and insistence on the matter indicate that he takes himself and the insult too seriously. The real purpose of this introductory scene is to prepare the audience for the immediate appearance of Falstaff.
Sir Hugh Evans (a Welsh clergyman) and Abraham Slender (Shallow's kinsman) manage to placate Shallow by diverting his attention to the topic of Anne Page, the daughter of wealthy parents whose house they have come to visit. Evans wants Shallow to help Slender win Anne's hand in marriage and mentions the rich dowry that her parents will provide.
When the three gentleman knock at the Page's door, Shallow again mentions Falstaff's insults, just as the culprit enters the scene with his three cronies. Falstaff, portrayed as humorous and bold, is unruffled when Shallow directly accuses him and casually admits his wrongdoing, showing no regret. He also scoffs at Shallow's threat to bring the issue before the King's Council. Falstaff jokes with Slender, too, calling him Banbury cheese, which is a reference to his slight frame.
Slender is a shy man and is hesitant about joining in at the Page dinner party. A simple man of few words, he knows he is not adept at social conversation. In fact, he asks his servant, Simple, to provide him with his book of riddles, as a source for small talk. His attempt at conversation with Anne, with whom he has little in common, makes for wonderfully comic material. Ironically, Shallow promotes the union of these two mismatched characters, for he wants to bring her large dowry into the family.