Act III Scene 3
At Ford's house, Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page rehearse their plot to dump Falstaff in a dirty laundry basket and empty it in a muddy ditch on the banks of the River Thames.
Falstaff enters and declares his love for Mrs. Ford. Mrs. Ford goes along with him, replying that she loves him too. But then, as rehearsed, Robin enters, saying that Mrs. Page has arrived in a state of some excitement, and must see Mrs. Ford immediately. Falstaff, not wanting Mrs. Page to find him there, hides behind an arras (a tapestry wall-hanging).
Mrs. Page rushes in and says that Ford is coming to the house, with a crowd of officials, to look for a man who is taking advantage of Mrs. Ford in her husband's absence. Mrs. Page urges her friend to get rid of the man, if he is indeed there. She suggests putting him in the laundry basket. Mrs. Ford says he is too big for it, but then the terrified Falstaff, who has overheard all of this-as he was meant to-emerges from his hiding place and says he can fit in the basket. Mrs. Page professes surprise to see him there, and asks him if the letters are his. He has time only to say that he loves her before he gets into the basket. Mrs. Ford summons her servants to take the basket away.
Ford, Page, Caius and Evans enter as the servants exit. Ford locks the door of the house. He goes to search the house, and the other men follow him.
Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford enjoy their joke and plan more tricks against Falstaff. They agree to send Mistress Quickly to him to excuse the incident and give him fresh hope. Then they will lead him on to another punishment.
Ford and the others return. Since they have found no one, Ford is forced to admit that he was in the wrong, and he asks his wife to forgive him.
This amusing central scene constitutes the first of Falstaff's three humiliations. The humor is the physical humor of farce, rather than the intellectual humor that characterizes Falstaff's scenes in the Henry IV plays. For those who are reading the play rather than watching a performance of it, it is essential to try and stage this scene in the mind's eye in order to appreciate it.