Sir John in Love synopsis
Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Libretto by the composer after Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor
First performed: 1929
The action takes place in and around Windsor.
Outside Page’s house
While Slender is trying to compose a sonnet to Anne Page, Shallow and Evans complain to Page about Sir John Falstaff, a corpulent knight who is staying in Windsor and down on his luck. When Falstaff and his Eastcheap hangers-on appear, Slender accuses them of robbery, an allegation which is denied. Page invites them all to dine with him, but before going inside Shallow and Evans discuss the possibility of marriage between Slender (Shallow’s cousin) and Page’s daughter, Anne. They send a letter via Simple to Mistress Quickly seeking her help in their match-making. But Anne has no wish to marry Slender (her father’s preferred suitor) or Dr Caius (her mother’s), for she is in love with Fenton.
Dr Caius’s house
Simple delivers the letter to Mistress Quickly. Caius is furious at its contents, but Mistress Quickly calms him down by pretending to him that Anne returns his love. Fenton, who has witnessed what has happened, gives Mistress Quickly a ring for Anne. Scene 3 Outside the Garter Inn Bardolph, Nym and Pistol are spending the spoils of their thieving on drink. Falstaff joins them and reveals his plan to restore his fortunes by seducing Mistresses Ford and Page, the wives of two wealthy citizens. He has identical love letters for them which he asks Pistol and Nym to deliver. They, however, refuse and Falstaff gives them to his page.
In the street, outside Ford’s house
Pistol and Nym tell Ford of Falstaff’s intentions. Ford, who is of a jealous nature, plans to call on Falstaff in disguise.
Having received their letters from Falstaff, Mistresses Page and Ford soon discover his double-dealing and, with Mistress Quickly’s help, plot their revenge.
Inside the Garter Inn
Mistress Quickly calls on Falstaff: Mistresses Ford and Page would welcome his advances; indeed, Mistress Ford would be happy to see him later that morning. Pleased with himself, Falstaff begins to compose a love song when he is interrupted by a Master Brook (Ford in disguise), who claims he loves Mistress Ford and is eager to learn whether rumours of her easy virtue are true. He pays Falstaff to seduce her. While Falstaff retires to groom himself for his assignation, Ford breaks out in a furious rage. Dr Caius tells the Host of the Garter Inn of his plans for a duel with Evans. Falstaff reappears, now magnificently dressed.
Inside the Garter Inn
The Host agrees to help Fenton in his suit for Anne and when she appears he immediately sings the young man’s praises. Anne explains how she is being pursued by two other suitors, neither of whom she wants. The Host agrees to find Fenton and Anne a priest who will marry them tomorrow.
Evans and Caius half-heartedly fight a duel until a truce is called. When the clock strikes ten, Ford invites everyone to his house to hunt a ‘monster’.
Inside Ford’s house
Mistress Ford tells her servants that, when instructed, they are to take the laundry basket and empty it into a ditch by the river. Falstaff arrives to woo Mistress Ford, and Mistresses Page and Quickly hide. At a pre-arranged signal, Mistress Quickly appears, saying that Mistress Page is on her way. Fearful of discovery, Falstaff hides. Pretending to be agitated, Mistress Page claims that Ford is on his way home. Falstaff must escape; he squeezes himself into the waiting laundry basket and is carried off. Ford and his companions search the house but discover only Mistress Page. Ford has to ask his wife’s forgiveness for suspecting her of adultery. The Pages reveal a plan to humiliate Falstaff that night by luring him Herne’s Oak in Windsor Forest where, disguised as fairies, everyone will pinch and burn him.
A street in Windsor
Each of Anne’s parents urges their chosen suitor to slip away and marry Anne while everyone else is distracted by the revelry.
At Herne’s Oak, Windsor Forest, at midnight
The conspirators gather before Falstaff, disguised as Herne the Hunter, arrives. As he begins to make love to Mistresses Ford and Page, he is interrupted by the fairies paying homage to the Fairy Queen (Anne). During the dancing Caius and Slender search for Anne, but she and Fenton manage to steal away unobserved. Falstaff’s humiliation begins; after a while he realizes he has been duped, but takes it in good part. When Fenton and Anne return, now as husband and wife, the Pages, Slender and Caius realize they too have been tricked. Falstaff leads everyone in reconciliation.
Back to full list
Already a member?
Sign in now to access the members only area
Not a member?
Join now to receive priority booking, invitations to dress rehearsals and members-only events and much more.