The action begins with Justice Shallow complaining to Sir Hugh, the local Welsh parson, about outrages committed by Sir John Falstaff. They also plot to marry Shallow’s nephew, Slender, to Ann Page, daughter of their friend. When they find Falstaff dining with the Pages, he outfaces them all. Slender proves too timid even to enter the house when invited by Anne. Evans sends a letter requesting the support of Dr. Caius’ servant, Mistress Quickly, for Slender’s marriage suit.
Later, at the Garter Inn, Falstaff plans to make love to the wives of both Master Ford and Master Page, affording him access to their fortunes. When he writes identical love letters to the women, his companions Pistol and Nym refuse to deliver them, so he dismisses them.
Meanwhile Quickly hides Simple, Evans’ servant, in a closet when her master, Dr. Caius, returns unexpectedly. Because this Frenchman also wants to marry Anne, he is outraged to discover Simple and learn of Slender’s rivalry. He challenges Evans to a duel. Then, as if two were not too many, a third suitor appears: Master Fenton.
When Mistresses Page and Ford receive their love letters, they agree to get even with the knight. Also bent on revenge, Pistol and Nym tell Page and Ford that Falstaff has designs on their wives. The jealous Ford decides to disguise himself as “Master Brook” to discover the knight’s plans. Mistress Quickly arranges an assignation with Mistress Ford, which Falstaff boasts of to him after “Brook” offers money for an assignation of his own. Alone, Ford seethes with anger, vowing to catch his unfaithful wife.
The duel between Caius and Evans does not take place because the combatants are sent to different places. The Host of the Garter Inn placates the would-be duelers.
When Falstaff arrives to woo Mistress Ford, her confederate Mistress Page hurries in to warn of the jealous husband’s impending arrival. As planned in advance, Falstaff escapes in a laundry basket, covered with smelly dirty clothes, while Ford ransacks the house, accompanied with village friends, and of course finds nothing.
Fenton declares his love for Anne, who still wants her parents’ approval, though Master Page supports Slender and Mistress Page supports Dr. Caius.
In a second scheme to humiliate Falstaff, he again comes the Ford home, Mistress Page again arrives to warn of Ford’s arrival, and the two friends dress him in the clothes of an old woman whom Ford hates. He beats the disguised knight as he flees the house. The wives then reveal their deceptions to their husbands, and all plot together for one final humiliation. The women will invite him to meet them at night in the woods dressed in horns as Herne, the mythic local hunter at his famous oak. There village children pretending to be fairies will pinch him for his offenses. At the same time, Master Page arranges for Anne to elope with Slender, Mistress Page for her to elope with Dr. Caius, and Fenton for her to elope with him under cover of the night’s events. All goes as planned, except that Slender and Dr. Caius find themselves married to boys disguised as Anne, while Fenton gets the girl. Ford abandons his jealousies, the Pages bless the newlyweds, and Falstaff soothes his final comeuppance by joining the Windsor celebrations.
The play begins in Verona with two friends, the gentlemen Proteus and Valentine. The two say goodbye as Valentine leaves for the Duke's Court in Milan while Proteus stays in Verona in hopes of winning Julia’s love. Valentine’s servant Speed enters, having delivered a love note from Proteus to Julia. Lucetta, Julia’s servant, receives the note and gives it to her mistress, who reveals her love for Proteus. His mother, Donna Antonia, tells her son to join Valentine in Milan. Proteus and Julia sorrowfully exchange rings and vows of eternal love, and Proteus leaves for Milan with his servant Launce and Launce’s dog, Crab. When Proteus arrives in Milan, he finds Valentine in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia. Valentine reveals that he and Silvia plan to elope, as the Duke intends Silvia to marry her suitor, Thurio. Meanwhile, Julia cannot endure the separation from Proteus, so she decides to disguise herself as a boy and travel to Milan. Trouble strikes when Proteus, despite his previous love for Julia, now finds himself in love with Silvia. To secure her for himself, Proteus warns her father of the elopement, causing the Duke to banish Valentine.
I Fearing the Duke’s punishment, Valentine and Speed leave Milan. In the nearby forest, they encounter Outlaws, who make Valentine their leader. Meanwhile in Milan, Julia (disguised as a boy, Sebastian) sees her beloved Proteus wooing Silvia with a serenade. Determined to be close to her beloved, “Sebastian” becomes a page for Proteus and takes a love note from him to Silvia. Annoyed by Proteus’s efforts, she leaves Milan in search of her love, Valentine. On her journey, Silvia is captured by the Outlaws. When the Duke realizes Silvia is gone, he calls on Proteus, “Sebastian,” and Thurio to join him in chasing after his daughter. While in the forest, Proteus (along with “Sebastian”) saves Silvia from the Outlaws and, again, professes his love to her. Valentine appears and condemns Proteus’ display of love. When Julia reveals her true identity, Proteus realizes he still loves her. The Duke and Thurio arrive, at which time the Duke gives Silvia’s hand in marriage to Valentine. The two gentlemen of Verona and their loves return joyously to Milan.