In the “Garter” tavern Dr. Caius comes to accuse the impoverished Sir John Falstaff that his cronies Bardolpho and Pistola have robbed him. They both deny this charge, and Falstaff sides with them, so that Dr. Caius leaves without having achieved anything. Falstaff has acute financial worries. The old rake seeks a solution in Alice Ford and Meg Page, two prosperous Windsor housewives, to both of whom he intends to profess his love. Bardolpho and Pistola flatly refuse to be the bearers of his love-letters to them on the grounds that it “offends their honour”. Honour is however a concept which does not cut much ice with Falstaff. He throws both of them out, and details a page to be his postillon d’ amour. Alice Ford and her daughter Nannetta meet Meg Page and Mrs Quickly, and the ladies soon realize that Falstaff has written the same letter to both. They decide to enjoy making naughty fun out of the letters; Mrs Quickly volunteers to be the go-between who starts the ball rolling. Bardolpho and Pistola have divulged Falstaff’ s scheme to Mr Ford. Together with Fenton and Dr. Caius the men in their turn plan to how to make a fool of Falstaff. Fenton and Nannetta take the opportunity for a few moments together; they have to be secretive, since Mr Ford hopes to marry Nannetta off to a man of more obvious standing and upbringing.
The two cronies return penitently to Falstaff and announce the approach of Mrs Quickly. She informs him that Alice will be awaiting him at her house, but that Meg is being watched by her husband. After Mrs Quickly has gone, Ford comes to visit Falstaff incognito and offers him a generous bribe to help him to debauch Alice; he hopes to catch her and Falstaff red handed. On hearing that they already have a rendezvous, he is beside himself with jealousy. In the house of the Fords the ladies are making final preparations. Nannetta complains to her mother that her father wants her to marry Dr. Caius; the ladies promise her that they will also solve that problem. Alice receives Falstaff. Just as he is about to resort to physical harassment, Meg and Mrs Quickly interrupt to warn them that Ford and the other men are about to arrive. The ladies hide Falstaff in a big laundry-basket. Ford thinks he has cornered Falstaff behind a screen, but what he discovers there is Nannetta and Fenton in a close embrace. During this the ladies instruct their servants to tip the laundry-basket out of the window into the Thames.
Falstaff laments the world’ s injustice. Mrs Quickly comes to say that Alice regrets everything that has happened and wants to meet him in disguise in Windsor Park at midnight. Mr Ford assures Dr. Caius that he will make use of this midnight assignation to marry him to Nannetta. The first to arrive in Windsor Park are Nannetta and Fenton. Then Alice and Falstaff arrive. Their assignation is disturbed by Meg’ s news that fairies and elves are approaching. Falstaff is scared and hides, but Bardolph, Pistola, Dr. Caius and Mr Ford find him and give him a good spanking. Then Bardolpho puts on Nannetta’ s elf costume and Dr, Caius marries two couples, Fenton to Nannetta and Dr. Caius to the disguised Bardolpho. When all are unmasked surprise is universal and one concludes that “everything on earth is fun and all of us are dupes”.