Taking Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor as its basis, and combining other texts from Ben Johnson, Philip Sidney, Thomas Middleton, and Beaumont and Fletcher, Vaughan-Williams offers his own retelling of the famous story of Sir John Falstaff. Like its predecessors in the world of opera, Verdi’s Falstaff and Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, Sir John in Love offers its audience a witty farce, which sees Falstaff punished for his bad behaviour.
When Mistress Page and Mistress Ford each receive the same letter from Sir John Falstaff, professing his love for them, and trying to entice them to have an extra-marital affair with him, they plan to teach him a lesson, and engage Mistress Quickly’s help. After hiding Falstaff in a basket of laundry and throwing him in a ditch, and then disguising him as an elderly maid, the women finally let their husbands in on the secret. One last plot is devised to embarrass the man, and it will all happen at the grand masquerade in the forest
While this has been going on Abraham Slender, Doctor Caius, and Fenton have been competing for the hand of young Anne Page. Her parents have each chosen their favorite suitor, but neither of them have picked Fenton, despite Anna’s love for him. With her parents both planning for her to marry their preferred suitor during the masquerade, Anne takes the opportunity to outwit them both and marries her beloved Fenton instead.
At the masquerade, the guests disguise themselves as elves, insects, and ghosts, and perform grotesque dances, terrifying Falstaff in the dark, before revealing their identities and having a good laugh at his expense.