In a tavern in Eastcheap, Mistress Quickly discusses her lawsuit against Falstaff with the officers Fang and Snare. She is taking legal action because Falstaff owes her a lot of money. Falstaff, his page, and Bardolph enter and, when Fang tries to arrest him, everyone gets involved in the ensuing skirmish.
Fed up with Falstaff’s abusive dishonesty, Mistress Quickly hopes to enlist the moral rectitude of the law to punish the old man’s immorality.
The Chief Justice enters. Mistress Quickly immediately tries to get the Chief Justice on her side, explaining that Falstaff has unfairly bankrupted her and has lied about promising to marry her. The Chief Justice shames Falstaff and insists that he pay Mistress Quickly back her due even as Falstaff protests that Mistress Quickly is a dishonorable madwoman and that he is too important to bother with her.
Morally upright as ever, the Chief Justice sees the truth of the situation and understands that Mistress Quickly is the victim of the case. Like Lord Bardolph in Act 1, Falstaff’s protests rely on the faulty logic that only honorable people can speak truth.
Falstaff takes Mistress Quickly aside to talk matters over for a bit in private. In the meantime, Gower enters and gives the Chief Justice a letter. Falstaff and Mistress Quickly reenter in cheerful spirits. Falstaff has somehow persuaded Mistress Quickly to drop her suit, lend him even more money, and set him up with his favorite prostitute, Doll Tearsheet, that night.
Falstaff may be morally despicable, but he is undeniably appealing. Mistress Quickly’s choice to embrace Falstaff’s charms rather than the chilly rectitude of the Chief Justice plays out a recurring tension in the play: should one side with lovable immorality or unlovable morality?
Mistress Quickly, Fang, Snare, Bardolph, and the page exit. The Chief Justice talks with Gower about King Henry IV’s plans for his troops, which he is marching up to join Lancaster’s forces before they face off with the Archbishop of York and the rebels. The Chief Justice ignores Falstaff’s repeated interjections to try to find out what’s going on and reminds Falstaff that he should be recruiting soldiers as he’s supposed to do instead of loitering about. All exit.
The Chief Justice continues to harbor no illusions about Falstaff: he knows that the old man has no real stake or place in the war and thus doesn’t bother filling him in on any serious battle plans.