Pinchwife and Margery are in bed and Pinchwife repeatedly asks Margery what happened between her and Horner when he took her away the previous evening. Although Margery thinks Pinchwife is only asking because he is entertained by the story, Pinchwife is really trying to discover if Margery is telling the truth or not; he wants to see if her story changes when she tells it several times. Margery impatiently tells Pinchwife that Horner took her up to his house and gave her a “China orange.” She then mentions that he kissed her several times (kisses to convey to her sister, since she was dressed as her brother) and even put his tongue in her mouth.
Margery is inexperienced and does not understand jealousy; she assumes that Pinchwife asks her to repeat her story because he finds it entertaining. Pinchwife, however, is taking advantage of Margery’s innocence to try and trip her up and discover some inconsistency in her story which will prove she is lying. Unknown to Pinchwife and Margery, “china” is a codeword of Horner’s and signifies sex and seduction.
Pinchwife demands to know how Margery reacted when Horner did this and she replies that she “stood very still” and even enjoyed it a little. Pinchwife flies into a rage at this, even though Margery says that she would only kiss Horner again if Pinchwife compelled her to. Pinchwife responds that “no woman can be forced” and launches into a bitter tirade against women, who he feels are deceitful and stupid and should really be “slaves” to men.
Margery is too innocent to know that she should not admit this to Pinchwife. Ironically, Pinchwife will metaphorically force her to kiss Horner again before the end of the play when she is disguised as Alithea. Pinchwife holds the extremely misogynistic opinion that women cannot be “forced” to have sex, or raped, because he believes that they secretly enjoy it. He believes that women are inferior to men and that men must control women to protect them from their own corrupt natures.
Pinchwife roars at Margery to go and fetch a pen and paper. He tells her that she is going to write a letter to Horner and that he is going to dictate what it says. Margery indignantly refuses and Pinchwife thinks that she does this because of her love for Horner. However, he soon learns that Margery is confused because she does not know how to write letters and thinks that letters can only be sent from the country to the town and that people who are both in the town never write letters to each other. When Pinchwife clears this up for her, she agrees to write what he narrates.
Again, Pinchwife misinterprets Margery’s naivety about city etiquette for intentional deceit.
Pinchwife tells Margery to open the letter with the word “Sir” and, when Margery asks if it should not be “Dear Sir,” Pinchwife threatens to carve the word “whore” on her face with his knife. Pinchwife instructs Margery to write to Horner that his kisses repulsed her and that she wants nothing more to do with him. Margery again pleads to leave out some of the harsh language and Pinchwife threatens her again until she finishes the letter.
Margery asks this question naively but Pinchwife is mad with jealousy and takes it as an insult. His response is violent and genuinely disturbing. Although this is a comedy, Pinchwife’s treatment of Margery is treated seriously and it is implied that she is in real physical danger because of his possessiveness.
When she is finished, Pinchwife goes to get a seal and wax to secure the letter and, while he is gone, Margery ponders her situation. She is pleased that she now knows Horner’s name, which she did not know before writing the letter, but she is distressed because, while she does not want to send the letter, she is afraid that her husband will kill her if she refuses. She decides to write a second letter and swap it with the first when her husband returns with the seal. She sets about penning a love letter to Horner which warns him about Pinchwife’s jealousy.
By trying to keep Margery under his control, Pinchwife has inadvertently liberated her. She now knows how to write letters in the proper town style, and she knows Horner’s name, because Pinchwife has revealed it. This is a parody of Puritanism, which, while trying to keep people away from certain activities, actually encouraged them to take them up. Margery demonstrates that, although she is unfamiliar with the ways of the town, she is a quick learner and not stupid, as Pinchwife believes.
Pinchwife returns with the seal and, first, checks the letter which Margery has written. She gives him the letter which he has composed and, satisfied, he sets about sealing it. Margery asks if she might seal the letter, kicks up a fuss when he refuses, and, when he finally allows her to, she swaps the letters and seals her own rather than the first. Pinchwife triumphantly tells her that the letter is going straight to Horner and is gratified when Margery enthusiastically agrees that this should be so.
Margery easily outwits Pinchwife. This shows how fast she is learning to deceive when she is driven to it by Pinchwife’s unreasonable demands.