Watercolor, approximately 20 x 33.5 inches. Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England.
In Act III, Scene iii, of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff does not know that he has been caught up in an elaborate scheme concocted by the wives to exact vengeance upon him. As he talks with Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Page approaches, so he hides; "I will ensconce me behind the arras" is the subtitle of Davis's painting. When Mr. Ford enters, Falstaff hides in a basket of dirty linens, soon to be taken and dumped in the river. Falstaff's account of his misfortune is one of the great comic moments in the play:
Have I lived to be carried in a basket, like a barrow of butcher's offal, and to be thrown in the Thames? Well, if I be served such another trick, I'll have my brains ta'en out and buttered, and give them to a dog for a new-year's gift. The rogues slighted me into the river with as little remorse as they would have drowned a blind bitch's puppies, fifteen i' the litter: and you may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking; if the bottom were as deep as hell, I should down. I had been drowned, but that the shore was shelvy and shallow,--a death that I abhor; for the water swells a man; and what a thing should I have been when I had been swelled! I should have been a mountain of mummy. (III.v)