Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Master Lovewit leaves the city because of plague. His butler, Jeremy, known as Face to his friends of the underworld, invites Subtle, a swindler posing as an alchemist, and Dol Common, a prostitute, to join him in using the house as a base of operations for their rascally activities. Matters fare well for the three until a dispute arises between Face and Subtle over authority. Dol, seeing their moneymaking projects doomed if this strife continues, rebukes the two men and cajoles them back to their senses.
No sooner have Face and Subtle become reconciled than Dapper, a gullible lawyer’s clerk given to gambling, calls, by previous arrangement with Face. Dapper wants to learn from the eminent astrologer, Doctor Subtle, how to win at all games of chance. In the hands of the two merciless rascals, Dapper is relieved of all his ready cash, in return for which Subtle predicts that Dapper will have good luck at the gaming tables. In order to gull Dapper further, Subtle tells him to return later to confer with the Queen of Fairy, a mysterious benefactress who can promote Dapper’s worldly success.
Abel Drugger, an ambitious young druggist who was led on by Face, is the next victim to enter the house. To his delight, he learns from Subtle, who speaks mostly in incomprehensible pharmaceutical and astrological jargon, that he will have a rich future.
Next arrives Sir Epicure Mammon, a greedy and lecherous knight, with his friend Pertinax...
(The entire section is 1325 words.)
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Act I Summary
The scene is London in 1610. This is a plague year and wealthy people have fled London for the safer countryside. Lovewit has departed until the plague is over and has left his butler, Jeremy, to care for the house. As the play begins, Jeremy and Subtle are arguing over their relative importance to the swindle they are organizing, and each is claiming a larger share of the profit. Dol, who realizes that the two could ruin everything with their loud quarreling, tries to quiet the two men.
At that moment, the first victim, Dapper, arrives at the house. Dapper has come to the astrologer, Subtle, to find a way to win at gambling. After paying the two men all his money, Dapper is assured that he was born under a lucky star and that he will win. He is also told that the Queen of Fairy will help him win. The next victim, Drugger, arrives and is told that he, too, will be very wealthy and a great success.
(The entire section is 169 words.)
Act II Summary
Sir Epicure Mammon, accompanied by Pertdnax Surly arrive at the house. Mammon is promised the philosopher's stone which will turn all base metals into gold. His companion, Surly is not as innocent and suspects Subtle of being a thief. Mammon has great plans for the stone that include having great wealth and power. Surly is not convinced and sneers as Mammon tries to convince him of the power of the stone. Mammon accidentally sees Dol and is told that she is a Lord's sister who is suffering from madness. Subtle and Jeremy get rid of Surly by sending him on an errand. Mammon leaves with the promise that he will send many of his household goods to Subtle to be turned into gold.
The next visitor is Ananias, who, when he reports that he cannot get more money to invest, is turned away by Subtle. Drugger calls again to bring tobacco and to tell Subtle that the Widow Pliant wishes to have her fortune told. He also agrees to bring Pliant's brother to the house so that his wishes can also be fulfilled.
(The entire section is 183 words.)
Act III Summary
Ananias returns with Wholesome, who when told of a way to turn pewter into coins, is concerned with the morality of counterfeiting, even to benefit the church. They both agree to purchase Mammon's household goods, and both leave to consider the legality of the counterfeiting problem. Surly returns to the house disguised as a Spaniard, Kastril arrives with Drugger and is so impressed with Subtle that the two young men leave to bring Dame Pliant back.
Dapper returns to meet the Queen of Fairy. Dapper is undressed and his money taken in an elaborate ritual during which he meets Dol disguised as the Queen of Fairy. When Mammon knocks on the door, Dapper, who is tied up and blindfolded, has a piece of gingerbread stuffed in his mouth. He is locked in the privy.
(The entire section is 134 words.)
Act IV Summary
Mammon is ushered in to meet Dol, who is disguised as an aristocratic lady suffering from madness. Mammon is warned that he should not speak of religion, as it will bring on the woman's madness. As others arrive, Dol and Mammon are moved into another room of the house. Dame Pliant arrives and is placed in the garden to walk with the Spaniard. Soon, Dol assumes a guise of madness, and Mammon is told that he has caused this because of his moral laxity, and thus, the completion of the stone is certainly delayed.
While this is occurring, Surly, disguised as the Spaniard, has revealed to the widow that Subtle and Face/Lungs/Jeremy are swindlers. Surly also proposes marriage to the widow. Her brother, who has been learning the art of quarreling in another part of the house, is told that since the Spaniard is an impostor, Kastril should challenge Surly to a duel. The two Puritans reappear and announce that they have decided that the church's need for money meant that counterfeiting, although against the king's law, was certainly not against God's law. Surly is so disgusted that he leaves the house. The scene ends with Lovewit's reappearance.
(The entire section is 200 words.)
Act V Summary
Jeremy goes to the door and tries to detain Lovewit long enough for Subtle and Dol to escape. Jeremy's attempts to convince his master that the neighbors are wrong about the activities that have occurred in the house fails when Mammon and Surly return to expose Subtle and Dol. Jeremy decides to confess his role in the game to his master, who decides to forgive the butler when he promises to deliver Dame Pliant to Lovewit as wife.
In the back of the house Dapper has been freed and has received what he thinks is a guarantee that he will be a winner at gambling. Subtle and Dol are forced to flee without their reward and Drugger is tricked out of his fiance´. After Lovewit weds Dame Pliant, he convinces the remaining characters that they have been victims of their own greed. Kastril is pleased that his sister has made a good match and is no longer interested in a duel. The play ends with Jeremy in control and safe from retribution.
(The entire section is 174 words.)