Gostanzo fancies himself a man of true worldly wisdom. He loves money, relishes his neighbor’s misfortunes, and is unhampered by any petty scruples about honesty. Aware of the temptations that might lead a young man to become a wastrel, he takes great care in rearing his son Valerio. He lectures the boy on the importance of thrift and, to teach him responsibility, makes him an overseer.
Valerio is also a man of worldly wisdom. He puts on the appearance of industry and innocence in front of his father, and he is well acquainted with the gentlemanly activities of dicing, drinking, and wenching. He accumulates, as the result of these pursuits, a respectable number of debts. To cap his sins, he marries Gratiana, a woman with beauty but no dowry. Fortunio is a young man of quite different character. Without parading his virtue, he leads an upright life and is a dutiful son. In love with Valerio’s sister Bellanora, he is not permitted to court her because Gostanzo is seeking a wealthier son-in-law. Fortunio’s brother Rinaldo, having experienced the fickleness of women, is through with love and now devotes himself exclusively to conning others.
One day, when Rinaldo, Fortunio, Valerio, and Gratiana are together talking, they sight Gostanzo coming their way, and all but Rinaldo rush off. In answer to Gostanzo’s questions, Rinaldo says that Gratiana is the wife of Fortunio, who dares not tell his father of the marriage; Gostanzo believes the lie. Although he promises to keep it secret, he nevertheless reveals it the minute he is alone with Marc Antonio, the father of Fortunio and Rinaldo. Acting on Rinaldo’s suggestion, Gostanzo recommends that Fortunio and Gratiana be installed in his home. Marc Antonio accepts this offer, not because he is angry with his son, but because Gostanzo convinces him that Fortunio is in danger of falling victim to greater evils. With the restraining influence of the strict Gostanzo and the good example of Valerio, he might still be saved.
Rinaldo’s scheming thus enables Valerio and his wife to live in the same house, and it also gives Fortunio a chance to pursue his courtship of Bellanora. When Gratiana is brought to Gostanzo’s home, the old man tells Valerio to kiss her, but the crafty youth feigns shyness. The father, gratified by this manifestation of a strict upbringing, congratulates himself on being a much better parent than the easygoing Marc Antonio....
(The entire section is 992 words.)