The action of The Double-Dealer is governed by the Machiavellian schemes of Maskwell and the manipulative Lady Touchwood, with whom he is in league. Maskwell and Lady Touchwood both want to break the intended match between the innocent couple Cynthia and Mellefont—Maskwell, because he wants Cynthia for himself, and Lady Touchwood, because she wants Mellefont for herself. Most of the characters’ lives revolve around hidden motives, secret intrigues, and deception. Nobody, except Mellefont and Cynthia, is what he or she seems. Sir Paul and Lady Plyant pretend to the world to be the happiest married couple; Lady Plyant pretends to her husband that she is too chaste to grant him her sexual favors, while enthusiastically pursuing intrigues with others. The fop Brisk sets himself up as a wit; the giggling Lord Froth affects solemnity; the vacuous Lady Froth sees herself as a writer of heroic epic poems.
The supreme embodiment of deception is Maskwell. He pretends to be Mellefont’s loyal friend, defending him against Lady Touchwood’s plotting and supporting the marriage with Cynthia. In fact, he is using every weapon in his armory to discredit Mellefont in the eyes of his uncle and benefactor-to-be, Lord Touchwood, and his bride’s parents, Sir Paul and Lady Plyant. Such is Maskwell’s skill that he prevails upon the unwitting Mellefont to conspire in his own undoing: In a seeming effort to put an end to Lady Touchwood’s activities, Maskwell suggests that Mellefont appear in her bedroom at a time calculated to compromise her; Maskwell, however, ensures that it is Mellefont who is compromised and risks the wrath of Lord Touchwood. Neither Mellefont nor anyone else sees through Maskwell’s guise until Cynthia points out a discrepancy in...
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