Sir Joseph Wittol, a foolish young country knight, returns to the spot in London where he had been attacked by footpads the night before, a fracas from which the gallant Ned Bellmour had rescued him. Bellmour had told his friend Sharper of the incident, whereupon Sharper, encountering Wittol, pretends to be the man who had rescued him. Having ingratiated himself with his false story, Sharper declares that he lost one hundred pounds in the scuffle, and Wittol promises to make good the loss. Wittol and Sharper are joined by Captain Bluffe, a spurious veteran of campaigns in the Low Countries and Wittol’s mentor in the ways of the city. Bluffe’s boasting and swaggering ways deeply impress the foolish young Wittol.
In her apartment, Araminta is reproved by her cousin Belinda for being devoted to love. A footman announces that Vainlove and Bellmour have arrived to pay their respects to Araminta. Belinda, who is charmed by Bellmour, declares that she will remain to keep Araminta company, even though she had been preparing to go out. The young men having been admitted, Bellmour and Belinda exchange amiable insults. Gavot, Araminta’s singing-master, entertains the group with a song.
Silvia, a prostitute and Vainlove’s discarded mistress, pines for him. Lucy, her maid, suggests that they write a letter filled with foolish protestations of love, sign Araminta’s name to it, and send it to Vainlove. This deception, they are sure, will cool Vainlove’s ardor for Araminta. Meanwhile, Heartwell, a professed woman-hater and a surly old bachelor, is against his will in front of Silvia’s door. Bellmour and Vainlove see him enter.
The masked Lucy encounters Setter, Vainlove’s man. When Setter uses abusive language in speaking to her, she unmasks and demands reparation from her old acquaintance in the form of information about the affair between Vainlove and Araminta. At the same time, Wittol gives Sharper a note of credit for one hundred pounds, to be collected from Fondlewife, a banker. Bluffe rebukes Wittol for his misdirected generosity. When Sharper appears with the cash and thanks Wittol, Bluffe intimates to Wittol that Sharper is a trickster. Sharper rejoins by suggesting that Bluffe is a fraud. When he strikes Bluffe, the braggart is afraid to retaliate, and Sharper thereupon soundly trounces him and departs. Only then does Bluffe draw his sword and rant brave words.
At Silvia’s house, Heartwell entertains the prostitute with hired singers and dancers. When he professes his love for her, she puts him off coyly, asserting that she must be married to a man before he can enjoy her favors....
(The entire section is 1078 words.)