(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Elder Loveless, who had fallen out of favor with his mistress because he forced her to kiss him in public, humbly begged her pardon and urged her for the hundredth time to marry him. She was adamant, however; for penance he must travel for a year abroad. Dejectedly Elder Loveless prepared for his journey, leaving his house and income to the none too tender mercies of his dissolute younger brother, who had already squandered his own lands and rents. Immediately after the door closed on his elder brother, Young Loveless and his four cronies—a Captain, a Traveler, a Poet, and a Tobaccoman—began their carousing. Over the protests of his brother’s faithful steward, Savil, Young Loveless surveyed his good fortune and delightedly anticipated the unlimited supply of drink and doxies his brother’s estate would buy.

At the same time, a new suitor for the Lady’s hand, Welford, arrived at her house. Because of his generosity and good looks, he was warmly received by Sir Roger, the Lady’s curate, and Abigail, her aging and lecherous gentlewoman; however, he got but cold favor from the Lady herself, for in spite of her harsh treatment of Elder Loveless, she had actually given him her heart.

His vows to his mistress notwithstanding, Elder Loveless did not take ship. Instead, he disguised himself and returned in order to test his brother and his sweetheart by reporting his own death. He arrived at his house to find his brother in the midst of another round of debauchery. Young Loveless took the sad news with amazing calmness: he commended his brother’s soul to God, filled a bumper, and drank with the company to his elder brother’s demise. And as soon as the disguised brother left, Young Loveless rejoiced at the prospect of running through the estate he had just inherited.

Elder Loveless then delivered the news of his death to the Lady. The reception was at first all that he could wish. The Lady burst into tears; but as Elder Loveless continued to berate her for her cruelty to her lover, she penetrated his disguise and retaliated by pretending affection for Welford, who was considerably startled but pleased by the Lady’s sudden change in attitude toward him. Exasperated, Elder Loveless threw off his disguise, whereupon the Lady,...

(The entire section is 926 words.)