Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 992
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.
Later, however, Gostanzo finds Valerio embracing and kissing Gratiana. The old man, still not suspecting the true state of affairs, thinks merely that his son is a fast learner. He decides that, to avoid mischief, Gratiana and Fortunio will have to leave his house. When he tells Rinaldo of this development, Rinaldo suggests that his father be told that Gratiana is really Valerio’s wife and that Marc Antonio now take her into his house. Rinaldo further advises that, in order to make the ruse effective, Valerio be permitted to visit her there. The plan meets with the ready assent of Gostanzo, who, being gulled, is happy in the thought that he will be gulling Marc Antonio.
Meanwhile, Rinaldo, encouraged by his success in this project, is directing his genius to a new endeavor, a plan intended to gull Cornelio, an inordinately jealous husband who is an easy mark for a trickster and whose wife, Gazetta, complains that he brings home gallants and then upbraids her for being in their company. Rinaldo’s accomplice in his scheme is Valerio, who is angry at Cornelio for making fun of his singing. Valerio has little difficulty in awakening the jealousy in Cornelio. With the help of a page who defends Gazetta on the grounds that women’s wantonness is a result of weakness and not design, he so infuriates Cornelio that the jealous husband attacks and wounds his wife’s supposed lover.
When Marc Antonio is told that Valerio, not Fortunio, is married to Gratiana, he makes merry with Gostanzo for his blind pride. The latter, unable to tolerate gloating other than his own, declares that the plot was contrived for entertainment. When they meet Valerio, Gostanzo feigns extreme anger with him and threatens to disown his son. Valerio, playing the penitent, protests his devotion to his father and avows his love of Gratiana. Gostanzo, believing the whole affair a joke, dissembles an appearance of being softened and gives his blessing to the match.
Cornelio, meanwhile, procures a notary and is proceeding with the divorce of his wife. A nosebleed, which he takes as an omen, causes him to suspend action just as he is preparing to sign the final papers. After the notary leaves, a friend explains to him that he was tricked into his jealousy by Rinaldo and Valerio. Cornelio resolves to repay them with a deception of his own.
When Cornelio finds Rinaldo, he tells this master trickster that Valerio was arrested for debts. Since Valerio was dodging the officials for some time, Rinaldo believes the lie and, having gone on bond for Valerio, he believes that some immediate action is unnecessary. At Cornelio’s suggestion, he takes Gostanzo with him to the Half Moon Tavern, where Cornelio says Valerio is being held before being taken to prison. Valerio is at the tavern, but not as a captive. Instead, he is engaged in his usual pursuits of drinking and playing dice.
When Gostanzo sees his son’s true nature and also learns that Valerio really is married to Gratiana, he threatens, this time in earnest, to disown the boy and to settle his estate on his daughter. This plan is rejected when he discovers that Bellanora married Fortunio. The old man, frustrated in his efforts to control events, decides to accept them. Finally, when Cornelio reveals that his jealousy was feigned in order to restrain his wife’s high spirits, the reconciliations are complete and happiness reigns in the Half Moon Tavern.
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