Licht, clerk of the court of Huisum, a village near Utrecht in the Netherlands, appears in the courtroom one morning to prepare for the day’s proceedings. He discovers Adam, the village judge, in a generally disreputable state, nursing a badly lacerated face and an injured leg. When he asks the judge how he came to be in such a condition, he receives a highly questionable story about an altercation with a clothesline and a goat. Licht, sensing that there was some philandering involved, hints as much to Adam, but the judge naturally denies the clerk’s suggestions.
There are more important matters to discuss. A peasant passing through Holla, a neighboring village, hears that Counselor Walter, of the High Court at Utrecht, has inspected the courts in Holla and is preparing to come to Huisum on a tour of inspection this very day. This is serious business, particularly when Adam learns that in Holla both the clerk of the court and the judge were suspended because their affairs were not in order; the judge almost succeeded in killing himself when he tried to hang himself in his own barn. Needless to say, Adam’s affairs are in no better shape than those of his unfortunate neighbors. Before he can get his clothes on and make an attempt to restore order, however, a servant comes to announce the arrival of Counselor Walter. Adam tries to defer immediate action by telling an even more unlikely story about his accident and begging that the inspection be delayed. Licht is calmer, however, and insists that Adam receive the counselor.
At the height of the chaos, Adam, discovering that he cannot find his wig, is informed by a spying servant girl that he came home without it after eleven o’clock the night before. He naturally denies this claim and tells the servant girl that she has lost her mind; he suddenly remembers that the cat kittened in his wig and therefore he cannot use it. The girl is sent to borrow a wig from the verger’s wife, after being reminded not to mention the matter to the verger himself. Before the girl can return, Counselor Walter appears, expressing regrets that he was not able to announce himself in advance and assuring Adam and Licht that he knows matters will be only tolerably in order but that he expects little more. He then demands that the court proceedings get under way, just as the servant girl returns, bearing the calamitous news that she could not borrow a wig. Though it is highly irregular for a judge to sit without his wig, Counselor Walter insists that the petitions begin, wig or no wig.
When the doors open, Marthe Rull and her daughter Eve charge in, accompanied by Veit Tumpel and his son Ruprecht; all are in a high state of agitation over a broken pitcher. Marthe accuses Ruprecht, who is engaged to marry Eve, of breaking the pitcher, but Ruprecht denies doing so. Eve is having a mild case of hysterics because she is about to lose Ruprecht, who swears that he never wishes to see her again and keeps calling her a strumpet. Marthe vociferously demands that justice be done because she feels that Eve’s good name was destroyed along with the pitcher.
In the middle of this confusion, Adam, wigless, appears in his robes to open his court; he is visibly shaken at the scene before him. Eve pleads with her mother to leave well enough alone, while Adam tries unsuccessfully to talk with Eve about a piece of paper. Counselor Walter finally insists that court begin. Marthe, brought to the stand, accuses Ruprecht of breaking the pitcher. He denies the charge and demands that she prove her accusation. Adam agrees completely with Marthe and tries to dismiss the case, but the counselor will not let him. The trial proceeds.
As the evidence is presented, it comes out that the pitcher was broken at eleven o’clock the night before. Marthe heard voices coming from Eve’s room and rushed in to find the pitcher smashed, Eve in tears, and Ruprecht standing in the middle of the room. Ruprecht is the obvious suspect, but...
(The entire section is 1,085 words.)