(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Although carefully guarded by her father, Viola, a beautiful maid of sixteen, met and fell in love with handsome young Ricardo. Deciding to elope, they agreed to meet on a convenient street corner after Viola had provided herself with gold and jewels from her father’s house. They had just reached this decision when Mercury and Antonio, two travelers home from an extended journey, appeared on the scene. Mercury, thoroughly sick of Antonio, tried to take his leave as graciously as he could so that he could proceed to his own home. Antonio, however, held him with protests: two travelers who had endured so much together could not part so casually—Mercury must visit for a few days. Overwhelmed by Antonio’s extravagant courtesy, Mercury reluctantly accompanied him. At Antonio’s house they found Maria, his handsome wife, entertaining at a dance a group of fashionable young people whom Ricardo and Viola had just joined. Before she was made known to him, Mercury was captivated by Maria’s beauty; when he spoke with her he was further inflamed by her grace and wit. As the guests left and he prepared to go to his rooms, Mercury tried to still an irresistible desire to cuckold his ridiculous friend.

It now lacked only an hour until Ricardo’s meeting with Viola. To pass the time, the young gallant went with a party of his friends to a nearby tavern, where one toast led to another so quickly that Ricardo became thoroughly intoxicated. About the time Viola fearfully left her father’s house, throwing the key back through the window as a final gesture of farewell, Ricardo began to talk of seeking out wenches and perhaps beating up the watch as a culmination to the evening’s sport. Leaving the tavern, Ricardo and his party reeled along the street; when they passed Viola, her lover in his blind drunkenness thought her to be a strumpet and attempted to throw her down in the gutter. Viola barely escaped as the watch came to take the revelers in tow.

Meanwhile, Mercury realized that the only way for him to overcome his desire for Maria was to separate himself from her. When he tried to leave secretly, Antonio discovered him and would not hear of his going. Pressed to desperation, Mercury revealed the truth, thinking that reason would cause Antonio to encourage him to leave. But to Antonio a wife was nothing in comparison with a friend; if Mercury wanted his wife, Antonio would woo her for him and thus gain immortality as the truest friend in history. Dumbfounded, Mercury got rid of his host only on the condition that he would seduce Maria with Antonio’s approval.

Shocked, frightened,...

(The entire section is 1068 words.)