(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Mr. Dangle, a well-to-do gentleman of London, sits one morning with his wife at breakfast. While Dangle reads the newspapers, Mrs. Dangle complains that her husband’s hobby, the theater, is making her house unlivable, with disappointed authors, would-be actors, musicians, and critics making it their meeting place. Dangle protests vigorously, but as he does so a stream of callers arrives to prove her point.

The first caller is Mr. Sneer. He and Mrs. Dangle get into a discussion on the morality of the stage and the proper material for comedies. Then Sir Fretful Plagiary, a dramatist, is announced. Before he enters, Dangle reports that Plagiary is a close friend but that he cannot accept criticism of his work. Sir Fretful tells how his new play was sent to the Covent Garden theater, rather than to Drury Lane, because of the envy he uncovered there.

Sneer, Dangle, and Sir Fretful Plagiary begin to discuss the last’s new play. In the discussion all criticism of his drama is brushed aside in one way or another by the author, who ends up with a diatribe against all who will say anything against his work, including the newspapers. At the end of their talk, a group of musicians enters looking for Dangle’s assistance in securing work with the theaters. They are led by an Italian who knows no English and a Frenchman who knows little English but is to act as interpreter.

The Frenchman and the Italian try to make Dangle understand what they want, but with little success. After a trilingual conversation, in which not one of the participants can understand the others, Mrs. Dangle takes the musicians into another room for refreshment and so relieves her husband of their troublesome presence. As the musicians leave Dangle and Sneer alone in the room, Mr. Puff, another dramatist who has a play in rehearsal at the theater, enters. Puff is introduced to Sneer by Dangle as a puffing writer for the newspapers, whose job it is to praise anyone or anything for a price; he is, in short, an eighteenth century press agent. He explains for the benefit of Sneer the various kinds of “puffs” he writes: the direct, the preliminary, the collateral, the collusive, and the oblique. At the end of the conversation, the three agree to meet at the theater to watch a rehearsal of Puff’s new play.

Later the three meet, and Puff informs his two friends, Dangle and Sneer, that the...

(The entire section is 980 words.)