(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The action of The Double-Dealer is governed by the Machiavellian schemes of Maskwell and the manipulative Lady Touchwood, with whom he is in league. Maskwell and Lady Touchwood both want to break the intended match between the innocent couple Cynthia and Mellefont—Maskwell, because he wants Cynthia for himself, and Lady Touchwood, because she wants Mellefont for herself. Most of the characters’ lives revolve around hidden motives, secret intrigues, and deception. Nobody, except Mellefont and Cynthia, is what he or she seems. Sir Paul and Lady Plyant pretend to the world to be the happiest married couple; Lady Plyant pretends to her husband that she is too chaste to grant him her sexual favors, while enthusiastically pursuing intrigues with others. The fop Brisk sets himself up as a wit; the giggling Lord Froth affects solemnity; the vacuous Lady Froth sees herself as a writer of heroic epic poems.

The supreme embodiment of deception is Maskwell. He pretends to be Mellefont’s loyal friend, defending him against Lady Touchwood’s plotting and supporting the marriage with Cynthia. In fact, he is using every weapon in his armory to discredit Mellefont in the eyes of his uncle and benefactor-to-be, Lord Touchwood, and his bride’s parents, Sir Paul and Lady Plyant. Such is Maskwell’s skill that he prevails upon the unwitting Mellefont to conspire in his own undoing: In a seeming effort to put an end to Lady Touchwood’s activities, Maskwell suggests that Mellefont appear in her bedroom at a time calculated to compromise her; Maskwell, however, ensures that it is Mellefont who is compromised and risks the wrath of Lord Touchwood. Neither Mellefont nor anyone else sees through Maskwell’s guise until Cynthia points out a discrepancy in...

(The entire section is 719 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Lady Touchwood is infatuated with her husband’s nephew, Mellefont, and confesses her ardor to him. Mellefont, who pledged himself to Cynthia, daughter of Sir Paul Plyant, rebukes Lady Touchwood, whereupon she attempts to end her life with his sword. When he prevents her attempt, she vows revenge. Fearing the designs of Lady Touchwood, Mellefont engages his friend Careless to keep Lady Plyant, Cynthia’s stepmother, away from Lady Touchwood. Careless reveals his distrust of Maskwell, Mellefont’s friend, who is under obligations to Lord Touchwood. Out of sheer spite, Lady Touchwood gives herself to Maskwell. In return, Maskwell promises to help Lady Touchwood by insinuating to Lady Plyant that Mellefont really loves her, not her stepdaughter Cynthia.

Lady Touchwood’s plan begins to work. Old Sir Paul Plyant and Lady Plyant express indignation when they are told that Mellefont desires Lady Plyant. Actually, Lady Plyant is flattered and merely pretends anger, but she is nevertheless shocked that Mellefont intends to marry Cynthia for the ultimate purpose of cuckolding Sir Paul. She rebukes him but at the same time tells the puzzled young man not to despair. Maskwell reveals to Mellefont that he is Lady Touchwood’s agent in provoking trouble, but he does not reveal his real purpose, which is to create general confusion and to win Cynthia’s hand.

Lord Touchwood, refusing to believe that his nephew plays a double game, is scandalized when Lady Touchwood recommends canceling the marriage on the grounds that Mellefont made improper advances to her. Maskwell, instructed by Lady Touchwood, ingratiates himself with Lord Touchwood by saying that he defended Lady Touchwood’s honor and prevailed on Mellefont to cease his unwelcome attentions.

Maskwell, to further his plans, tells Mellefont that his reward for assisting in the breakup of Mellefont’s marriage to Cynthia is the privilege of bedding with Lady Touchwood. The fake friend pretends that he wishes to be saved from the shame of collecting this reward, and he asks the credulous Mellefont to go to Lady Touchwood’s chamber and there surprise him with Lady Touchwood. When Lord Plyant, frustrated...

(The entire section is 893 words.)