Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 192
The Double-Dealer is built around the schemes of a man named Maskwell who attempts to marry another man's bride and become the heir to an estate that he has no claim to.
When Maskwell finds out that Mellefont is in love with Cynthia and hoping to marry her, he decides to ruin his reputation. He convinces Cynthia's father's wife that Mellefont actually wants to sleep with her. He convinces Mellefont's uncle that Mellefont is sleeping with his wife, Lady Touchwood.
Ultimately, Cynthia's parents see Mellefont as unsuitable, even though her father's wife wants to sleep with Mellefont. She believes he only wants to marry Cynthia to get to her. Lord Touchwood names Maskwell as his heir instead of Mellefont.
However, ultimately, Mellefont's friend Careless steps in and helps people see the truth. Cynthia and Lord Touchwood overhear Lady Touchwood admit her guilt in trying to make Maskwell look bad for rejecting her when she tried to sleep with him. He disguises himself and hears her try to make another attempt at being with Mellefont. This clears things up. Maskwell is exposed as a fraud and Mellefont and Cynthia are able to marry.
Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 141
The plot of The Double Dealer largely concerns two innocent and sincere characters, Mellefont and Cynthia, trapped in a labyrinth of deception and evil machinations created by the jealous Lady Touchwood and the manipulative Maskwell.
Mellefont, the heir apparent of Lord Touchwood, seeks to marry Cynthia, the daughter of Sir Paul Plyant. Lady Touchwood, who is in love with Mellefont, aims to ruin the match. She enlists the help of Maskwell, her lover, to tarnish Mellefont's esteem in Lord Touchwood's eyes. To this end, Maskwell convinces both Lords Touchwood and Plyant that Mellefont is involved with their respective wives.
Mellefont is bereaved of his inheritance and Cynthia is to be married to Maskwell. However, when Lady Touchwood discovers this arrangement, it awakens her jealousy. The ensuing confrontation between Lady Touchwood and Maskwell is overheard by Lord Touchwood, who thwarts Maskwell's plan.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 893
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 by Lady Plyant’s vow to remain a virgin, complains to Careless that he does not have an heir, Careless waggishly promises to see what he can do in the matter.
Mellefont, to escape the evil that is brewing, impatiently urges Cynthia to elope with him. Although she refuses, she promises to marry no one but him. When she challenges Mellefont to thwart his aunt and to get her approval of their marriage, he promises to get Lady Touchwood’s consent that night.
Lady Plyant, meanwhile, consents to an assignation with Careless. When Lord Plyant appears, Careless gives her, secretly, a note containing directions for their meeting. Lady Plyant, anxious to read Careless’s letter, asks her husband for a letter that he received earlier. Pretending to read her husband’s letter, she reads the one given her by Careless. By mistake she returns her lover’s letter to her husband.
When she discovers her mistake, she reports it in alarm to Careless, but Lord Plyant already read the letter. Lady Plyant insists that it was part of an insidious plot against her reputation, and after accusing her husband of arranging to have it written in order to test her fidelity, she threatens divorce. Careless pretends that he wrote it in Lord Plyant’s behalf to test his wife’s virtue. Foolish as he is, Lord Plyant is not without suspicion of his wife and Careless.
That night, Mellefont conceals himself in Lady Touchwood’s chamber. When she enters, expecting to find Maskwell, Mellefont reveals himself. Lord Touchwood, informed by Maskwell, then appears. When he threatens his nephew, Lady Touchwood pretends that the young man is out of his wits. Not suspecting Maskwell’s treachery, Lady Touchwood later tells him of her lucky escape. Maskwell, in a purposeful soliloquy, reveals to Lord Touchwood his love for Cynthia. Duped, the old man names Maskwell his heir and promises to arrange a marriage between Cynthia and the schemer.
Lady Touchwood learns of Maskwell’s treachery when Lord Touchwood tells her that he intends to make Maskwell his heir. Chagrined by her betrayal, Lady Touchwood urges her husband never to consent to Cynthia’s marriage with anyone but Mellefont.
Maskwell, still pretending to be Mellefont’s friend, makes his final move by plotting with the unwary Mellefont to get Cynthia away from her house. His intention being to marry her himself, he privately tells Cynthia that Mellefont will be waiting for her in the chaplain’s chamber. Careless checks Maskwell’s carefully laid plans, however, then discloses Maskwell’s villainy to the young lovers. Cynthia and Lord Touchwood, in concealment, overhear Lady Touchwood rebuke Maskwell for his betrayal of her, and eventually she tries to stab her lover but is overcome with emotion. Maskwell then reveals the meeting place where Mellefont, in the disguise of a parson, will be waiting for Cynthia. Lady Touchwood, planning to disguise herself as Cynthia, hurries away to meet Mellefont there.
Lord Touchwood, knowing of her plan, puts on a chaplain’s habit and confronts his wife when she comes to make overtures to the man she supposes is Mellefont. The whole plot is uncovered and Maskwell, the double-dealer, is unmasked; Mellefont, cleared of all suspicion, takes Cynthia for his own.
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