(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Touchstone, a goldsmith, has two daughters, Gertrude, a flutter-brained social climber, and Mildred, a modest, gentle girl. He also has two apprentices, Francis Quicksilver, a fellow as unstable as his name, and Golding, who is steady and conscientious. Caught while trying to slip away from the shop, Quicksilver makes a spirited defense of his way of life, especially of his prodigality among the town gallants. Touchstone answers with a severe moral lecture and points out the exemplary behavior of his fellow apprentice. The lecture is interrupted by a messenger from Sir Petronel Flash, who wishes to make arrangements to marry Gertrude. As soon as Touchstone is out of hearing, Quicksilver abuses the old citizen; Golding defends his master and warns and rebukes Quicksilver.

Mildred, with the help of a tailor and a maid, attires Gertrude elegantly to receive her knight, while Gertrude rattles away, full of herself and contemptuous of her bourgeois family. Touchstone brings in Sir Petronel and concludes the arrangements for the wedding, warning both Gertrude and the knight that they need not expect any gifts beyond the agreed dowry. Gertrude treats him impudently and leaves with the knight, with Mistress Touchstone fluttering in attendance on her soon-to-be-married daughter. After their departure, Touchstone proposes a match between Mildred and Golding.

From the wedding feast Quicksilver returns to the shop drunk, hiccuping and quoting lines from popular plays. Touchstone, losing patience with the fellow, releases him from his indenture and discharges him. After Quicksilver’s defiant and staggering exit, Touchstone tells Golding that he, too, will no longer be an apprentice, but a full-fledged member of the guild and his master’s son-in-law. At the home of old Security, where Quicksilver and his mistress Sindefy live, the old usurer plots with them to trap Sir Petronel and to gain possession of Gertrude’s property. Quicksilver is to encourage the knight to borrow money for a proposed voyage to Virginia, and both Quicksilver and Sindefy, who is to become Gertrude’s maid, are to encourage the bride to put up her land to cover the debt. Before leaving to set his plans in motion, Security delays to bid farewell to his pretty young wife, Winifred.

Sir Petronel confesses to Quicksilver that he has no castle, but that he intends to send his bride on a wild goose chase to an imaginary castle in the country in order to get her out of the way while he carries off old Security’s young wife on the Virginia voyage. Security brings in Sindefy and places her with Gertrude as a maid, then takes Sir Petronel to his home for breakfast. Captain Seagull, Scapethrift, and Spendall join Sir Petronel there to make the final plans for the voyage....

(The entire section is 1130 words.)