Clerimont and Truewit, young men-about-town, meet and discuss various matters, including the relative merits of natural beauty and the use of cosmetics. Shifting the topic to their friend Sir Dauphine Eugenie, they wonder how he is able to put up with his uncle Morose, an eccentric character who can abide no noise except the sound of his own voice. Clerimont’s page amuses them with accounts of various noisy pranks that have been played on the ridiculous old man. Sir Dauphine joins them and complains that his uncle blames all the pranks on him and his friends and that he threatens to marry and leave his fortune to his new wife instead of to his nephew. Morose has heard of a soft-voiced woman, extremely frugal of speech, and has negotiated with his silent barber, Cutbeard, to arrange a meeting, possibly even a marriage, with her.
Truewit, amazed at hearing of a silent barber and a silent woman, is struck with a sudden inspiration and excuses himself. After Truewit departs on his undisclosed mission, Sir Amorous La-Foole arrives to invite the gentlemen to a feast at the home of his kinswoman Mistress Otter. The guests are to include the silent Mistress Epicne, Lady Haughty, Lady Centaur, Mistress Mavis, and Sir John Daw. Sir Dauphine and Clerimont identify Sir John and Sir Amorous as ridiculous targets for comedy.
Meanwhile, Morose is instructing his servant Mute to use only sign language or, in extreme emergencies, to speak through a tube when they are interrupted by a loud blast from a post horn. Mute goes to the door and returns followed by Truewit, who is carrying a post horn and a halter. Morose and Mute are overwhelmed by a volley of words from Truewit and intimidated by a dagger when they attempt to leave the room. Truewit suggests that Morose choose some way of self-destruction other than marriage and offers him the halter to hang himself. After another voluble outpouring Truewit leaves, but he adds the final torture of another blast from his horn. When Cutbeard arrives, he finds Morose in such a state that he has to be put to bed.
In the company of Mistress Epicne, Sir Dauphine and Clerimont encourage the fantastic knight Sir John Daw to quote and explain his own poetry, to show off his copious but confused mass of knowledge, and to boast of his romantic prowess. They are interrupted by Truewit, returning with his horn. Sir Dauphine is greatly disturbed by Truewit’s account of his prank, which Truewit assures him will break off the intended marriage. Sir Dauphine tells Truewit that the marriage was his own plot, abetted by his confederates, Cutbeard and Mistress Epicne. Cutbeard hastens in to announce that Morose, furious with Truewit and certain that Sir Dauphine sent him to break off the match, has determined to marry immediately. Cutbeard conducts Mistress Epicne away, and the young gentlemen comment on her apparent desertion of her gallant, Sir John. They encourage him to indulge his melancholy.
Morose welcomes Cutbeard and Mistress Epicne, who speaks so softly that she can hardly be heard. Cutbeard does all his communicating through sign language only. Carried away with Mistress Epicne’s noiseless charm, Morose promises large rewards to the barber, reminding...
(The entire section is 1316 words.)