In Hogsden, a conservative suburb north of London’s wall, Edward Knowell, a dignified, practical citizen, is somewhat concerned over his son Edward’s interest in poetry. Old Knowell is further alarmed that his nephew Stephen, a country simpleton, shows interest in the gentle art of falconry. Old Knowell wishes to have his son and his nephew engaged in more practical arts.
One day he is handed a letter meant for his son. The letter, signed by Wellbred, a London gallant, is an invitation to young Knowell to renew his association with a group of young madcaps. Old Knowell, reading the letter and convinced that his son is up to no good, has his servant, Brainworm, deliver the letter to the youth in his study, with the directions not to reveal that the letter was opened. Contrary to orders, Brainworm tells his young master that old Knowell read the letter. The young man, delighted with the prospect of fun in the city, gives little thought to what his father might do.
Meanwhile, in the city, Matthew, an urban fool, calls on Captain Bobadill, a spurious cavalier who rooms in the low-class lodgings of Cob, a water carrier. Matthew, his taste questioned by Downright, a plain-spoken man, asks for and receives instructions in dueling from the braggart, swaggering Bobadill.
In his house nearby, Kitely, a merchant, discusses with Downright the dissolute ways of his brother-in-law, Wellbred, who rooms with the Kitelys. Wellbred becomes the leader of a group of scoffers, young men who apparently have no respect for anyone or anything; their greatest sport is to discover fools and make sport of them. Kitely fears that his relation to this sporting crew might endanger his business reputation. In addition, he is jealous of his wife. When Matthew and Bobadill call for Wellbred, Bobadill insults Downright on Matthew’s behalf. Kitely restrains Downright from avenging his honor on the spot.
Brainworm, young Knowell’s ally, appears in Moorfields disguised as a disabled veteran for the purpose of intercepting old Knowell, who he knows will follow young Knowell into the city to spy on him. Brainworm encounters the old gentleman, who, out of pity, hires Brainworm, who styles himself Fitz-Sword, as a personal servant.
Inside the city wall, young Knowell reveals to Wellbred that old Knowell read Wellbred’s letter; the pair agree to make a joke of the situation. Stephen, Matthew, and Bobadill provide rare fun for young Knowell and Wellbred. Stephen assumes a ridiculous air of melancholy, which he thinks befits a lovesick poet; Matthew, a poetaster, reflects this melancholy in what he thinks is the urban manner. Bobadill provides entertainment with preposterous lies about his military experiences and with oaths that especially impress rustic Stephen. Brainworm joins the group, reveals his true identity, and reports to young Knowell that old Knowell came to the city and is stopping at the house of Justice Clement.
Kitely, meanwhile, obsessed with a growing fear that his wife might be unfaithful to him, decides to forgo a profitable business transaction in another part of the city. Later he changes his mind, but before he leaves home he orders his servant, Thomas Cash, to report immediately the coming to the house of Wellbred and his companions, or of any stranger. The young gallants come to the house shortly afterward. Cash, in desperation, enlists Cob to carry the message to Kitely. Receiving the message at the house of Justice Clement, where he is doing business, Kitely hurries home, plagued by the imagination of a jealous husband.
In Kitely’s house, Downright reproaches his sister, Mistress Kitely, for permitting their brother, Wellbred, to use her house as a meeting place for his mad company. Matthew, to the amusement of young Knowell and Wellbred, reads bits of stolen verse to Bridget, Kitely’s maiden sister. When Downright asks Wellbred and his followers to leave, rapiers are drawn. After Cash and the other servants separate the antagonists,...
(The entire section is 1,260 words.)