(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Macilente, disgusted by the injustices of society, flees to the country. As he lies idly under a tree he overhears a conversation between the wealthy young farmer, Sogliardo, and Carlo Buffone, a railing cynic whom the rustic bumpkin chooses as his guide in becoming a gentleman. Macilente winces at Sogliardo’s presumption and at Buffone’s callous instructions to the foolish Sogliardo. Buffone, seeing Macilente and knowing him to be a malcontent, hurries away with Sogliardo, but in departing he tells Macilente that they are going to Puntarvolo’s house.

Still musing under the tree, Macilente next listens while Sordido, a miserly farmer, consults his almanac and hopes for rainy weather in order that his hoarded grain might soar in value. A farmhand delivers to Sordido a note, an official order for him to bring his grain to market. Sordido scorns the order and swears that he will hide his surplus harvest.

In front of Puntarvolo’s house, Buffone and Sogliardo talk with the braggart courtier, Sir Fastidious Brisk. The three watch with amazement Puntarvolo’s return from the hunt. Puntarvolo, an old-fashioned fantastic knight, is given to extravagances in the form of little homecoming plays which he writes himself. Assuming the role of a strange knight, Puntarvolo approaches his house, inquires about the owner, and hears his virtues praised by his indulgent wife and her women. In another part of the play Puntarvolo woos his wife in the manner of a knight-errant. Sordido and his son, Fungoso, a law student in the city, appear. Fungoso is so impressed with the stylish cut of Brisk’s clothes that he asks his uncle, Sogliardo, to get him money from Sordido, ostensibly for law books but actually for a suit of clothes in the latest style. All the while hoping for rain, Sordido reluctantly gives his son money, but not enough.

Reaction varies to Puntarvolo’s announcement that he wagered five thousand pounds at five-to-one odds that he and his wife and their dog can travel to Constantinople and back without a fatal mishap. Buffone sees in this venture material for a colossal joke, while Brisk is interested in investing a hundred pounds in the venture. Fungoso, meanwhile, taken with Brisk’s courtly manner and dress, is pleased to learn that his brother-in-law, Deliro, is Brisk’s merchant.

The next day Macilente advises his friend Deliro to exercise some control in his doting love for his wife, since this dotage causes the wife, Fallace, to react petulantly to Deliro’s affections. Fungoso, wearing a new suit, goes to Deliro’s house and borrows money from his sister, Fallace, in order to complete his costume. No sooner does he receive the money than Brisk enters in a new suit. Fungoso, frustrated by this new development, writes his father for more money. Brisk, meanwhile, brags of his actually nonexistent triumphs at court; he also makes arrangements with Deliro for mortgaging his land in the country. Fallace, impatient with her workaday husband, admires Brisk’s courtliness and dreams of becoming a court lady.

Buffone, accompanied by Puntarvolo, tries to find two retainers for his newly arrived gentleman, Sogliardo. Puntarvolo, who has with him a...

(The entire section is 1312 words.)