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The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Act 1 introduces the Tiffany household and demonstrates Elizabeth Tiffany’s slavish adherence to fashion. Humor lies in her use of French terms that she cannot pronounce and her attempts to transform her slave Zeke into Adolph, a continental butler. In conversation, Prudence, Elizabeth’s sister, reveals their humble origins, but Elizabeth sees herself as “fashionable.” She is a patron of T. Tennyson Twinkle, who maintains that a poet’s “velocity of composition” is the best measure of excellence. Another “fashionable” visitor is Augustus Fogg, a “drawing room appendage” who is indifferent to any subject mentioned. When Count Jolimaitre arrives, Elizabeth maneuvers him toward Seraphina, her daughter, but her machinations are thwarted by the arrival of Adam Trueman, an old farmer, who is openly contemptuous of everyone’s pretensions. Elizabeth considers Adam crude and threatens to throw him out.

In act 2, scene 1, Elizabeth’s husband, Anthony, and his clerk, Snobson, discuss their illegal business activities in Anthony’s office. Snobson threatens to reveal Anthony’s forgeries unless Snobson can marry Seraphina, and Anthony agrees to allow this courtship of his daughter. He indicates, however, his hopes for financial rescue from Adam, his father’s friend. When Adam arrives, he comments upon Anthony’s changed attitudes and values.

In a series of conversations during scene 2, characters reveal their interrelationships. Seraphina’s governess, Gertrude, and her suitor, Colonel Howard, are revealed as honorable characters, and their mutual affection is established. Gertrude’s encounter with Jolimaitre clearly demonstrates the contrast between his character and that of Howard. Adam overhears the count’s improper advances to Gertrude, and hostility between the two intensifies. Adam attempts to learn whether the Tiffanys’ corrupt values have influenced Gertrude. In a comic note, Prudence attempts to ensnare Adam in marriage. Her humorous role as a gossip is also developed as she incorrectly identifies everyone’s romantic relationships.

In act 3, scene 1, Anthony explains to Elizabeth that Adam is his only hope for financial rescue. Snobson arrives to court Seraphina, and Anthony is relieved when she seems pleased. Jolimaitre arrives, and the scene becomes a verbal duel between the Tiffanys, each attempting to influence Seraphina’s choice. In the next scene, the Tiffanys’ maid Millinette and Jolimaitre, alone for the first time, discuss their past. Entering unobserved, Gertrude discovers Jolimaitre is a fraud who intends to trick Seraphina into marriage. Gertrude resolves to expose him.

At a fancy ball given by the Tiffanys during act 4, scene 1, Gertrude manages to have Millinette occupied with guests while she invites Jolimaitre to meet her in the servants’ quarters. The gossipy Prudence overhears and reveals the meeting. Scene 2 provides the play’s crisis. Before Gertrude can force Jolimaitre to reveal the truth, other characters enter, and they believe Jolimaitre’s version of the story. Gertrude seems disgraced: She is fired by Elizabeth, condemned by Adam, and rejected by Howard.

In act 5, while preparing to leave, Gertrude writes a letter of explanation to her guardians. When Adam enters and rebukes her again, she gives him the letter to read. He realizes he has misjudged her, though he still criticizes her devious methods of trying to reveal the truth. Howard arrives to tell Gertrude farewell before he resigns his commission and heads west. As he and Adam engage in a heated argument, Gertrude shows the letter to Howard, who apologizes for doubting her. Prudence bursts in to say Seraphina and Jolimaitre have eloped. When the Tiffanys hear the news, Anthony despairs, believing Snobson will now incriminate him. Elizabeth is delighted that Seraphina will be a countess, though disappointed there will not be a large wedding. Next, Adam reveals that Gertrude is his granddaughter. Millinette...

(The entire section is 1,100 words.)