Prince Vincentio was deeply in love with Margaret, a gentlewoman of the court, but his courtship was inhibited by the fact that his father, Duke Alphonso, was also in love with the girl. Since the duke was not a man to tolerate opposition, it was unthinkable for Vincentio to become his father’s open rival. When he disclosed his feelings to his close friend, Count Strozza, his friend encouraged him to carry on his suit in secret.
Meanwhile, the duke was planning a boar hunt near the home of Count Lasso, Margaret’s father. It was not the hunt that interested the duke, but the festivities at Lasso’s house that would follow, for he hoped that he would be able to advance his cause with Margaret during the feast. The duke’s chief ally in this cause and his favorite courtier at the moment was Medice, a base lord noted for his poor apparel and his illiteracy. Contemptuous and suspicious of this upstart, Strozza and Vincentio grasped every opportunity to ridicule him.
When the duke arrived at Lasso’s castle, where elaborate preparations had been made for his entertainment, he was bound as a captive. His men, dressed in costumes, explained to Margaret that he was a captive to her charms. She unbound him and, though she fully understood the duke’s intentions, treated the matter as a compliment and jest.
Acting for his master, Medice sought information about Margaret. Aware of her coolness toward the duke, he believed that she must have another lover. To discover the name of this person, he plied Margaret’s aunt, Cortezza, with sack. For his troubles he got some shameless flirting from the old hag and also a hint that Vincentio might be the guilty person.
During the festivities Vincentio himself was seeking the services of a go-between. Finally, acting on Margaret’s suggestion, he approached her father’s usher, Bassiolo, a pompous fool quite susceptible to Vincentio’s flattery. Vincentio, treating Bassiolo as an equal, embraced him and asked that he be called Vince. He gave the usher a jewel and hinted that Bassiolo could expect a high position when Vincentio became duke. Bassiolo, because of his self-conceit, had no idea that Vincentio was secretly laughing at him. When the prince brought up the subject of exchanging letters with Margaret, the usher immediately volunteered his services.
As arranged, Bassiolo brought Margaret a letter from Vincentio, but she, wishing to implicate the usher, refused it on the grounds of her attachment to the duke. After an argument against her marriage to an old man, Bassiolo forced Vincentio’s letter upon her. When she had read the letter, she told Bassiolo to answer it. His missive, indited in a turgid style, she declined to send, telling him that it sounded too good for a woman’s writing. Her own letter to Vincentio, she dictated to the usher.
Medice, angered by Strozza’s mockery, also felt that Strozza stood in the way of his advancement. He decided, therefore, to get rid of him by having...
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