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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1001

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Young Valentine Legend, having squandered all of his money in riotous living, is destitute and deeply in debt. With no property left but his books, he declares his intention of becoming a playwright, for his love for Angelica has indeed compelled him to take desperate measures. On hearing of Valentine’s intention, Jeremy, his knavish manservant, shows alarm and says that Valentine’s family will surely disown him.

Among Valentine’s creditors is Trapland, a lecherous old scrivener who persists in dunning him. When Valentine, who has been joined by his friend Scandal, subtly threatened Trapland with blackmail concerning a wealthy city widow, the old man suddenly forgets the money that Valentine owes him.

Sir Sampson Legend’s steward tells Valentine that he will be released from all debts if he will sign over his rights as Sir Sampson’s heir to Ben, his younger brother. If he signs, he will receive four thousand pounds in cash. In the meantime, Foresight, an old fool given to the science of prognostication, recalls Prue, his bumpkin daughter, from the country. Foresight plans to marry her to Ben Legend.

Angelica, wealthy, young, and clever, reproves her uncle for his belief in astrology. Irate, Foresight threatens to end her friendship with Valentine. Angelica, piqued, insinuates that Mrs. Foresight, the old man’s young second wife, is not true to him.

Sir Sampson Legend, a great teller of tall tales of world travel, arranges with Foresight for the marriage of Ben and Prue. When Sir Sampson playfully hints to Foresight that Mrs. Foresight might not be a faithful wife, Foresight threatens to break the marriage agreement. Sir Sampson quickly makes amends.

Valentine, seeking Angelica, encounters his father at Foresight’s house. He is indignant when his father disowns him as a son, and he begs his father to change his mind about the conditions under which he could be freed of debt.

When Mrs. Foresight rebukes her sister for her indiscretion in frequenting the haunts of gamesters and gallants, Mistress Frail reveals her knowledge of Mrs. Foresight’s own indiscretions. Mistress Frail then declares her intention of marrying Ben and enlists her sister’s aid in the project. Prue, meanwhile, finds herself charmed by Tattle, a voluble young dandy. When Mrs. Foresight and Mistress Frail encourage Tattle to court Prue, he is mystified, because he knows of the marriage arranged between Prue and Ben. Even so, he gives Prue a lesson in the art of love, a lesson that progresses as far as her bedchamber. Tattle, having grown tired of dalliance with the unrefined country girl, is relieved when Prue’s nurse finds them.

Ben, returning from a sea voyage, declares that marriage does not interest him at the moment, but he visibly changes his mind when Mistress Frail flatters him. Left alone, he and Prue express dislike for each other. Ben declares that he talks to Prue only to obey his father.

Scandal, in Valentine’s behalf, ingratiates himself with Foresight by pretending a knowledge of astrology. His scheme succeeds, and he convinces Foresight that it is not in the stars for Valentine to sign over his inheritance or for Ben and Prue to marry. Attracted to Mrs. Foresight, Scandal hoodwinks old Foresight in order to pay gallant attentions to his young wife. Ben and Mistress Frail confess their love and decide to marry.

Scandal has reported that Valentine is ill, so Angelica goes to his lodgings. In spite of Scandal’s insistence that her acknowledgment of love for Valentine will cure the young man, she quickly detects a trick and departs. Sir Sampson and a lawyer named Buckram arrive to get Valentine’s signature on the documents they have prepared. Jeremy insists that Valentine is out of his mind. Buckram says that the signature will be invalid under the circumstances, but Sir Sampson forces his way into his son’s presence. Valentine, pretending complete lunacy, calls himself Truth and declares that he will give the world the lie. After the frightened Buckram leaves, Valentine shows clarity of mind, but when the lawyer is called back, Valentine again seems to lapse into lunacy.

Mistress Frail, having learned that there is little chance of Ben’s inheriting the whole estate, breaks off their engagement. Sir Sampson, frustrated by Valentine, decides to marry and beget a new heir. Mrs. Foresight plots with Jeremy to marry Mistress Frail, disguised as Angelica, to Valentine during one of his fits of madness. When Jeremy reveals the scheme to Valentine and Scandal, the friends, in their turn, plan to marry Mistress Frail to Tattle by means of another disguise.

After Valentine has confessed his feigned madness to Angelica, she expresses disappointment. She decides to test his love of her. She then goes to Sir Sampson, learns his new state of mind, and suggests that he and she go through with a mock marriage ceremony in order to bring Valentine to his senses. When foolish Sir Sampson suggests that they actually get married so that she can inherit his estate, Angelica says that this would not be advisable because the papers leaving the estate to Ben have already been drawn up.

Jeremy tricks foolish Tattle into believing that he, disguised as a friar, might marry Angelica, who will be disguised as a nun. Prue, forsaken by Tattle, asserts that she will marry Robin, the butler, who has professed his love for her.

Mistress Frail, thinking that she is marrying Valentine, and Tattle, thinking that he is marrying Angelica, are thus tricked into wedlock. Told by Angelica that she intends to marry his father, Valentine in despair declares that he is ready to sign over his inheritance. Impressed by this indication of his love for her, Angelica tears up the bond that Sir Sampson had given her. She then brings the doting old man to his senses by revealing that she had always intended to marry Valentine. Sir Sampson and old Foresight console each other; they admit that they have acted like fools.