Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 972
Lady Flippant, a widow disappointed in her efforts to find a new husband, berates her matchmaker, Mrs. Joyner, for not finding her a wealthy young man to relieve her impecunious position. The lady’s brother, Alderman Gripe, has grown tired of her foppish visitors, especially the witless Mr. Dapperwit. At the suggestion of the cozening Mrs. Joyner and the double-dealing Dapperwit, Sir Simon Addleplot disguises himself and gains employment as a clerk to the miserly Gripe in order to woo the usurer’s daughter, Mistress Martha, and through her secure her father’s fortune. Not realizing that he has been gulled into masquerading as Jonas the clerk, Sir Simon is also duped into believing that he is loved by Lady Flippant, who is really enamored of Dapperwit.
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Together with Mr. Vincent, his friend and confidant, Mr. Ranger is about to go into St. James’s Park in search of amorous adventure when he is discovered by his cousin Lydia, to whom he is betrothed. He avoids her, however, and dines with the gulled Sir Simon, Dapperwit, and Lady Flippant for the diversion of watching the work of Mrs. Joyner, who has already made twenty crowns through introductions and will obtain one hundred crowns if Sir Simon gets Mistress Martha or fifty if he gets Lady Flippant. The widow spurns Sir Simon, flirts with Dapperwit, and hints at matrimony to both Ranger and Vincent.
Later, all promenade through St. James’s Park in the hope of discovering one another’s intrigues. Lydia, recognizing Ranger, runs into the house of her friend Christina in order to avoid a compromising meeting with her betrothed. Ranger pursues her only to become enamored of Christina, who is faithfully waiting the return to London of her fiancé, Mr. Valentine. In order to help Lydia, Christina pretends to be the young woman Ranger has pursued from the park. Once her little act is over, she sends the impertinent young man away. Ranger, in despair because he has not learned the fair unknown’s name, has no idea that Lydia has overheard his gallant speeches to Christina.
Ranger goes to the home of his friend Vincent. Valentine, whose life is in danger from a rival, is in hiding there, for he wishes no one to know of his return from France before his loved one knows. The concealed Valentine overhears Ranger ask Vincent the name of the young woman whom Ranger earlier pursued into her apartment. When Vincent says that the apartment is Christina’s, Valentine becomes convinced that his beloved has been untrue to him.
In contrast to this sequence of mistaken and confused identities, the busy Mrs. Joyner is more positive in identifying Lucy, the daughter of her friend Mrs. Crossbite, as the object of hypocritical old Gripe’s lust. The solicitous mother, pleased with this development, orders her recalcitrant daughter to give up her love for Dapperwit. Dapperwit, thinking to cure Ranger’s melancholy over Christina, brings him to see Lucy, but the girl repulses Dapperwit for his infidelity and what she thinks is his intention of procuring her for Ranger. The jilted fop recovers his spirits, however, when he receives a message delivered by Jonas, the supposed clerk, that holds out the promise of a later assignation that might, Dapperwit hopes, lead to a wedding.
As the gallants depart, the ever-busy Mrs. Joyner brings the furtive Alderman Gripe to see Lucy. His hasty lust frightens her, however, and she screams. Though he dickers in true miserly fashion, Gripe is coerced into paying five hundred pounds in hush money to Mrs. Crossbite. Lady Flippant, at the same time, is making advances to the defenseless Dapperwit, and the nimble-footed lovers Ranger and Lydia are busy at double deception. Lydia denies that she had been in the park jealously searching for him; Ranger assures her that he had called for her as he had promised.
The Gripe household is in an uproar. The sly old man is busily attempting to hide his shame and regain his money, and Mrs. Joyner virtuously pretends horror at the treatment he has received at the hands of Mrs. Crossbite. Jonas, meanwhile, makes love to Lady Flippant, who protests only after she learns that her seducer is really Sir Simon Addleplot, the man she hopes eventually to marry. So the poor man, undone by his own deceit, loses Mistress Martha through his dissembling ways and Dapperwit’s roguery.
To test Ranger, Lydia sends him a letter to which she has signed Christina’s name, asking the gallant to meet her that evening at St. James’s Gate. The wronged Christina has since learned of her lover’s return, and Valentine is at that time trying to reassure himself of her innocence. Overhearing Ranger’s new plans unsettles him again, though his eavesdropping on a conversation between Christina and Vincent and then on one between Christina and her supposed lover finally sets his mind at rest. Lydia also confesses her part in this lovers’ plot and counterplot, and the two couples, thus reunited, decide that matrimony is the only sure solution to love’s equation.
The false lovers find no such easy solution, however, so addle-witted have their intrigues become. Sir Simon, still passing as Jonas, escorts Mistress Martha to Dapperwit. He thinks their embraces inopportune and inappropriate, but his arrangements for a parson, a supper, and a reception in nearby Mulberry Garden are not completely wasted. Propelled to the same garden by the two scheming procurers, Alderman Gripe marries Lucy to be revenged on his son-in-law, Dapperwit, who has taken a bride who is six months pregnant. In the end, Sir Simon takes the widowed Lady Flippant as his wife, just as she had intended. Thus are all the honest ladies made wives and all the bawds made honest in St. James’s Park.