Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1121
Melantius, a military hero, returns to Rhodes from the wars. There he finds himself involved in a difficult situation. The king, ostensibly to show his gratitude, has given the hand of Evadne, Melantius’s sister, to Amintor, a young courtier and a dear friend of Melantius. The difficulty lay in Amintor’s having already promised himself to Aspatia, daughter of Calianax, an old lord.
Preparations are being made for elaborate nuptial festivities. Aspatia grieves. In the royal banqueting hall, just before the presentation of the marriage masque, Melantius encounters Calianax, who insults him. The king’s entrance checks animosities. A masque follows, after which the king, wishing the wedded couple goodnight, asks Amintor to father a boy who will grow up to defend the kingdom.
As Evadne prepares to retire, Aspatia, who is present, cannot share the general enthusiastic anticipation of the marriage night, and she expresses her belief that she will soon be dead of a broken heart. Amintor, coming into the apartment, receives a kiss from Aspatia before she departs. He suffers momentary misgivings for having forsaken her, but he forgets her when he sees Evadne. His bride, as he soon discovers, does not appear to be interested in the consummation of their marriage. In fact, she tells Amintor that she hates him and will never share his bed. Threatened by Amintor, she finally confesses that she has already given herself to the king. Amintor is deeply injured when she reveals to him that the marriage is merely a means to make legitimate any children born of that affair. Determined to make the marriage seem normal, however, he sleeps in her bedchamber, on the floor.
Aspatia, meanwhile, returns to her home, where she warns her maids never to trust their hearts to men and recounts classical stories of women who, much to their distress, gave their hearts away. Old Calianax, always a coward at heart, vows to be valiant in avenging the slight to his daughter. The next morning Amintor, emerging from the bedchamber, encounters Melantius, whom he puzzles with ambiguous remarks about the virtues of the soldier’s family. Later, Amintor’s assumed manner arouses the king’s suspicions; in private he accuses Evadne of faithlessness. To prove her steadfastness to the king, Evadne provokes Amintor into revealing that the marriage has not been consummated. Amintor is overcome by the enormity of the way he has been treated, but he refuses to draw his sword on the king. Still, he vows to avenge the insult somehow.
Melantius, meanwhile, ponders Amintor’s peculiar behavior. Dismissing a foolish challenge from Calianax, he encounters Amintor, whom he persuades to unburden his heart of its troubles. When Amintor reveals that Evadne is the king’s mistress, Melantius, incapable of believing Amintor’s story, draws his sword and threatens to kill his friend. When Amintor seems to welcome death, Melantius, convinced, sheathes his sword and swears to avenge his sister’s disgrace. Amintor, who feels that it is he who should do the avenging, challenges Melantius to fight. Melantius refuses, calms the youth, and promises that the two could effect a scheme to right the wrongs done them.
Melantius directs his brother, Diphilus, to prepare his armor for battle. He also asks Calianax, the castellan of Rhodes, to deliver the garrison to him. The old man, promising permission within the hour, hastens to report the rebellion to the king.
Melantius confronts Evadne with his knowledge of her transgression. Upon asking her to name her seducer, she pretends to be insulted and suggests that he tend to his military affairs. When Melantius threatens to kill her, she confesses the truth. Then, realizing the extent of her disgrace, she promises Melantius that she will kill the king. She also expresses her remorse to Amintor and begs him for forgiveness. Amintor kisses her and cautions her never to sin again.
Meanwhile, at a dinner in the palace, Calianax tells the king of Melantius’s scheme to kill him and to escape to the fortress of Rhodes. The king, doubting, calls Amintor into the dining chamber, where with leading questions he tests Amintor and Evadne, as well as Melantius, who accompanies them. Melantius maintains his poise. When the king discloses his knowledge of the plot, Melantius continues to dissemble and states that Calianax is an irresponsible, foolish old man. The king is convinced that Melantius is innocent. When Melantius, in asides, importunes Calianax about the fortress, the old man tries to convince the king that Melantius is making overtures under his very eyes, but the ruler suggests that someone put the weak-minded old man to bed. The thoroughly confounded lord submits reluctantly to Melantius’s demands for the fortress.
On the night for revenge, Diphilus takes command of the fortress. Amintor, encountering Melantius, asks his assistance in killing the king. Melantius, fearful lest his plans fail, reminds Amintor that the king’s person is sacred.
Evadne, going to the king’s bedchamber, ties the sleeping monarch to the bed. Awakening, the king thinks at first that his bondage is a pretty joke of Evadne, but he is filled with apprehension when he sees her draw a knife. Reciting his villainy toward her, she stabs him to death; then she forgives him.
Soon afterward, the death of the king having been discovered, the king’s brother Lysippus and his followers go to the citadel, where Melantius and his people are in control. Melantius affirms his loyalty to Rhodes, but declares that if he is not given amnesty he could very easily destroy the city. Lysippus and Melantius agree to a general amnesty.
Meanwhile, Aspatia, disguised as a man, enters Amintor’s apartment, where she tells Amintor that she is Aspatia’s long-lost brother, returned to avenge his sister. In her disguise, Aspatia challenges Amintor to a duel. When he refuses, she strikes him. Goaded to action, Amintor draws and wounds Aspatia.
Evadne, bloody dagger in hand, enters and tells Amintor that she has killed the king. When she asks Amintor to recognize her as his wife, he, appalled, refuses and leaves her. Evadne stabs herself to death. Aspatia, meanwhile, has revived long enough to reveal her true identity to Amintor, who declares his unworthiness and his shame for the way that he has treated her. When Aspatia dies, Amintor, having nothing more to live for and wishing to be with his true love, stabs himself.
Melantius, entering, is so overcome by the sight of his dead sister and his dying friend that he attempts to take his own life. Calianax, upon recognizing his daughter, the dead Aspatia, is reconciled to Melantius. Lysippus, the new ruler, looks upon the scene as an object lesson to kings to be chaste.