Dorimant in his dressing room rereads a note he has written to Mrs. Loveit deceptively professing his love and making excuses for his recent neglect. As he dresses and spars verbally with his servant, he receives the morning trades people. The fruit peddler informs Dorimant that a beautiful young woman, whom she refuses to name, has just come to London with her mother, has seen Dorimant at a fashionable London market, and is attracted to him. Dorimant refuses to pay her for her fruit until she brings the woman to him. When she describes the mother, who “talks against the young men o’ the town,” and calls Dorimant “an arrant devil,” Dorimant’s friend, Medley, recognizes Lady Woodvill and her daughter Harriet and confirms that Harriet is an heiress and a remarkable beauty with a spark of “wildness” in her that is camouflaged by the “demureness” of her manner. Dorimant pays the orange seller and tells her to tell Harriet he wants to meet her.
Medley turns the conversation to Dorimant’s affair with Loveit, noting how passionate she is in love and in jealousy. Dorimant shows Medley his letter. Medley warns that if anyone tells Loveit that Dorimant has been seen flirting with a masked woman at the playhouse, she will not believe his excuse for his absence. Dorimant explains that is what he wants: he enjoys quarrelling with a woman who has grown tiresome. Medley offers to visit Loveit and inform her of Dorimant’s infidelity, but Dorimant says there is no need. Bellinda, the masked woman herself, wishes Dorimant to break off the affair and will visit Loveit an hour before Dorimant, gossip about him, and arouse Loveit’s jealousy.
Dorimant dispatches the note to Loveit. Young Harry Bellair enters. Medley teases him about the bad impression he will make on his beloved, Emilia, by associating with dissolute companions like Dorimant and himself. Bellair assures them she will not be disturbed and excuses himself for having neglected them recently. Harry throws off their taunts about the risks of cuckoldry in marriage.
Harry’s compliments to Dorimant’s sense of fashion and the way he carries his clothing lead the conversation to the recent arrival of Sir Fopling Flutter from Paris and the excesses of his wardrobe and deportment. Harry notes that Sir Fopling visited his aunt, Lady Townley, the day before and flirted with Loveit. Dorimant is delighted: he will accuse her of being untrue to him.
Harry asks Dorimant how his seduction of Bellinda is going. Dorimant complains that she has refused to visit him at home. Their conversation is interrupted by Harry’s servant with news that Harry’s father, who knows Harry is in love but not with whom, has just arrived in London. Harry’s father has planned for his son to marry an heiress—not the woman that Harry himself has chosen.
Lady Townley tells Emilia she feared that her brother, Old Bellair, came to London and took lodgings in the same house as Emilia because he had discovered Harry’s plan to marry her. Emilia confesses she is afraid of that and is glad that they had time before his arrival to warn everyone to keep their secret. Townley assures Emilia that she believes her brother does not know of their impending marriage, but Emilia wonders why old Bellair has been inquiring about her and why he keeps telling her he does not like her and then patting her affectionately. Lady Townley suggests that he actually dotes upon her.
Harry tells Lady Townley and Emilia that his father insists he marry someone else, that if he refuses, his father will marry and disinherit him, and that he has pretended to be obedient in order to give himself and Emilia time to wed. Old Bellair enters, sends Harry on an errand, and expresses his own interest in Emilia by claiming that he cannot “abide” her and adding that he is only fifty-five and still moved by feelings of sexual attraction. Harry returns and Bellair takes him to Lady Woodvill’s to visit Harriet, whom he intends Harry to marry. He lauds her fortune and scolds his son for his reported liaison with a loose woman of London, unaware it is Emilia whom Harry loves. The scene concludes with a visit from Medley and gossip about the fashionable habits of the smart set.
In the second scene, Loveit and her maid, Pert, discuss Dorimant’s recent absence and his reputation for seducing and abandoning women. Pert deplores him; Loveit, despite his infuriating neglect, still adores him. Bellinda arrives and after complaining about the tediousness of a visit with acquaintances from Wales, mentions that she saw Dorimant with a masked woman at a playhouse. She assumed it was Loveit, she says, because of the respectful way he behaved. Loveit is furious and wishes Dorimant’s new conquest (unaware that it is Bellinda) all the anguish she now experiences.
When Dorimant arrives and sees Loveit’s agitation, he takes her hand as if joining her in a dance. She pushes him away. He teases her and calls her distress trivial. Enraged, Loveit asks Dorimant who the woman at the theater was. He confesses that he is as eager as she to know since the lady would not lower her mask. Dorimant, pretending anger, reproaches Bellinda for having agitated Loveit and in remarks full of ambiguity vows to revenge himself on her by pursuing her everywhere, and, in a lower voice, ends by telling Bellinda to meet him later at Lady Townley’s. Bellinda agrees. Although she has not heard what he has said, Loveit is jealous because Dorimant is paying attention to Bellinda. The more she rails against him, the greater Dorimant...
(The entire section is 2307 words.)