(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The plain-dealer, Captain Manly, returns to London after his ship had been sunk in a battle with the Dutch. He is looking for another ship because he dislikes the hypocrisy of the age and wishes to be away from the sycophancy of court and social life. Among the acquaintances who call at his quarters in London is Lord Plausible, who attempts to persuade the captain to seek his ship through influential people instead of waiting for an assignment. Manly demonstrates his love of plain dealing by showing Lord Plausible the door.

After Lord Plausible’s departure, Manly instructs the two sailors who serve him not to admit anyone to his lodgings except his ship’s lieutenant, Freeman. When Freeman arrives, he and Manly discuss the relative merits of plain dealing and hypocrisy. Freeman holds that no one can have a successful career without being hypocritical, but he cannot convince Manly that such a policy is better than telling the truth at all costs.

While they talk, Widow Blackacre forces her way past the sailors and enters Manly’s rooms. Manly makes her welcome because she is a cousin of his fiancé, Olivia. The widow, who is extremely litigious, wants Manly to appear on her behalf at a court hearing the following day. She threatens to have him subpoenaed if he does not appear. Freeman, well aware that the widow has a great deal of money, starts to court her. The widow, who has a son, Jerry, who is almost as old as Freeman, ridicules the idea because she wants to manage her own affairs and would not be able to do so if she were married.

Manly tries to find information about Olivia, whom he has entrusted with most of his fortune while he was at sea. Olivia hears of Manly’s arrival in London, but she is none too anxious to see him because she used his fortune as her own and had married Vernish, the only man Manly trusts and calls his friend. Olivia pretends to be a plain-dealer like Manly. When visited by her cousin Eliza, Lord Plausible, and others, she belabors them for their hypocrisy, saying they speak only ill of people in their absence but praise them to their faces. Her cousin reminds her that her comments about people are much worse and that she is not invited out enough in company to have an opportunity to say anything good about people to their faces.

Olivia, going on to speak plainly about Captain Manly, reveals that she does not love him and wishes to be rid of his attentions. No one present knows as yet of her secret marriage to Vernish. Manly enters her apartment unnoticed, and after the others leave, he and Olivia have words. Freeman and Manly’s page remind him to recover his money and jewels from Olivia, so Manly goes back to request them. Olivia announces to all three that she is married, though she does not say to whom, and that she cannot return the money because her husband has it.

Olivia, noticing Manly’s page, becomes infatuated and tells...

(The entire section is 1196 words.)