Captain Manly, a forthright and honest man who intends to leave England for the West Indies because he hates the hypocrisy of the age that he finds at the court and in lesser social circles. He loses his ship and fortune in a sea battle with the Dutch and is forced back to England by the disaster. He discovers that Olivia, his fiancée, has married during his absence, rails at him behind his back, and will not return the small fortune he had entrusted to her. Seeking revenge for her conduct, Manly gains entrance to her chamber on two occasions. The first time, he lies with her, and the second time, he exposes her to the world as an adulteress. His trusted friend, Mr. Vernish, is the rogue who has married Olivia and plotted with her to keep the captain’s money. At the end, Captain Manly is agreeably surprised to find that his supposed page is really a rich young heiress, Fidelia Grey, who loves him very much. Following this discovery, the captain and she agree to marry and go off to the West Indies to live a sober, happy life among honest people.
Olivia, a scheming, shallow woman loved by Captain Manly. She marries Manly’s supposed friend, Mr. Vernish, during her lover’s absence and refuses to help her fiancé when he returns penniless to England, although as his expected bride, he had given her most of his fortune before he left England. Olivia proves readily dishonest in her marriage as well, falling in love with Manly’s page. She is deceived by Manly, who silently replaces the page in the darkness of Olivia’s rooms and proceeds to prove his erstwhile fiancée an adulteress. When her frailty is shown to the world, Olivia, vowing revenge on Manly, stalks from the company.
Freeman, Captain Manly’s lieutenant, a likable young man who tries to make the best of the world. He proves to be the captain’s true friend, much to Manly’s surprise, for Manly had thought the lieutenant to be a shallow, deceiving opportunist. Freeman woos the rich Widow Blackacre unsuccessfully until he works through her minor son, who accepts Freeman as his guardian upon Freeman’s promise to release the lad from studying law for a more enjoyable career as a man-about-town. Freeman actually does not want to marry Widow Blackacre, and he readily releases her from her promise of marriage when she agrees to pay his debts and settle an annuity on him.
Mr. Vernish, who is supposedly Captain Manly’s best friend. He betrays his trust by marrying Olivia and plotting with her to keep the captain’s money. Too cowardly to admit that he is Olivia’s husband, he is found out when he tries to prevent Olivia from making him a cuckold with Captain Manly’s page. His true nature is displayed again when he learns the page is really a girl, for he tries to lock her in a room in his house until he can find an opportunity to ravish her.
Fidelia Grey, a wealthy young heiress who falls in love with Captain Manly and, disguised as a boy, follows him to sea. She helps Manly achieve his revenge when Olivia proposes an affair with the supposed page. Fidelia’s love and service are rewarded when Captain Manly discovers her true identity and proposes marriage to her.
Widow Blackacre, a litigious woman who enjoys her status as a widow because it leaves her free to enter lawsuits in her own name. So fond is she of legal entanglements that she forces her...
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son to study law, and she herself takes up quarters at the Inns of Court. She wastes her son’s fortune until, with Freeman’s help, the lad is able to escape her domination.
Jerry Blackacre, Widow Blackacre’s son, a hearty young man who detests the career in law his mother plans for him; he prefers a career as a gay young blade and participation in the fashionable life of London. He readily accepts Freeman as his guardian when the lieutenant promises to help the boy live the life he desires.
Lord Plausible, a cowardly, flattering nobleman who seeks the hand of Olivia in marriage. His character serves as a foil for that of honest, outspoken Captain Manly.
Mr. Novel, a flattering coxcomb who also seeks the hand of Olivia in marriage. He derives his name from the fact that he is an ardent admirer of novelties of all kinds.
Major Oldfox, an elderly fop who seeks to marry the Widow Blackacre so that she can provide for him from her son’s inheritance. He is a foolish old man and a would-be poet. His courtship of the widow descends to the utterly ridiculous when he has her kidnaped. The widow fully expects to be raped, but he astonishes her by reading his own blank-verse poetry to her.
Eliza, Olivia’s cousin, who is distressed by Olivia’s conduct.