Balia, nurse to beautiful young Polinesta, expresses concern about her mistress’s practice of sleeping with her father’s servant, Dulippo. Polinesta reproves Balia, reminding her that it is she who first gave Dulippo access to Polinesta’s bedroom. Polinesta also reassures Balia by explaining that Dulippo is, in reality, not a servant, but Erostrato, the son of a wealthy Sicilian merchant. Having come to Ferrara to pursue his studies, he fell in love with Polinesta upon his arrival. Consequently, he has taken the name of his servant Dulippo and has secured employment in the house of his beloved’s father. Meanwhile, the true Dulippo has assumed the identity of Erostrato and occupies the house next door.
This affair has been going on for two years, but now it is being complicated by the fact that Cleandro, a doddering old doctor of law, has become a suitor for Polinesta’s hand, tempting her father with an offer of two thousand ducats. The real Erostrato is attempting to forestall him by having the false Erostrato ask for her hand, too, and by having him meet Cleandro’s offer.
The old doctor arrives in the company of his ever-hungry parasite, Pasifilo, and the two ladies retire. Cleandro’s eyesight is so bad that he cannot tell who they are. Under Pasifilo’s prodding, Cleandro boasts that he will go to any price to secure Polinesta. He has, he claims, amassed a fortune of ten thousand ducats during the time he has lived in Ferrara, and he boasts that this is the second fortune he has made. The first he lost at the fall of Otranto twenty years before. That loss, he recalls sadly, was nothing to the loss of his five-year-old son, captured by the Turks during the battle.
After Cleandro has gone, the false Dulippo appears to invite Pasifilo to dinner. The false Erostrato confronts the false Dulippo with bad news: Damon, Polinesta’s father, doubts Erostrato’s ability to match Cleandro’s offer for his daughter. The two connivers agree that they must devise some ruse to convince the grasping merchant of their ability to pay.
The false Dulippo, to alienate Cleandro and Pasifilo, tells the old doctor that Pasifilo has insulted Cleandro, illustrating the insults in an extremely comic way. After Cleandro leaves,...
(The entire section is 925 words.)