Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1463
Ring Around the Moon opens with the aristocratic bon vivant, Hugo, talking with Joshua, his butler, both discussing Hugo’s brother, Frederic. Frederic has been sleeping outside his fiancée’s bedroom window while she is a guest at the family’s estate. Frederic and Hugo are identical twins, but Hugo is good with women and Frederic inept. Hugo and Joshua are unhappy with Frederic’s fawning over Diana Messerschmann, his fiancée. Hugo hints he will do something about it. Hugo leaves and Frederic enters (they are played by the same actor). Frederic and Joshua now discuss Frederic’s sleeping habits. Frederic assures Joshua that slumbering amidst rhododendrons is nothing serious. As one might expect from Frederic’s behavior, Frederic’s love for Diana is indeed insecure. Enter Patrice Bombelles (Messerschmann’s male secretary) and Lady India (Messerschmann’s mistress and Hugo and Frederic’s cousin), who reveal their affair behind the back of the industrialist, Messerschmann. Patrice is especially worried because wealthy Messerschmann pays Patrice’s salary and ‘‘keeps’’ Lady India. Lady India is less concerned with getting caught, is in fact fascinated by it. These two are replaced by Madame Desmermortes and her nephew, Hugo, he notifying her of Lady India’s (her niece and his cousin) affair with Messerschmann. Hugo also informs Madame of Frederic’s impending marriage to Diana. Madame is unhappy with Messerschmann’s and Lady India’s affair because Messerschmann is a mere businessman, not an aristocrat. Madame is displeased with the Diana- Frederic match because Madame believes the rich and confident Diana will overpower the subservient Frederic. Hugo again hints that marriage bells may not ring. Madame is now replaced by Romainville. Hugo informs Romainville he has seen Romainville doting on a young girl (Isabelle) and further, knows Romainville has brought her to the country to be with him. Hugo threatens to expose the meeting to Madame as a lecherous affair unless Romainville acquiesces to inviting Isabelle to the Desmermortes estate and pose as Romainville’s niece. Isabelle and her mother soon arrive, the latter dazzled by the estate and the increased prospect of marrying Isabelle to a rich man. Isabelle thinks she has come just to dance. When Hugo greets them, Isabelle is preoccupied by his handsomeness. All exit and Madame and Joshua enter, planning the ball to be held that evening. In the next set of frequent entrances and exits, action is focused on an extended conversation between Hugo and Isabelle. Romainville’s infatuation with Isabelle is revealed, as is Hugo’s plan to parade the beautiful Isabelle at the evening ball so Frederic will fall in love with her, and out of love with Diana. Romainville rushes in to alert Hugo about a rumple in the plan: Isabelle’s mother has recognized Madame’s companion, Capulat, as her long lost friend. Romainville is worried Isabelle’s mother will betray the plan to Capulat who will in turn tell Madame, giving away Romainville’s apparently lecherous connection to Isabelle and ruining his relationship with the Desmermortes. Romainville’s suspicions are confirmed after talking with the mother who has apparently already told Capulat too much. Hugo decides to tell Capulat to keep quiet, but before he can, Madame corners Romainville and intently questions him about his family connection to the enchanting ‘‘niece,’’ a grilling through which Romainville barely fakes his way. The final exchange of Act I has Capulat promising Isabelle’s mother to help her win Hugo for Isabelle.
Act II opens at the ball with Capulat slyly giving up misguided bits of Hugo’s plot to get Madame to connect Hugo and Isabelle. Madame is mystified as to Capulat’s meaning and pulls her offstage to get the full story. Patrice enters with Lady India discussing Patrice’s terrible fear that Messerschmann will discover Patrice and Lady India’s affair. This excites India who romanticizes being poor. When Messerschmann enters, Patrice and Lady India leave, wondering if Messerschmann has seen them and guessed their affair. The next set of exchanges involve quick and uncomfortable meetings between Isabelle and Frederic. Isabelle finally tells Frederic—immediately after Hugo has kissed her to arouse Frederic’s jealousy—that she is not, as it appears, in love with Hugo, but with Frederic. Hugo then tells Isabelle of his plan to inflame Frederic’s love still further with another fictional lover pretending to challenge Hugo to a duel if Hugo does not cease his attentions toward Isabelle. Shots will then ring out and Isabelle, acting as if she thinks Frederic dead, will fake drowning. Hugo will then ‘‘rescue’’ her and carry her to Frederic. So happy will Isabelle act to see Frederic still alive, and so flattered will Frederic be that Isabelle attempted to drown herself on his account, Frederic will fall in love with her. After hearing Hugo’s elaborate plan, Isabelle becomes so frustrated in her still-unstated love for Hugo, and so disgusted with Hugo’s incredible stratagems, she runs off. Diana enters having seen Hugo and Isabelle together and is aroused to jealousy. Diana tries getting Hugo to say he loves her (Diana) but he refuses and leaves. Enter Messerschmann. Diana complains to him that she is being upstaged by Isabelle, that Isabelle is stealing the attentions of the men at the ball. Messerschmann promises his daughter he will take care of everything. Now Hugo enters threatening Patrice to expose his affair with Lady India if Patrice will not be the one to play the jealous lover and duelist in Hugo’s crazy scheme. Patrice complies. Now Capulat enters with Isabelle’s mother, richly dressed as ‘‘Countess Funela’’ a character Madame has given the mother to keep her occupied while Hugo and Madame manipulate the matches according to their own specifications. Romainville enters and tells Hugo he is distraught because Messerschmann has threatened to ruin Romainville financially unless Romainville gets Isabelle out of the Desmermortes house. Patrice now enters to play the jealous lover, insult Hugo, and challenge him to a duel. But Patrice is ignorant that by this time Hugo has forgotten the plan, preoccupied as he is with Romainville’s hysteria and the ‘‘Countess Funela.’’
When Act III opens, Hugo, his plans in disarray, desperately discusses a new and fantastic plan— no longer to match Isabelle with Frederic by having her fake her drowning—but to embarrass the rich guests by exposing Isabelle as a humble girl, not an upper-class debutante as he led them to believe. Isabelle, again disgusted with Hugo, will have none of it. Hugo exits and Diana enters and complains to Isabelle about the misfortune of wealth. Isabelle, poor as she is, is incensed and ends up fighting with Diana. When Frederic discovers them, Isabelle mistakes him for Hugo, telling him off and confessing her love. Frederic admits he is not Hugo. Diana dislikes the attention Frederic and Isabelle pay each other and says she is leaving, demanding Frederic leave with her. Isabelle, now alone and distraught, is discovered by her mother. Isabelle tells her mother the charade is finished and that they are leaving. Messerschmann enters and tries to bribe Isabelle to leave the house. She tells him she is already planning to leave and refuses his money. He cannot believe it and continues raising his offers as fast as she rejects them. Suddenly, Messerschmann becomes disillusioned about the power of money and he and Isabelle begin tearing up stacks of bills. But both are still unhappy and Messerschmann hints at destroying himself. Isabelle then attempts to drown herself for real, but Hugo rescues her. Madame now begins to bring about a happy end. She persuades Isabelle to forget Hugo and has Frederic console her in order to match them. She then attempts to convince Hugo of his love for Diana. (Meanwhile Patrice, completely clueless to the new developments, again rushes in to play the jealous lover). Lady India now walks on to announce Messerschmann is financially ruining himself by selling off his assets. Diana enters and declares that since her father is poor and her marriage with Frederic finished, she will learn to be poor. Hugo, feeling sorry for her, advises reconciliation with Frederic. Romainville enters and announces he will propose to Isabelle, but learns Isabelle is now with Frederic. In a note from Hugo brought in by Joshua, Hugo confesses his love for Diana because he thinks her poor. Messerschmann then confirms the news of his financial ruin. Lady India is moved and entranced by the adventure of being poor. The play ends with Messerschmann reading a telegram saying that his attempts at financial ruin were perceived as maneuvering, and have made him richer than ever. Messerschmann celebrates with his standard bowl of noodles, this time with a little salt.
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