(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

As they were discussing the gathering of their companies for the Dutch wars, Michael Perez and Don Juan de Castro were interrupted by two veiled ladies, one of whom desired Don Juan to carry a message to a kinsman serving in Flanders. Perez was much attracted by her companion, and the lady seemed equally drawn to him. In spite of his pleas, however, she would not open her veil, although she did instruct him to have his servant follow her to learn the location of her home and to call there later himself. This was done, and Perez was overjoyed to find that the lady, Estifania, was not only lovely but also the owner of a magnificent town house beautifully adorned with hangings and plate. Perez proposed on the spot and to his delight was accepted. Don Juan, meanwhile, was interviewing Leon, a young man recommended to him as an officer. Although he was strong and handsome and had seen previous service, Leon revealed himself to be the most incredible ass. When he showed himself to be both cowardly and immeasurably stupid, Don Juan dismissed him with little encouragement.

In the country nearby, Margarita, a beautiful young heiress, was making preparations to return to town. She had but one object in view—pleasure—and she declared herself not at all adverse to a bit of wantonness if it should come her way. On the advice of Altea, her gentlewoman, she had decided that her reputation could be best protected if she married a foolish and complaisant man who would wink at her infidelities. In fact, Altea had just the man in mind, a fellow who was presentable enough but who had no more brains than an oyster and no sense of honor whatever. The man was Leon. When Margarita interviewed him she found him perfect for the role he was supposed to play, and she decided to wed him at once. She did not hear Leon whisper to Altea that he was a thousand crowns in her debt.

Margarita’s sudden appearance in the city was welcomed by all the gallants, but it interrupted the idyllic honeymoon of Perez and Estifania. The soldier was reveling in the possession of his bride’s mansion when Margarita and her entourage arrived at the door. Estifania did not seem altogether surprised; she pacified Perez by telling him that Margarita was a poor cousin trying to make the gentleman who accompanied her believe that she was rich in order to have him propose. The scheme made it necessary for Estifania and Perez to move into temporary quarters for a few days so that the ruse could be carried out. After Perez had left, the relationship between Estifania and Margarita became clear. Far from being a poor cousin, Margarita was the mistress and Estifania only the maid. It was Perez who had been thoroughly gulled.

Again in possession of her house, Margarita wasted no time. New hangings were placed in the rooms, couches were arranged in strategic locations, a magnificent dinner was prepared, and a company of gallants, including Don Juan and the Duke of Medina, in whom Margarita was especially interested, were invited to enjoy the feasting and entertainment.

The party was just beginning when Leon appeared, his air of...

(The entire section is 1276 words.)