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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 876

While Sir Quintilian Shorthose supervises the preparations for the marriage of his daughter Caelestine to Sir Walter Terrill, three guests arrive to share in the festivities: Sir Adam Prickshaft, Sir Vaughan ap Rees, and Mistress Miniver, a wealthy widow. All three of the older knights are enamored of the widow. When the bridal party enters, the groom-to-be announces that King William Rufus will grace the wedding with his presence. He also announces that he has sent to the poet Horace for a wedding song.

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Horace is laboring by candlelight, surrounded by books, when his admiring friend Asinius Bubo visits him. Bubo warns that Crispinus and Demetrius plan to put Horace in a play as a bricklayer. To the great embarrassment of Horace, Crispinus and Demetrius enter and accuse him of unfair attacks on them.

Soon Blunt, accompanied by Captain Tucca, arrives to get the wedding verses, but Horace confesses that he was not able to finish them in the three days allotted him. Captain Tucca blasts Horace with a stream of Rabelaisian abuse for writing satires about him, and Horace, quivering with fear, apologizes and promises future good behavior. The captain tips him generously, and the visitors leave.

At the wedding dance, the three knights urge Mistress Miniver to choose one of them for her second husband, but their talk is interrupted by the arrival of King William Rufus and his train. The king greets the bride with a kiss, obviously taken with her beauty and charm. During the dance he manages to single her out frequently and engages her in risqué banter. When the ladies withdraw, the king dares Sir Walter to postpone the wedding night and to trust his bride at court alone with the king. Goaded by accusations that he lacks faith in her, Sir Walter unwisely promises to send her.

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The widow refuses Sir Vaughan, in spite of the love letters he has given her, which he purchased from Horace; she favors Sir Adam. Enraged, Sir Vaughan asks Horace to write a satire on baldness, as Sir Adam is bald. Sir Quintilian, needing a messenger to speak to the widow for him, turns to the raucous, foul-mouthed Captain Tucca. The captain also agrees to carry rich gifts to the widow from Sir Adam. However, Captain Tucca woos for himself. Later, he is shown a new series of satirical epigrams by Horace of which the captain is the subject.

Sir Vaughan entertains the widow at a banquet at which Horace reads his satire on baldness, and Mistress Miniver announces that she could never be “enameled” of a baldheaded man again. Captain Tucca bursts in and threatens Horace; Sir Vaughan drives him out, but Mistress Miniver calls after the captain, demanding that he return the money she has lent him. Sir Vaughan rushes after the captain to punish him, and Bubo shows Horace a challenge left by the captain.

Captain Tucca promises Sir Adam that he will have Crispinus and Demetrius praise baldness in verse. Bubo and Horace come to the captain for a parley, and the three make peace again. Captain Tucca convinces Sir Vaughan that his borrowing the money was part of his plan to help the knight win the widow. At the next gathering of the widow’s friends, Crispinus reads his praise of baldness; then Captain Tucca arouses the whole group to take Horace to court and punish him for his sharp satires.

Sir Walter, Sir Quintilian, and Caelestine lament the danger she is in, and Sir Quintilian proposes that she drink poison. Grief-stricken, Sir Walter consents to the loss of his wife in order to save her honor. When revelers come to escort the couple to court, Sir Walter announces his wife’s death and requests that they go with him in procession to the king.

King William Rufus, laughing at the gullibility of Sir Walter, waits eagerly for the coming of the bride. Sir Walter, dressed in black, escorts the body into the king’s presence. Seeing Caelestine lifeless, the king cries out in horror. Sir Walter accuses the king of tyranny and explains that Caelestine chose to die rather than lose her honor; Sir Walter’s oath is kept by his bringing her body to the king. Shame overcomes the repentant monarch. Caelestine then revives, and Sir Quintilian tells how he provided her a potion that gave her the appearance of death, though both Sir Walter and she had believed it poison. The king restores the wife unharmed to her husband.

Crispinus offers an interlude of comic relief after this serious situation is resolved. Captain Tucca leads Horace and Bubo, both wearing horns, into the royal presence. Bubo is made to swear that he will abandon Horace and his poetry; upon swearing this, he is released. Horace, crowned with nettles instead of laurels, promises at great length to reform as a writer and to give up sour criticisms and complaints. Captain Tucca announces that he and Mistress Miniver are to be married. The disgruntled knights accept defeat, and Captain Tucca promises to repay them what they have given him for their wooing of the widow. A dance follows, and all ends happily. Captain Tucca delivers an epilogue that promises future theatrical battles between Horace and the poetasters.

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