(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Captain Beaugard and Courtine, his companion-in-arms, returned to England from Flanders after a military campaign in the Low Countries. On their arrival they found themselves short of funds, for they had been paid in debentures which they had cashed at a discount. While they were bewailing their low state of affairs, Beaugard received a handful of gold pieces in exchange for his picture. Sir Jolly Jumble, an aged rake turned bawd, had brought him the money, saying that a fine and beautiful woman had arranged with him to get the picture for her because she was highly enamored of Beaugard. The woman was Lady Dunce, whose name at the time meant nothing to Beaugard. She had been in love with him a long time; however, when he went off to the wars she despaired of ever marrying him and finally accepted the suit of Sir Davy Dunce, a tobacco-chewing, onion-eating man of about sixty-five, not at all to the taste of a young and beautiful woman in spite of the size of his fortune.

Like most marriages so arranged, this one had proved a poor match. Sir Davy Dunce was an exceedingly jealous husband and fearful that he should be made a cuckold. His wife, still in love with Beaugard, disliked her husband and welcomed a chance to have an affair with the military gallant. With Sir Davy and Lady Dunce lived their niece Sylvia, who disliked the idea of marriage because of her observations of her aunt’s plight. Next door to the Dunces lived Sir Jolly Jumble, an elderly rake who was only too glad to assist Lady Dunce in her amorous adventure, for Sir Jolly still enjoyed vicariously what he could not enjoy at first-hand.

Lady Dunce, deciding to use her rather thick-witted husband to further her own designs, gave him Beaugard’s picture and told him the gallant had been paying her unwelcome attentions. By sending her husband to return the picture and give Beaugard a message, she hoped he would further her designs and at the same time be convinced of her virtuous intentions. Sir Davy Dunce did exactly as his wife directed, but at first Beaugard did not comprehend the double meaning in the message that Sir Davy Dunce delivered. Misunderstanding, Beaugard thought he had been jilted by a woman who had made overtures of her own to him. In hope of revenge, Beaugard dispatched his servant to play some rascally trick upon Sir Davy. Meanwhile, Courtine had met Sylvia, but when he began to court her the young woman rejected his advances and treated him scornfully.

While Beaugard and Courtine were commiserating each other over their trials and misfortunes, Lady Dunce appeared. Seeing her, Beaugard realized that she was Clarinda, the girl whom he had loved and who had returned his affections before he went to the wars. Beaugard, hurt because he still supposed himself jilted and refusing to believe that she still loved him or wished to engage in an affair, doubted that she had sent him a ring as a token. He also tried to return the gold pieces she had sent him by Sir Jolly.


(The entire section is 1218 words.)