Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1039
Theodorus Witgood, a young man of quality, had been so prodigal with his fortune that he had lost it all. Even his country estate had been mortgaged to his uncle, Pecunius Lucre, a miserly man. The cause of Witgood’s downfall was a Courtesan, a young woman on whom he had wasted his fortune after seducing her. Fortunately for Witgood, the girl really liked him and was anxious to help him. When Witgood conceived a plan to regain his fortunes, a plan that required her help, she readily promised to help her lover.
Witgood’s plan was to take the Courtesan to London and pass her off as a rich widow. With the aid of a tavernkeeper, who gave Witgood his services as a servant and the use of his horses, the plan was put into execution. Witgood even hoped to get back the mortgage from his uncle. As soon as Uncle Lucre heard about the rich widow, his miserly instincts were aroused. Taken in by his nephew’s story, he hoped to promote the marriage and eventually gain the widow’s money and estates.
Uncle Lucre invited Witgood and the supposed wealthy widow to his home, where in spite of his real feelings toward Witgood he praised the young man to the skies. In addition to his uncle, the creditors to whom Witgood owed money were anxious to help his marital efforts, for the creditors realized that a good marriage would enable them to collect the money he owed them.
When word of the wealthy widow spread through the town, many suitors came to woo her. Among them was Walkadine Hoard, a rival miser who was pleased at the prospect of wooing a widow of fortune and so keeping that fortune from falling into the hands of Uncle Lucre. The situation was to Witgood’s advantage, and he filled his uncle’s ears with talk of the jointures that other suitors were willing to give the widow. His hope was that his uncle would take the hint and restore his estates and money to him in the belief that he should shine as well as the other suitors in the supposed widow’s eyes. The plan was only a ruse, however, for Witgood had no intention of marrying the Courtesan and making an honest woman of her. Witgood’s real love was Joyce, the daughter of Hoard’s rich brother. Lest Joyce think he had forsaken her, Witgood sent her a letter telling her to keep faith with him. They had to keep their love secret, for Witgood’s wild ways and prodigality, plus the enmity between their respective uncles, prevented their marriage.
In the meantime Hoard plotted to get the widow for himself. Accompanied by several gentlemen, he went to her and told her the truth about young Witgood. His friends also represented Hoard as an ardent suitor. Witgood, in another room, heard all that was said. At his first chance he advised the Courtesan to go ahead with her deception and marry old Hoard, a marriage which would give her a place in the world and restore her lost reputation. Hoard’s proposal was a piece of luck that the plotting pair had not foreseen. She promised to meet Hoard at a tavern and elope with him. When she confessed that she had no estates, Hoard, thinking she was only teasing him, refused to believe her.
The Courtesan went to the tavern, where the old miser met her. To entertain his uncle, Witgood then went and told him that Hoard was being married off to a prostitute. Uncle Lucre was immensely pleased. Discreet Witgood did not tell the uncle that the prostitute was the supposed wealthy widow.
Witgood’s creditors, getting wind of what was happening, secured a bailiff and had him arrested for debt. After much talking he persuaded them to take him first to Hoard’s house. When they arrived there, Witgood informed Hoard that he had an earlier marriage contract with the widow, a contract which could not be nullified until both parties agreed to break it. Old Hoard was horrified, for the bond meant that his new wife’s property, if any, was not his. Pretending to save the day, the woman suggested that Hoard buy off Witgood by paying the young man’s debts. The creditors, paid by Hoard, went their way. Then Witgood and the widow confessed the woman’s true identity. The bridegroom fumed, realizing too late that the supposed widow had told him in the presence of witnesses that she had no fortune. Hoard had been gulled into taking another man’s mistress as his wife.
Meanwhile the tavernkeeper, acting as servant for Witgood and the Courtesan, had convinced Uncle Lucre that his nephew could marry the widow only if he had a fortune or an estate. The uncle, hoping to use the young man to get the supposed widow’s fortune in his hands, gave up the mortgage on Witgood’s estates. The tavernkeeper hastened with the papers to Witgood, who was extremely pleased with the way his plans were working out.
Before he left Hoard’s house, Witgood, once more in control of his estates, received a message in which Joyce told him that she would meet him a short time later.
Old Hoard tried to pass off his wife as she had been passed on to him. He ordered a great wedding supper and invited, among other guests, his rival and also his brother. Everything went off well until Hoard’s brother recognized the bride as Witgood’s former mistress. In the confusion that followed the bride fell on her knees and asked forgiveness, telling her husband that she repented her previous sins and would make him a good wife. She pointed out that it was better for a man to have a wife whose sins were behind her instead of before her. Witgood also helped her reputation by saying that he had been her seducer and only lover.
Witgood himself then declared that he, too, had reformed. He promised to put aside his old habits of prodigality as the first step in winning consent to his marriage with Joyce, the girl he truly loved.
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