“Let all things be preposterously transchanged”
The morning starts quietly enough for Edward Knowell Jr. and Sr., at their home on the farmland-outskirts of London, but soon the younger Knowell is summoned to the center of London by his rather wild, party-going friend Wellbred, to see some amusing fools he has “collected.” His father intercepts Wellbred's communication and, terrified that his son might be debauched and corrupted by his wilder friend, decides to trail his son to the city, and prevent any villainy before it can occur. Meanwhile, a wealthy merchant in the city, Kitely, is nursing powerful suspicions of his own, these against his new wife. Wellbred, Kitely's brother by marriage, has been hosting extravagant night festivities, inviting all sorts of Londoners, and Kitely is convinced that one or more of them are hellbent on seducing his wife (if they have not already done so). The extreme force of his jealousy makes him deathly afraid of telling anyone about it, but his brother Downright doesn't have that problem: furious for his own reasons with Wellbred's behavior, he enters the play looking for the slightest excuse to have it out with his brother, and drive the whole unruly group from the house—at the end of his sword, if necessary. As these two plots come to a head, we are introduced to outrageous social climbers, would-be poets and gentlemen, and one of the great braggart soldier characters of English literature, the Italian-spouting, tobacco-smoking, self-professed hero who is ready to step in and defend England from an invasion force of 20,000, if necessary. A water-bearer believes he is descended from a fish, and at one point catches the disease of jealous suspicion (“black poison of suspect”) that is floating around the play. Things come very close to a murderous boil before everyone draws back from the brink, and a wise old magistrate, with the requisite sense of humor, puts things back in order for the day, and invites all to a dinner party through the night.