A servant comes in with a letter for Edward. Old Knowell decides, as he too is called “Edward,” to read the letter and check up on his son. Stephen almost gets in a fight with the servant over nothing before exiting. Old Knowell summons Brainworm to make the servant a drink.
The letter is meant for his son, but Edward craftily uses the servant’s misunderstanding to take it for himself to read. At this point, then, Edward is veering towards his more controlling side. Stephen’s aggression is just meant to characterize him further as a fool.
Old Knowell reads the letter, which is from Wellbred, a roguish London gallant. It invites Edward to come and spend time at the Old Jewry, promising him that there are some unwittingly amusing people for him to meet there. Knowell is offended by the “profane and dissolute” tone of the letter and worries about Wellbred’s potential influence on his son. He worries if he’s worrying too much—“affection makes a fool / Of any man, too much the father.”
Wellbred is everything that Old Knowell is not—young, rebellious, and an influential figure in Edward’s world. Wellbred is a gallant, and enjoys nothing better than making fun of other people’s foolishness; that’s the basis of his invitation to Edward. Wellbred is partly symbolic, then, of Jonson’s overall project to highlight human folly.
Knowell summons Brainworm back into the room. He gives his servant the letter to pass on to Edward, making him promise not to tell him that he has read it—which Brainworm otherwise wouldn’t have known anyway. Brainworm exits, and Knowell resolves to “not stop” the “journey” of his son, “Nor practice any violent mean, to stay / the unbridled course of youth in him.” He says, “There is a way of winning, more by love” than “fear.”
Old Knowell makes a mistake here, letting Brainworm in on his reading of the letter without there being any need to do so. Old Knowell seems to resolve, here, to take a step back from Edward’s life and let him be his own man. This is a comic set-up undercut by Old Knowell’s actions later in the play.