Kitely, a cloth merchant, stands in front of his house with his assistant, Thomas Cash, and Downright. Kitely sends Cash away to complete a transaction for him and converses with Downright, explaining how much he trusts Cash—whom he brought up himself.
Kitely is keen to present himself as a virtuous figure.
Kitely has a thorny issue to bring up with Downright—Wellbred. The latter man, who lodges with Kitely, seems to have taken an “irregular” course and suffered a moral fall. Especially irksome for Kitely is that Wellbred has been making his house as “common as a mart, / A theatre, a public receptacle / For giddy humour, and diseased riot.” Wellbred and his “wild associates,” according to Kitely, have filled his house with “lascivious jests.”
Kitely echoes Old Knowell’s concerns in Act One that Wellbred is not a character to be trusted. The jokingly disparaging reference to theater gestures towards the debate about poetry and language at the heart of the play—whether it has merit or is a tool for deceit and illicit behavior. Kitely implies that Wellbred has an excess of blood (in the four humours scheme), making him excessively sociable. Bloodletting was a genuine remedy for this—as with many other ailments—at the time.
Downright is annoyed to hear of Wellbred’s lewd behavior, and predicts he’ll end up in one of the city prisons. Downright wonders why Kitely doesn’t confront Wellbred about his actions. Kitely worries that Wellbred would “be ready from this heat of humour” if he was to speak with him. He’s also upset about the way Wellbred’s associates mock him and his appearance, and fears being cuckolded; he asks Downright to speak with his half-brother.
Downright is much more straight-up and no-nonsense than his half-brother, Wellbred. His name points the audience towards this, too. Kitely diagnoses Wellbred with an excess of yellow bile, which makes an individual “choleric” (angry). If an individual is cuckolded, it means their wife has had an illicit affair. The term originally alluded to the cuckoo bird, which had a habit of laying its eggs in other birds’ nests.