Belvile, Frederick, and Wilmore enter the same street, intending to seek out Angelica—the first two are masked, while Willmore is not. When Willmore asks why they where masks, Belvile replies that they need to protect their identities from any misdeeds they commit.
Willmore says that he should have worn a mask as well, but then reflects that if he had, he would not have met his “little Gypsy” (Hellena), whom he has not been able to stop thinking about, much to his dismay. He says that since he cannot recognize her visage (since she was masked), he could still recognize her by her talk. He hopes that she may be ugly underneath her mask, so that he will not feel attracted to her intelligence and wit.
Disguise is a major theme within Hellena and Willmore’s relationship; the two do not exchange names until the play’s end. Willmore is already conflicted about his feelings for her, bewitched by her wit but concerned by her chastity. Should she be beautiful, he fears that he will fall in love (which in his mind would be a terrible fate).
Belvile warns Willmore against falling in love with Hellena, saying that she is most likely too highborn to give her honor to Willmore. Expressing frustration, Willmore says that he must find another woman, like Angelica, who is not so virtuous, so that he can put the gypsy girl out of his mind.
Belvile assumes that even if Willmore falls in love with Hellena, he will still only want her body before leaving her brokenhearted. Willmore, meanwhile, seems to want to lose interest in Hellena entirely so that he can avoid what he sees as the trap of falling in love.
They arrive at Angelica’s house, and Belvile notes that her portrait “is not out” (usually Angelica leaves a picture of herself outside of her door in order to remind the world of her desirability). Willmore expresses a wish to see the portrait, because it will allow him to gaze on beauty for free.
Angelica’s picture represents her confidence in her own beauty, and her vanity. That she posts the picture out in the public world, displaying it as a salesman might display his wares, also establishes the way that she uses her beauty as an item of commerce. Willmore reintroduces the theme of money, appropriate since Angelica, a prostitute, sells her beauty for money.
Blunt enters in a state of sheer bliss, and calling himself an idiot for having avoided love for so long. He recounts how loving and attractive Lucetta was, even kissing Frederick in order to give him a taste of her lips. Expressing disbelief at how long he stayed in “dull England,” he resolves to move to Naples in order to be closer to his mistress.
The idiotic Blunt immediately thinks himself in love with the seductive and deceitful Lucetta. He represents another kind of love, one that is foolish and dangerous, causing those who feel it to act in a blind and dangerous matter. Put another way, Blunt is falling into an exaggerated version of exactly the “trap” of love that Willmore fears. All the men fear falling in love with a woman who will ultimately make a fool of them.
When Belvile and Willmore question him further, Blunt reveals that he does not know the name of his new love. They ask if he gave her anything and he scoffs, saying that they exchanged gifts, as people of “quality” do. He shows them a bracelet that she has given him in exchange for the diamond that he used to wear, and reveals that she expects him again that very night.
It is obvious to both the characters and the audience that Blunt is being deceived. Although he believes Lucetta to be noble and chaste, she is obviously nothing of the kind, having already tricked him into exchanging his expensive diamond for a cheap bracelet.
When Willmore says that they should all go to meet Lucetta, Blunt responds jealously, saying that he cannot compete with their wit. Frederick warns Blunt to be careful of his purse, since it must support all of them. When Blunt offers to give Frederick the purse, however, Frederick refuses, saying that he must keep it in order to be tricked out of it, so that his friends can laugh at him.
Blunt (accurately) suspects Willmore of using his wit to seduce women. The smarter men, meanwhile, decide that the amusement that will follow when Blunt is tricked is more valuable than the money that has been supporting them all. The importance of amusement and hijinks is a common trait in Restoration comedy.
Frederick goes on to suggest that Lucetta may be a whore, and Blunt reacts with disbelief and anger, referring to Lucetta’s fine clothes and beautiful house. Belvile responds that there are many prostitutes with fine clothes and beautiful houses. Willmore, with his one-track mind, asks where he can find such women.
Blunt fundamentally does not understand that appearances may be deceiving, and that Lucetta may be a prostitute despite her finery. The gap between appearances and truth is an important one throughout the play.
Blunt, still angry, tells his friends that many women are attracted to him although he is not witty as they are. He references his handsome form, his long torso, and other “nameless” attractive qualities.
Blunt is making himself ridiculous, attempting to imply that he has sexual prowess while only further exposing himself to mockery. He has no wit, and therefore within the world of a Restoration comedy is worthless.
The others continue to mock him, and blame Angelica for the choosiness of women—she has “rais’d the Price too high,” they assert. Willmore expresses particular bitterness at Angelica’s unattainability.
Although men desire Angelica, they also fear her power and resent the fact that they must pay for sexual intercourse (to which they believe they are entitled)
Two servants (called Bravos) enter and hang three pictures of Angelica up onstage: one on her balcony, and two smaller ones on each side of her front door; the pictures also include a price, since Angelica is a prostitute. Willmore is entranced by the picture, while Blunt scoffs, condemning Angelica as an immoral prostitute.
Angelica’s picture, along with her price, neatly symbolizes the power that her beauty gives her to extract money and favors from men. Blunt’s mockery, meanwhile, is ironic since he himself is under the spell of a courtesan (though he does not know it).
Ignoring Blunt, Willmore marvels at Angelica’s beauty, saying that although she may cost a thousand crowns for a single month, even a thousand kingdoms would be too little to buy her love. He curses his poverty, which keeps him from attaining Angelica. Blunt and Frederick, meanwhile, question how the courtesan dares to charge so much money.
Seeing Don Pedro enter in his mask (along with Stephano), the Englishmen exit to watch the proceedings. Pedro, meanwhile, resolves to go fetch a thousand crowns in order to purchase time with Angelica. He too exits.
Here we see the depth of Don Pedro’s hypocrisy: he wishes to keep his sisters cooped up in their house even as he uses their family’s wealth to pay Angelica’s exorbitant price.
Angelica herself appears at her balcony along with Moretta, her elderly servant, and a former prostitute herself. They ask one of the bravos about the men who have just left; the servant replies that the first were only admirers, but that they mocked the sum that she was asking. Angelica replies that even their attention adds to her vanity. The servant then tells her that he recognized Don Pedro through his mask; she responds with delight, knowing that his uncle (also her former lover) has left him a great sum of money.
When Angelica first appears, she is a highly mercenary and materialistic character. She does not care about love, and wishes only to use her beauty for her own financial gain. One of her weaknesses, however, is her vanity; she enjoys the attention of the Englishmen even though they will not provide her with any additional money or power.
Angelica reflects that Don Pedro is handsome and wealthy, but inconstant. She asserts that inconstancy is universal to all men though, and resolves that she will only be charmed by money. Moretta approves of her choice, calling love a disease.
Angelica is worldly and cynical (unlike Florinda and Hellena). She disdains love because she believes that men will always betray the women they love, and that therefore love is even more of a trap for a woman than it is for a man.
Seeing Don Pedro return, Angelica reveals that she means to seduce both him and Don Antonio. As if on cue, Antonio (also masked) attended by his page Diego and a group of musicians, enters. Antonio and Pedro both go to Angelica’s picture and begin marveling at her beauty. Neither, however, recognizes the other.
The rivalry between Antonio and Pedro is an important subplot. The fact that the two friends do not recognize each other adds to the play’s web of mistaken identities. Note, too, that these wealthy and powerful men are willing to go to great lengths because of their lust for Angelica.
Antonio wonders whether he should purchase Angelica’s services, and Diego urges him to do so, saying that although his master will soon be married, his new wife—Florinda—will not miss a thousand pounds. Antonio tells his page not to name his future wife, since the thought of her will quench his lust for Angelica.
Like Pedro, Antonio cares far more about satisfying his own lust than he does about morality. Antonio is particularly careless and entitled because of his high birth, and his vast wealth.
Pedro now realizes that his masked rival is Antonio; he is appalled both because his friend has scorned Florinda, and because he himself may not now possess Angelica.
It is unclear whether Pedro is more upset about his sister’s honor or his own thwarted lust—another example of this character’s deep hypocrisy.
In order to draw the attention of her admirers, Angelica begins to play a love song on her lute. Antonio, in turn, pulls off his mask and begins to blow her kisses, promising her a thousand pounds. Enraged, Pedro counters, saying that he, too, will pay a thousand pounds. The two men quarrel and begin to duel. Willmore and Blunt enter to part the fray, and Willmore comments that if fighting were all it took to win Angelica, he would join the duel himself.
Angelica knows her power, and decides to feed her own vanity by seeking attention. The two men react exactly as she hopes, offering her money and praise. Things get out of hand, however, when the two Spaniards, fueled by lust, begin to duel—a common occurrence in a world in which men are supposed to be violent and women are supposed to be passive.
Pedro and Antonio resolve to duel the next day in the public square, called the Molo; Pedro says that they will fight not for Angelica, but for the honor of Florinda, whom Antonio has wronged. Furthermore, they vow to duel in masks. Having agreed on a time and place, Pedro and Stephano exit.
Note that Pedro knows Antonio’s identity, but Antonio does not realize that he will be dueling Pedro. Their resolution to duel makes clear the power of Angelica’s beauty, and of male lust.
Left behind, Antonio wonders who his rival for Florinda’s heart might be (still not realizing that it is Don Pedro), and speculating that it might be Belvile (whose name he has heard from Pedro).
Antonio’s anger about having a rival for Florinda—when he was just planning on hiring a prostitute—further emphasizes the hypocrisy of the men when it comes to lust and love. It also only increases the confusion, and will have comic consequences later in the play.
Seemingly entranced, Willmore pulls down one of the pictures of Angelica, explaining the desire it has incited in him. The bravo tells him to stop, but Willmore refuses.
Believing that Willmore has insulted Angelica, Antonio threatens him with his sword; Willmore responds in kind, saying that while Antonio may have a thousand crowns to pay for Angelica himself, he will keep the picture.
The hot-tempered Antonio draws his sword once again, as Behn makes obvious the power of lust and her male characters’ embrace of violence.
Hearing the commotion, Angelica asks Moretta what is happening. Although she commands the men to stop, Blunt and Willmore begin to fight Antonio and his companions.
Although Angelica enjoys men’s attention, she does not want them to duel because it will be of no advantage to her. She wants them to pay her.
As he fights, Willmore continues to marvel at Angelica’s beauty. Angelica calls down to ask whether he is the one who began the fight. Willmore explains to her that it is she who has wounded him with her beauty, and that only her picture can save him.
Even as he is engaged in a duel, Willmore still begins to use his seduction techniques to flirt with Angelica. His use of the metaphor of a wound is appropriate since he is fighting as he speaks. Note that his comment that only her beauty can keep him alive is a similar line to the one he tried to use to seduce Hellena earlier.
Angelica tells Willmore to keep the picture, but Antonio takes offense, and the fight continues. Belvile and Frederick enter, and together the Englishmen win the fight. Moretta laments that the Englishmen have scared away Angelica’s potential customer.
Although Angelica attempts to make peace, the men are as attracted to violence as they are to her. Instead of feeding her vanity, the duel upsets her because it drives away a possible source of income.
The Englishmen discuss the duel; Blunt is proud of his sword fighting skills, while Belvile is concerned that that the Spaniards will seek revenge. Willmore, meanwhile, is slightly wounded. They mock the Spaniards for their apparently easy defeat.
The Englishmen are proud of their defeat of the Spaniards, believing it means that they are manlier than their opponents. To them, skill at violence and manhood are the same thing.
Angelica calls down to Willmore, telling him to come into her house and explain his insolence. When Willmore agrees, Belvile and Frederick warn him against entering the house of an angry courtesan, but Willmore ignores them, saying that he must go wherever beauty calls. He expresses a hope that she will give him a favor before he goes; his friends tell him that she is more likely to kill him. Angelica says that she will wound him only with her eyes, and Willmore enters her house as his friends mock.
Because Angelica is a powerful woman, the Englishmen fear her, believing that she may even use violence against Willmore. Willmore, however, is not in the least concerned; to him, following his desires is even more important than personal safety.