Florinda, Valeria, and Hellena enter the same street on which Angelica’s house is located later in the afternoon so that Hellena can meet Willmore. They are still masked. Having recently found Don Pedro in an ill humor, Florinda wonders whether he has discovered their recent escapade. Hellena reacts dismissively, saying that if he had, they would now be locked up.
Carnival continues, and so too do the adventures of the noblewomen. While Willmore has forgotten Hellena, she cannot stop thinking about him. Meanwhile, the women do not know that their brother is angry because of his quarrel over Angelica with Antonio.
Valeria recalls their antics in the guise of gypsy girls, revealing that she told a stranger (Frederick) his fortune but grew nervous and almost dropped her disguise completely. As Hellena begins to long for Willmore, Florinda and Valeria begin to mock her. Hellena acknowledges that she wishes she had never seen the “mad” cavalier, but insists that she is not in love.
Valeria’s romance with Frederick is yet another subplot that the play juggles. The mention of this liaison reminds Hellena of Willmore. Intelligent despite her innocence, she knows that she should not fall in love with Willmore, but is unable to turn off her feelings for him (as a woman, she can’t just go take another male lover the way Willmore has gone to Angelica as a way of avoiding thoughts of love).
Valeria speculates about Willmore’s promiscuity, and Hellena realizes that he may not come to meet her. Wondering what she is feeling, she describes her anger and fear that Willmore may have met another woman. Valeria teases her about her confusion, asserting once again that Hellena is in love; Florinda joins in, and together they poke fun.
The girls’ speculations about Willmore are, of course, correct: he has met another woman and apparently forgotten Hellena entirely. Florinda and Valeria, meanwhile, are amused that the witty Hellena is caught in the trap of love.
Hellena responds almost blithely, saying that she resolved to fall in love, and now she has. When Florinda reacts with disbelief, asking who Hellena expects to like her if she acts so madly. Hellena asserts that she does not care if a man likes her unless she likes him back. She then fires back at her cousin, reminding her of the many men who seek Valeria’s hand.
Hellena views love differently than her female relatives, viewing it as a valuable life experience that she has now gained. This attitude is a surprisingly modern one (indeed, it shocks Florinda), and reflects Aphra Behn’s skill and imagination as a writer.
Florinda expresses surprise and dismay that Hellena has learned to love so quickly. Hellena begins to describe what she thought love would be: flattery, admiration, and reassurance of her own desirability. She goes on to say that it is a good thing she is going to a convent, for there her sighs and tears for Willmore will be mistaken for piety.
Florinda believes, mistakenly, that Hellena’s embrace of love makes her somehow wrong and sinful. Hellena, however, has a far more advanced idea of love: by articulating her former idea of love in clichés and platitudes, she is in fact describing how different love is in reality.
When Florinda once again calls Hellena mad, her sister responds sharply, telling Florinda that she, too, in in love and must act discreetly and honorably.
Although Hellena is blithe and witty, she reacts defensively and angrily when her sister continues to insult her feelings.
Noticing the Englishmen enter without her “inconstant” Wilmore, Hellena urges Valeria and Florinda to hide with her in order to see what is going on.
Hellena takes advantage of her disguise and the freedom it gives her, using it to learn about Willmore’s antics.
Belvile, Frederick, and Blunt enter and immediately notice that Angelica’s picture has been removed. Blunt believes that Angelica may have been kind to Willmore, while Belvile worries that the courtesan has murdered his friend. Aside, Hellena’s heart speeds up as she realizes that they are speaking of “her Man.”
Angelica is a powerful but unpredictable woman, leading the Englishmen to question Willmore’s fate. Hellena, meanwhile, learns far more than she meant to about what Willmore has been doing in her absence. Note how love has made her possessive of Willmore, how there is some truth to the idea that love puts ties around those who fall into it.
The Englishmen knock, and Moretta answers from the balcony, asking what they want. When they ask after Willmore, Moretta curses him once again, but tells the group that he is coming to them.
With Angelica in love with Willmore, she has lost the ability to make money, because she will no longer sleep with her clients.
Willmore enters, having just exited Angelica’s house; Hellena, still hidden, responds with anger. As Belvile questions him, Willmore replies triumphantly, hyperbolically praising Angelica’s beauty, her eyes filled with cupid’s arrows, and the joy that he has found in her arms. Sarcastically, Hellena notes that this description is “encouragement” for her.
Willmore is happy because his lust has been satisfied, and because he has managed to seduce the seemingly unattainable Angela with his wit. While the concealed Hellena, meanwhile, rather than angrily dismiss Willmore sees the love he has for another as a personal challenge.
Still boasting, Willmore praises the alcohol that he drank earlier in the day, calling it holy, and asserting that it gave him the confidence to succeed with Angelica. He says that no other woman will “raise a new Desire” in him, and offers to treat his friends to anything they want, because Angelica has given him gold to spend.
Angelica has not only slept with Willmore, but also given him money—a double victory for the penniless, lusty cavalier. Joyful and victorious, Willmore still seems to have forgotten about his seemingly strong feelings for Hellena.
Blunt asks if Willmore and Angelica have married, and Willmore answers that they have shared all the joys of matrimony, but none of the bitterness. He continues to rejoice in his luck and his newfound wealth.
The foolish Blunt does not understand the nature of Willmore’s relationship with Angelica. The cavalier, meanwhile, remains convinced in his love for Angelica.
Expressing a wish to see his own beloved again, Blunt sees Sancho, who is masquerading as Lucetta’s page. He tells the Englishman that Lucetta expects him as soon as possible and Blunt, elated, leaves with him immediately.
In contrast to the witty Willmore, Blunt has no power over the prostitute who has seduced him. His exit with Sancho begins his road to ruin, condemned by his own idiocy but also his belief in love.
Belvile asks Willmore if he has forgotten his gypsy girl. Willmore angrily responds that that he had forgotten her until this moment.
Willmore moves fluidly from one object of desire to the next, genuinely forgetting about women when he is not with them. Yet his anger at being reminded of Hellena suggests that there might be more to his feelings for her than for others.
Hellena immediately comes out of hiding, tapping him on the back and asking if this is true. Willmore initially responds with fear, but soon slips back into flirtatious banter, asserting that he has spent the whole day looking for and sighing after her. Aside, she laments that she cannot be angry with him, because he is dissembling so well.
Despite his seeming love for Angelica, Willmore remains attracted to Hellena’s wit and vivacity. Even though Hellena knows that the cavalier is lying, she values his wit more than she values his honesty, demonstrating the gap between truth and appearance.
Asking how she may reward his devotion, Hellena takes up Willmore’s flirtatious tone. He, in turn, asks if he may see her face. She responds that, if he were as eager to love now as he seemed this morning, he would not need to look upon her face to desire her. They continue to banter in a series of double entendres.
Hellena once again demonstrates how remarkable she is, responding positively to Willmore even though she knows he has betrayed her. Their sexual banter continues, and she keeps him interested even though he has not seen her beauty.
As the two converse, Angelica enters, accompanied by Moretta, and her servants Biskey and Sebastian. Expressing surprise at finding Willmore here, Angelica hides and wonders whether he is courting another woman. Moretta responds scornfully, saying that she expected no less. Angelica, deeply hurt, responds that she expected her love to make Willmore noble and true.
Although Angelica was reluctant to love, she now has strong feelings for Willmore. Like Hellena, she remains faithful to Willmore even as he seeks out and seduces other women—a huge difference between the promiscuous Willmore and the women who love him.
Taking her boldness to a new level, Hellena sarcastically tells Willmore that she knows soldiers (like himself) to be strict and chaste men. For this reason, she says, it will be difficult to get him to marry her. Willmore warns her not to go too far, lest he marry her out of revenge.
For a rakish man like Willmore, marriage is the ultimate defeat, because it would force him to be faithful to only one woman. Hellena knows this fact, and uses it to mock him.
Hellena counterattacks, telling Willmore that she is as inconstant as he is, and that she does not wish to remain faithful to any man while she is still young and beautiful. For this reason, she tells him, she will love him for one year, be indifferent for the next, and hate him for the third before ceasing to care about him altogether. Willmore responds that she has put a hole through his heart, and therefore he could not imprison her within it even if he wanted to.
The bold Hellena once again displays her nontraditional attitude, saying that she will be as unfaithful a woman as he is a man. Willmore is intrigued by this blithe and unexpected attitude, unused to meeting a woman whom he cannot seduce and betray.
Incensed, the hidden Angelica expresses rage at Willmore’s inconstancy.
Unlike Hellena, Angelica cannot react carelessly and wittily to Willmore’s promiscuity because she has already given herself to him.
Hellena tells Wilmore that they are alike, destined to fool men and women into loving them. She takes off her mask, supposedly showing him how deceptive her face is before asking him whether he likes it. Willmore responds with adoration, saying that her features are so “sprightly” and “fair” that they have stricken him. She puts her mask back on, and he immediately attempts to force her to take it off again.
Hellena plays the situation expertly, continuing to show Willmore how little she cares for him even as she finds an excuse to show him her lovely face. Willmore, who adores beauty, is genuinely moved by her fairness, and feels more attracted to her than ever.
Enraged beyond endurance, Angelica resolves to leave, since her jealousy will get the best of her if she stays. She orders one of her bravoes, Sebastian, to learn Hellena’s identity, and commands Biskey to bring Willmore to her.
Although Angelica is in love with Willmore, she is still a powerful woman, able to discover activities that he wishes to keep secret, and to revenge herself.
Meanwhile, Frederick courts Valeria while Belvile talks with the disguised Florinda and sulks, still not understanding that the girl is in fact his beloved. Valeria urges Belvile to flirt with Florinda rather than sighing after his lost love, but the cavalier refuses.
Although Frederick is reasonable and intelligent, he is not as noble and faithful as Belvile, who, meanwhile, yet again does not know that he is speaking to a disguised Florinda.
Florinda decides to tempt Belvile further, offering him a jewel to show him that she is wealthy. When he asks why, she replies that she has often seen him from her window, and that women of quality like her have “few opportunities for Love.” Frederick urges his friend to take the jewel, and Belvile seems to consider succumbing to her seduction. Aside, Florinda laments that if he is false, she will be ruined.
Given the promiscuity of men like Willmore, it is unsurprising that Florinda doubts the loyal Belvile’s faithfulness. Frederick, practical but not entirely moral, tells Belvile to take the jewel because the cavaliers are so poor.
Belvile refuses, saying that taking the jewel would break his vow to his lady. Frederick is dismayed that Belvile would turn down such wealth.
Despite temptation from all sides, Belvile refuses to be unfaithful to Florinda, proving his nobility. Note how the other men can’t understand such nobility.
Meanwhile, Hellena tells Willmore that she will unmask again only if he reveals what he was doing in Angelica’s house. Willmore responds lamely, asserting that he went in to see a male friend. Hellena throws his words back at him, asking if he found cupid’s arrows in his friend’s eyes, joy in his arms, and gold in his purse. Willmore, in turn, asserts that some women are kinder than she is, and she fires back that there are men as handsome and inconstant as he is. She resolves never to see him again unless he gives up his affair with Angelica, and he swears to do so, kneeling before her and comparing her hand to a Bible as he kisses it.
Hellena uses her wit and her disguise to trap Willmore in a lie, revealing that she knows that he has been with the notorious Angelica. He responds by blaming Hellena’s chastity for his unfaithfulness. Just as he forgot about Hellena when he was with Angelica, now Willmore seems to forget about the courtesan, swearing that he will remain faithful to Hellena. Although she most likely does not believe him, Hellena is once again drawn to his wit and eloquence.
Callis tells the ladies that it is growing dark and they must depart. Quickly, Florinda leaves Belvile the jewel, which as it turns out contains a picture of her. Wilmore, too, bids goodbye to Hellena, saying that he must see her tomorrow.
Willmore appears to switch his focus from Angelica back to Hellena, while Belvile yet again does not realize that he has been talking all along to his beloved.
Realizing that he has just been talking to Florinda, Belvile berates himself, and Frederick agrees, reminding his friend of how close they came to losing Florinda’s jewel.
Belvile realizes his mistake while Frederick, ever practical, rejoices in the value of the jewel that Florinda has left.
Willmore praises Hellena’s features and wit, while Belvile does the same for Florinda, cursing his own modesty; the two briefly misunderstand each other, believing that they are rivals for the same woman. Belvile clears up the misunderstanding by showing Willmore Florinda’s picture, and the two men, plus Frederick, resolve to rescue her that very night.
Misunderstandings both big and small are a common occurrence within this play, and the two cavaliers are as quick to quarrel as they are to forgive each other. This squabble exemplifies the power of men’s desires over their common sense.