Sir Peter and Lady Teazle are at home, quarreling as usual. Lady Teazle says she should have her own way in everything, and that she knows that fashionable London women are accountable to no one. When Sir Peter asks if it is not right for him to have some authority over her, she retorts that he should have adopted her if he wanted authority, since he is old enough. He says that although unkind remarks like that one may make him unhappy, he will still not let her spend all his money extravagantly. She says she only spends what a woman of fashion is expected to.
Sir Peter has never had a family and is used to choosing exactly what his money is spent on. He went into his marriage believing he would be able to direct his wife’s activities and interests, but now that she is married to a wealthy Londoner, Lady Teazle is keen to fit in among the other members of London high society. She claims that spending extravagantly is what is expected of her by society, and that Sir Peter should adjust his expectations accordingly.
Sir Peter says that to make such demands she must have forgotten the way she was brought up. Lady Teazle, however, says she remembers very well the boring things she had to do before she married him. Sir Peter says he is glad she remembers her simple life, which should make her require fewer fancy possessions now. Sir Peter complains that she wants to have three different kinds of carriages, and says, “I have made you a woman of fashion, of fortune, of rank; in short, I have made you my wife.” Lady Teazle jokes that all that is left for him to “make her” is his widow. She also says he should want his wife to spend money, because this is what she must do to be a fashionable woman of taste. Sir Peter says she was not a woman of taste when he met her, and Lady Teazle quips that she obviously cannot claim to have good taste, since she married him.
Lady Teazle is witty but harsh as she spars with Sir Peter, reflecting the influence of the circle of gossipmongers with whom she has been spending her time, as well as her own intelligence and confidence. She continues to emphasize that the luxury items that she wants to buy are for Sir Peter’s reputation as much as they are for hers, but he seems not to understand this. Lady Teazle will likely be her husband’s primary heir, and since he is far older than she is, the issue of her eventual inheritance of his fortune also hangs over their discussions of money.
Lady Teazle then says she is off to Lady Sneerwell’s house. Sir Peter says that he disapproves of his wife spending her time with a group of rumormongers. Lady Teazle counters that Lady Sneerwell’s social set is made up of people with wealth and high social rank. She says that she has learned their ways, but only speaks ill of people in good humor, and hopes that others will not spread rumors about her maliciously.
Lady Teazle continues to stand by her choices, on the grounds that she is spending time with people from high society. She sees herself as a pupil in this “school for scandal,” learning to laugh at people’s flaws and missteps. Still, she is not cruel or motivated to spread rumors about everyone, and naively hopes that her new friends share her benevolent motives.
Lady Teazle departs, reminding Sir Peter that he promised to come to Lady Sneerwell’s, too. Left alone, Sir Peter says that he has failed to exert any control over his wife, but he finds it very satisfying to quarrel with her. Although he cannot make her love him, he does find her charming and attractive when she contradicts and teases him.
Although Sir Peter has complained about how Lady Teazle’s demands have changed since their marriage, it is clear that he admires her ability to stand her ground against him in an argument, and finds her teasing attractive.