As the footman leaves, Wilfull complains that the man knows so little that he probably doesn’t even know his own name. Marwood, observing all this, remarks to Witwoud that his half-brother also seems to have forgotten him.
Though, at first, Sir Wilfull doesn’t recognize his brother, his mistake is sincere, unlike Witwoud’s. The contrasting levels of sincerity mark an important difference between the two brothers.
Wilfull greets the group first. Marwood admonishes Witwoud for not speaking to Wilfull. Witwoud, in an aside, instructs Petulant to speak on his behalf. Petulant greets Wilfull. Witwoud remarks to himself that Wilfull seems vile and tells Petulant to heckle him.
Marwood tries to get Witwoud to stop behaving foolishly but her efforts are ignored. Witwoud, normally Petulant’s interpreter, gets Petulant to do all of his insulting for him.
Petulant begins to inspect Wilfull’s dress from top to bottom. He remarks that it looks like Wilfull has just come from a journey. Wilfull admits that he has. Witwoud, in another aside to Petulant, tells him to insult Wilfull by focusing on his boots. Petulant tells Witwoud that he looks like he has been on a long journey from the condition of his boots.
Witwoud and Petulant judge people’s merits from their exterior qualities, focusing on Sir Wilfull’s travel-stained clothes as evidence that he is unfashionable and therefore inferior to them. This means that they also measure their own worth by their fashionableness rather than by their actual qualities.
Witwoud retorts that if the boots aren’t enough evidence of his trip, then Petulant should go to the stable and ask his horse. Petulant exclaims that Wilfull’s “horse is an ass.” Wilfull heatedly asks him if he means to be offensive.
Sir Wilfull is not easily intimidated by the efforts of Petulant and Witwoud to make him feel uncomfortable. However, he doesn’t defend himself very skillfully from their insults.
Marwood quickly tells Wilfull that Petulant is just trying to be funny and that he is amongst friends, even if he doesn’t realize it. She asks him if he is Sir Wilfull Witwoud. Witwoud then introduces himself as Wishfort’s niece. With a little prodding from Marwood, Wilfull suddenly recognizes his half-brother (whom he calls Antony, which is Witwoud’s first name). Affectionately calling him Tony, Wilfull adds that he hardly recognized Witwoud in his fashionable London clothes.
She encourages Wilfull to recognize his brother, which he does begrudgingly. Sir Wilfull’s affection for his half-brother is genuine and warm. He never refers to Witwoud as a step-sibling. Marwood’s kindness to Wilfull seems strange given her recent behavior in general, but it may be that she is being kind because Wilfull figures in her plot to marry off Millamant.
Witwoud pretends to suddenly remember Wilfull and calls him brother, but Wilfull is deeply hurt that Witwoud didn’t recognize him. Witwoud explains that it’s fashionable not to recognize relations in London, but Wilfull criticizes this trend and his brother as foolish. He tells the group that he began to suspect that Witwoud was becoming a London “fob” after he began to leave out affectionate salutations in his letters and to include instead boasts about his sexual conquests and unwholesome adventures.
As an outsider, Sir Wilfull recognizes that certain “fashionable” London trends are too silly to be worth participating in. He is therefore unfashionable but distinguishes himself as a more genuine personality by recounting to Witwoud’s friends his humble origins and remarking on Witwoud’s changed personality.
Furthermore, Wilfull complains, when Witwoud was new to London and a clerk at Furnival’s Inn, he would write tender letters, asking his brother to send his regards to old country friends. Petulant interrupts to laugh at the news that Witwoud used to work for the Furnivals as an attorney clerk.
In reminiscing about old Witwoud, Sir Wilfull reveals too much. He uncovers Witwoud’s past, which Witwoud himself has tried to bury and distance himself from.
Witwoud brushes off these insults and explains that it was only a temporary move until he could find a better position. Working for Furnival, Witwoud explains, was the only way he escaped from the countryside and the life his brother planned for him as an apprentice to a feltmaker. Wilfull sarcastically responds that in London Witwoud has served his apprenticeship as a fop.
To account for his unfashionable first job in London, Witwoud belittles the time he spent living in the countryside with Sir Wilfull and paints the job as a necessary evil to get away from Sir Wilfull, a worse evil. Again, Witwoud puts down others to try to raise himself.
Marwood interrupts the argument by asking Wilfull about his intention to travel. Wilfull, still mad at Petulant and Witwoud, addresses only Marwood. He tells her that he wants to see other countries but before he leaves, he wants to learn French. Marwood tells him about an academy for that purpose and supports his decision to see the world, telling him that he’s sure to return improved. Witwoud muses that Wilfull will return as improved as a Dutch skipper from whale-fishing.
Sir Wilfull recognizes that he is unlearned and wants to improve himself. But his advanced age and his country habits lead others around him to look down on his desire. Even the ignorant and silly Petulant mocks Sir Wilfull’s goal. Witwoud, for his part, thinks it will be impossible for an old dog like Sir Wilfull to learn new tricks.