Peregrine enters Sir Politic’s house in disguise, along with three Mercatori (merchants). Peregrine makes sure that he is disguised enough, and says that his goal is only to frighten Sir Politic. The merchants joke about sending Sir Politic off on some ship, and Peregrine says that Sir Politic would probably write some exaggerated tale about whatever adventure he ended up on.
Believing himself the victim of a prank, Peregrine has adopted the Italian way and decided to stage his own elaborate ruse as payback, complete with other actors (merchants) and a costume.
Peregrine knocks and says he is a merchant here to see Sir Politic. Sir Politic’s servant says that Sir Politic is busy with stately affairs, but Peregrine asks again. Sir Politic eventually agrees to see Peregrine once he is convinced that Peregrine is not a spy. He enters and apologizes to Peregrine, saying that he’s had a disaster with his wife earlier that day.
That Sir Politic can even have a disaster with his wife (the Peregrine-prostitute debacle) shows that their dynamic is far removed from Corvino and Celia’s ultra-controlling relationship.
Peregrine says that he must deliver a worse disaster to Sir Politic. He says that the man Sir Politic met earlier in the day was a spy, and that the spy reported to the senate that Sir Politic had a plan to sell the State of Venice to the Ottomans. Peregrine then claims to have warrants to search Sir Politic’s home. Sir Politic asks what to do, and Peregrine says that he should curl up and hide.
The spy that Peregrine references is, of course, himself. Sir Politic is gullible and self-important enough to believe that he really is being spied on – he thought his letters were being intercepted, after all. Ironically, Sir Politic told Peregrine to avoid spending time with Englishmen since they might be spies, and now he is being punished for not following his own advice.
Outside, the merchants knock while Sir Politic scrambles. Sir Politic says he has a plan for such situations, and he produces a tortoise shell. He curls up into a ball and has Peregrine lay the shell on top of him, planning to pretend that he’s a tortoise until the people he believes are government officials have left. He tells his servant to burn his papers.
Like his business ventures, Sir Politic’s plan to hide from the government is ridiculous. In a play in which characters’ names reference animals from fables, a tortoise might have been chosen to reinforce the fact that Sir Politic is slow, or it could reference either the story of the tortoise and the hare or the tortoise and the bird from Aespo’s Fables.
Peregrine exits and the three merchants rush in. They ask where Sir Politic is hidden, and Peregrine reenters, saying now that he is a merchant who has come to look at the tortoise. They joke about the tortoise, and Peregrine says the merchants can stand on the tortoise if they like. They prod him to get him to crawl on the floor, threatening to jump on him. Peregrine whispers to Sir Politic that he should crawl, and he crawls a little. Then the merchants lift the tortoise shell off of Sir Politic and expose him. Peregrine then reveals his own identity, and tells Sir Politic that now they are even.
Sir Politic’s disguise is hilarious because it’s so terrible. The dramatic irony is that, though Sir Politic thinks he’s able to fool the Merchants, everyone on stage (and in the audience) knows that the tortoise is really Sir Politic. This is all extremely embarrassing for Sir Politic, and it’s also a satire on the absurdity of commerce and merchants.
After Peregrine and the merchants exit, Sir Politic asks a servant where Lady Would-be is and if she knew about the ruse. He complains that he will be the talk of the town for the embarrassing ordeal he just endured. The servant says that Lady Would-be is in a terrible mood, and Sir Politic compares himself to a tortoise and laments his situation.
Sir Politic is concerned that his reputation as a perfectly assimilated traveler will suffer from Peregrine’s embarrassing prank, which shows a complete lack of self-awareness; nobody takes Sir Politic seriously. Sir Politic also completely misses his own joke in comparing himself to a tortoise after just pretending to be one.