A scene-by-scene account of The Beaux' Stratagem.

Act One: In the country town of Lichfield, Aimwell and Archer arrive at Boniface’s inn, presenting themselves as a man of quality and his servant. In private, they prove to be rakes who have blown through a fortune and find themselves left with a mere two hundred pounds. Using their assumed roles, Aimwell and Archer hope to hoodwink wealthy women into marriage and secure fresh riches; if they fail in this venture, they will be be obliged to join the army. Their disguises come into immediate question, for Boniface and his daughter (Cherry) suspect the pair of being highwaymen, and while the innkeeper associates with thieves of his own gang, he will not tolerate rival rogues. Entrusted with a strongbox containing Aimwell and Archer’s two hundred pounds, Boniface plans to worm the truth out of the pair and secure the two hundred pounds for himself. Meanwhile, Cherry sets her sights on Archer, who plays cheerily to her challenge.

Act Two, Scene One: In the house of Lady Bountiful, a woman known for charitably providing cures for locals, the lady’s daughter-in-law (Mrs. Sullen) and daughter (Dorinda) discuss the trials of marriage. Although Mrs. Sullen brought ten thousand pounds to her marriage, she can derive no pleasure from the match or even cull the esteem of her oft-drunken husband, and she cannot abide the dreariness of country life. After Mrs. Sullen reveals her plan to spark jealousy in Sullen by entertaining a rival lover, she and Dorinda ready themselves for church.

Act Two, Scene Two: Back at the inn, Archer sings praises of Cherry while Aimwell prepares to attend church, planning thereby to ensnare a well-to-do lady of choice. Meanwhile, Boniface and Cherry meet with a highwayman (Gibbet) of their own acquaintance, and Boniface takes in the thief’s recent prizes while setting Gibbet to question an evasive Archer. In the guise of a military captain, Gibbet gains no ground with Archer, who is left to prompt Cherry into reciting a catechism of love. Indicating her recognition that Archer is no footman, Cherry forces him to reveal something closer to the truth about himself, and promises access to two thousand pounds if he will marry her. Archer is left to weigh the prospects of this small fortune against the possibility of a wife who lingers after the money has been spent.

Act Three, Scene One: Mrs. Sullen and Dorinda have just returned from church, where Dorinda has caught a handsome stranger’s eye (the stranger being, of course, Aimwell). Dorinda herself been quite taken by the sight and mystery of the man, and she and Mrs. Sullen send a servant (Scrub) to bring the gentleman’s footman to Lady Bountiful’s house and ply him for information regarding the stranger’s identity.

Act Three, Scene Two: Aimwell has also returned from church, and confesses a passionate love for the lady (Dorinda) viewed therein, while Archer attempts to curb Aimwell’s romantic flight with practical reminders of their shared situation. Aimwell determines to make use of his brother’s title of Viscount, while Archer decides to pursue the woman (Mrs. Sullen, that is) who attended church with Aimwell’s target, and to juggle her with Cherry. Scrub has arrived to fetch Archer, and when Archer departs, Aimwell requests company for dinner. Boniface sends Gibbet under the guise of a captain, and Aimwell suspects Gibbet’s purported military association, quickly turning Gibbet’s interrogation of Aimwell into Aimwell’s questioning of Gibbet. Boniface introduces a third dining companion (Foigard), a supposed French clergyman who Aimwell immediately and privately pinpoints as an Irishman, and all exit to dine.

Act Three, Scene Three: Following Dorinda’s orders, Scrub has brought Archer to Lady Bountiful’s house, apparently offering ale in order to loosen the supposed footman’s tongue and discern the stranger’s (that is, Aimwell’s) identity. Overheard by Dorinda and Mrs. Sullen’s maidservant (Gipsy), Archer plants the notion that Aimwell is a viscount who has gone into hiding after recently wounding a man in a duel. While Gipsy exits to inform her mistresses, Scrub reveals his adoration of the maidservant. His lament is interrupted when Dorinda and Mrs. Sullen appear and draw Archer into a conversation during which Archer offers a song and Archer and Mrs. Sullen separately determine to woo one another. After Archer departs, Dorinda suggests that Archer may be just as much a gentleman as Aimwell. And although her own affections have turned toward Archer, Mrs. Sullen proceeds to carry out a scheme for provoking Sullen’s jealousy, entertaining the love-talk of the French Count Bellair while Sullen (through Mrs. Sullen’s own machinations) watches in hiding. When Sullen finally enters in a rage, it is only to defend his public honor, suggesting that he cares not it Mrs. Sullen cheats on him, so long as she keeps the matter private. Now that Sullen has so clearly shown his indifference toward his wife, Mrs. Sullen confesses that she bears no fondness for Bellair, and vows once again to be rid of her marriage.

Act Four, Scene One: The scene continues at Lady Bountiful’s house, and Archer soon enters in a tizzy, heralding the arrival of Aimwell, who has supposedly experienced a fainting fit and requires Lady Bountiful’s medical care. Mrs. Sullen suggests that Aimwell has come to be nearer to Dorinda, and Aimwell and Archer contrive to be convinced to linger once the seeming fit has passed. They are granted a tour of the house, allowing Aimwell time with Dorinda, and offering Archer an opportunity to shower flattery on Mrs. Sullen. Meanwhile, Scrub eavesdrops on a conversation in which Foigard prompts Gipsy to allow the still-smitten Count Bellair to hide in Mrs. Sullen’s closet and so take the lady by surprise. Scrub determines to foil Gipsy’s scheme and reveals what he has heard to Archer. Having moved apart from their wooers, Mrs. Sullen and Dorinda argue over whose beau is the better, and Dorinda reveals that Aimwell has offered to marry her (along with, of course, her ten thousand pounds). Despairing of finding any true hope in Archer, Mrs. Sullen hopes that her soon-to-arrive brother might ease her marriage, confessing that though she is attracted to Archer and speaks confidently of unfaithfulness, she cannot take the final steps of cuckolding.

Act Four, Scene Two: At the inn, Aimwell and Archer rejoice to stand on the cusp of securing their fortunes. Confronting Foigard, they blast his disguise and threaten to expose him as an Irishman, suggesting charges of treason for his service in the French army. Rather than risk punishment, Foigard reveals the plot shared earlier with Gipsy, and Archer demands that he be led to Mrs. Sullen’s closet in Count Bellair’s place. Meanwhile, Boniface, Gibbet, and two of Gibbet’s fellow thieves (Hounslow and Bagshot) concoct a scheme of their own, planning to burgle Lady Bountiful’s house.

Act Five, Scene One: The scene at the inn continues with the entrance of Mrs. Sullen’s brother (Sir Charles Freeman), who meets his drunken brother-in-law and enters a conversation in which he discovers Sullen’s deep antipathy toward Mrs. Sullen. Not revealing his identity, Sir Charles offers to take Mrs. Sullen off of Sullen’s hands, and Sullen seems ready to comply. While Sir Charles and Sullen head off to play at cards, Cherry—unable to find Archer—informs Aimwell that a gang of thieves has set out to rob Lady Bountiful’s house, and Cherry and Aimwell start after the rogues.

Act Five, Scene Two: In her bedchamber, Mrs. Sullen is surprised by Archer, who has hidden in her closet and proceeds to profess fervent desire for her. Torn between accepting Archer’s love-making and rejecting the dishonorable impulse, Mrs. Sullen tries to put him off, but Archer insists on action. Just as Archer seizes his struggling quarry, Scrub enters to announce that robbers have broken into the house. Mrs. Sullen now calls for Archer’s protection, and Archer vows to protect her with his life. Archer and Scrub hastily hide themselves, and when Gibbet enters to find an apparently unaccompanied Mrs. Sullen, he is seized by Archer, who threatens to kill the thief. Gibbet pledges two hundred pounds if Archer will let him live, and Archer orders that Gibbet be confined in the cellar. Accompanied by Mrs. Sullen, Archer sets forth to help secure the rest of the house.

Act Five, Scene Three: Aimwell and Cherry surprise Hounslow and Bagshot, who have captured Lady Bountiful and Dorinda. Aimwell attacks the housebreakers and is shortly joined by Archer who, appearing with Mrs. Sullen, helps Aimwell subdue Hounslow and Bagshot. Cherry leaves to warn her father that his associates have been captured and will likely inform against him, while Hounslow and Bagshot are sent to join Gibbet. Suggesting that this would be the perfect opportunity for Aimwell to urge Dorinda into marriage, Archer distracts Lady Bountiful and Mrs. Sullen by drawing their attention to his own wound. While Aimwell disappears with Dorinda, Archer insists that Mrs. Sullen owes him some return for his recent protection. He is interrupted by an announcement of the arrival of Sir Charles, whose past acquaintanceship with Archer and Aimwell might blow their scheme to pieces.

Act Five, Scene Four: Just as Dorinda and Aimwell are about to be married by Foigard, Aimwell is stricken by Dorinda’s unwavering goodness and tells all, revealing his poverty and initial designs for securing her wealth. Charmed by Aimwell’s honesty and finding that she loves him in spite of his empty coffers, Dorinda urges that the marriage be performed, but is interrupted when Gipsy calls her away. Archer arrives while Dorinda is away, and upon hearing that Aimwell has confessed, he prepares to enact a hasty departure; he is restrained only by Aimwell’s insistence that Dorinda may yet accept his suit. Returning, Dorinda is followed shortly in tow by Sir Charles, and the two announce that Aimwell’s brother has died, leaving Aimwell to truly hold the title of “Viscount” and its accompanying prestige. Aimwell and Dorinda determine to be happily married, while Archer secures Dorinda’s ten thousand pounds as the share the fortune promised in Aimwell and Archer’s original agreement. Bellair arrives to announce that Boniface has run off, and a note from Cherry confirms the fact; Cherry also sends Aimwell and Archer’s strongbox and money. Archer suggests that Dorinda ought to take Cherry into her service, and Dorinda agrees to the proposal. Finally, Sir Charles moves to pull Mrs. Sullen out of Sullen’s clutches. All too eager to release his wife and agree to divorce, Sullen yet refuses to part with the lady’s fortune. His obstinacy is negated when Archer announces that, courtesy of Gibbet, he has obtained a collection of Sullen’s valuable papers (including marriage documents, bonds, receipts, and the like), and Sullen is forced to part with the money along with his wife. While Sullen mourns his loss of wealth, Archer leads the others in a dance, celebrating their newly secured fortunes of love and money alike.

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