London, 1779. Sir Peter Teazle, a wealthy, dour, fiftysomething bachelor, marries a simple girl from the country half his age, Lady Teazle, expecting that she will be docile and subservient. But when he gets her to the city, she spends all his money, won't do a thing he says, and gives him nothing but aggravation about how old he is.
OPEN UP YOUR PURSE (Sir Peter, Lady Teazle)
Sir Peter has raised Joseph and Charles Surface, the two sons of his deceased friend, to manhood. Charles, the younger brother, is a handsome rake who squanders his fortune on wine, women and song. But he's the one with the good heart. He is beloved by Sir Peter's earnest young ward, Maria, who intends to reform him. The elder brother, Joseph Surface, is a "man of sentiment," who has a moral aphorism for every occasion. He appears to the world to be a moral pillar. In fact, he's the dirtiest of dogs, who conspires to seduce Lady Teazle for entertainment while trying to marry Maria for her money. In order to separate Charles and Maria, Joseph conspires with London's leading gossip, Lady Sneerwell, and her confederate, Mr. Snake, to spread a rumor that Lady Teazle is having an affair with his brother Charles. Meanwhile, Lady Sneerwell hopes to snare young Charles for herself, and adds to the mischief by having Mr. Snake forge a letter which will end up in Maria's hands, professing Charles's love for Lady Sneerwell instead of her.
SCANDAL (Mr. Snake, Lady Sneerwell)
Lady Sneerwell marvels at Joseph's duplicity. He simply celebrates it.
THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS (Joseph)
Meeting Maria at Sir Peter's home, Charles professes his love for her. But she's not entirely convinced he'll be true to her. He sings to assure her of his devotion.
NO OTHER LOVE (Charles, Maria)
Lady Sneerwell's cabal of gossips, her "school for scandal," consisting of Mr. Crabtree, Sir Benjamin Backbite, and Mrs. Candour, fan the flames of the negative rumors about Charles.
IT MUST BE TRUE (Mrs. Cand., Sir Ben., Mr. Crab., Joseph, Maria, Lady Sne.)
When Maria returns home, Sir Peter tries to get her to accept Joseph as a suitor. But she loves only Charles.
Back at Lady Sneerwell's, Joseph begs Maria to marry him, just as Lady Teazle enters from the next room and
overhears. Joseph spins his twisted logic to convince her that she's really the one he wants.
Sir Peter laments to the old servant of the Surface family, Master Rowley, about the folly of marrying someone so much younger than himself.
A YOUNGER WIFE (Sir Peter)