Florinda, Callis, and Stephano await the arrival of Pedro and his unknown rival at the Molo, all in disguise (masquerade outfits). Florinda worries that her brother’s adversary is Belvile, because he did not appear beneath her window as she had instructed. Stephano assures Florinda that Pedro’s rival is not Belvile, as he was nearby when the men agreed to fight outside of Angellica’s house. Both of them were in disguise he tells her, and he is sure that they were quarrelling over Florinda. This information makes Florinda even surer that her brother’s adversary is Belvile, for she can think of no other lover who would fight for her. Stephano leaves just before Pedro arrives and announces that Antonio, the man whom he will fight, is late. Florinda is surprised when she hears that Antonio is the mystery fighter.
Belvile arrives, dressed in Antonio’s clothes, ready to fight for Florinda. When Pedro announces that the object of their duel is Angellica, Belvile is confused but fights nonetheless. Florinda runs between the two men before they have the chance to fight, and begs that they proceed no further. Belvile drops his sword at Florinda’s command and Pedro, believing Belvile to be Antonio, is so impressed with this act that he deems their differences settled, and announces that Antonio has redeemed both his sister and his friendship. Don Pedro removes his mask, hands over Florinda to Antonio, and then asks Belvile (still disguised as Antonio) to pledge his love to Florinda. Belvile of course does this, and plans are made to marry “Antonio” to Florinda. Florinda protests, until Belvile pulls her aside and reveals himself to her by removing his mask. Pedro is distracted speaking with Callis as Willmore and Frederick enter in search of Belvile. The Englishmen spot their friend when his mask is momentarily removed and call out to him, causing Pedro to see Belvile. Pedro grabs Florinda, and Willmore draws on Pedro to defend Belvile. Belvile jumps in between Willmore and Pedro, vowing not to let his friend injure the brother of the woman he loves so dearly. Pedro leaves with Florinda, determined that she not be with Belvile.
Belvile is furious, and in his fury chases Willmore with his sword. At this moment, Angellica enters with Moretta and Sebastian, and Angellica instructs Sebastian to retrieve Willmore. When Willmore arrives, Angellica gets angry with him for paying so much attention to Hellena, who at that moment enters disguised in the clothing of a man. Willmore is impatient to leave, for he is nervous that Hellena might see him with Angellica, whom he has sworn never again to interact with. Angellica calls over the disguised Hellena who waits nearby with a message for her. Disguised as a sort of messenger boy, Hellena tells Angelica that she is related to a lady who loves an English gentleman who has a way with words, and who promised to love her, and only her, faithfully. The two were to be married today, the disguised Hellena tells her, but the man broke his vows to be with Angellica. Willmore, intrigued that the “English man” to whom the boy is referring might be him, is no longer antsy to leave. The disguised Hellena tells Angellica that it would be best she doesn’t interact with the “Englishman” (i.e., Willmore), for she will only be disappointed by his inconstancy. Both Angellica and the disguised Hellena rail against Willmore together. Willmore demands of the messenger the name and address of his lady (i.e., Hellena). Suddenly, Willmore recognizes the boy as Hellena in disguise and lets her know privately of his discovery. Sebastian enters, and Hellena leaves for fear that Antonio may soon be arriving, and will surely see through her disguise. Willmore leaves with plans to pursue Hellena; Angellica leaves to meet Antonio, after vowing to take revenge against Willmore.
Characters have been in costume for nearly the entirety of the play; however, it is not until this scene that does disguise truly figure front and center. Yet, unlike the masquerade costumes or series of other disguises in the play, the disguise that Hellena assumes in this scene fails to trick her intended audience. Hellena disguises herself as a young man or boy in order to fool Angellica and Willmore; only Angellica is tricked into believing that Hellena is a messenger boy. Willmore, on the other hand, is ultimately able to see through her disguise and recognize her for who she is. The significance of this discovery and failed disguise is twofold: it indicates a perceptiveness in Willmore not attributed to any other character in the play (than perhaps Hellena), and it signifies also that the female attempt to inhabit the male world or take on the persona and corresponding actions of a male character is ultimately not possible. All other disguises up until and following this instance in the play maintain gender integrity; females, though disguised, remain female, and males only ever take on another male persona. The one and only time that the gender boundary is crossed is when Hellena dresses as a man; this is also the only time in the play that a disguise is transparent. This failed attempt at disguise can be extrapolated beyond Hellena’s personal inability to convincingly execute a male impersonation to women’s inability (and, potentially, impossibility) to embody a male-dominated world. This play has addressed the limitations of female characters on many levels, and here we see one more example of how a woman simply cannot successfully move beyond her domain as female into the power-yielding world of men.
It is also important to consider the person who discerned that Hellena was in fact Hellena in disguise. Angellica was unquestionably deluded by Hellena’s disguise, however Willmore eventually saw through the veil. As the title character, Willmore must be paid a significant amount of attention, and in this scene the analytic focus can be no different. The fact that Willmore is able to recognize Hellena through her disguise is indicative of his perceptive powers. This impressive ability to see that which other characters cannot extends beyond Hellena’s disguise; his literal perceptive power is symbolic of a figurative perceptive power that endows him with the ability to see and thus approach life differently. Throughout the play he has been a wild and seemingly careless character, but Behn might be suggesting here that we look at this approach to life—a sort of libertine approach—in a new light, and consider it especially as an attractive alternative to the standard heroic chivalry that Belvile embodies. Intuition might be to discount a character like Willmore as irresponsible and destructive, but might it be possible that such a character simply has an ability to perceive and understand life in a different and better way than the rest?