Malaprop tells Anthony that she has never seen Jack Absolute, but hopes he will not object to the arrangement. Anthony has no doubt that Jack will go along with it, informing Malaprop that he has always been an imperious and authoritarian father. Malaprop thinks this is the best course, saying, "Nothing is so conciliating to young people as severity." She tells Anthony that she will send away Bob Acres, one of Lydia's other suitors, and prepare Lydia to receive Jack.
"If she rejects this proposal—clap her under lock and key," Anthony tells Malaprop, adding that another good way to get her to comply is to convince the servants not to bring Lydia dinner for a few days. When Anthony leaves, Malaprop speaks about the fact that she is eager to get Lydia out from her care, as Lydia has recently learned about her "partiality" for Sir Lucius O'Trigger. She calls for Lucy and asks the servant if she saw Lucius while she was out, and reminds her not to tell anyone about her affair with him.
When Malaprop leaves, Lucy discusses the fact that everyone has been paying her to do their bidding. Malaprop paid her to procure the information about Lydia and the ensign, Lydia paid her for helping her plot to run away, Bob Acres paid her to deliver letters which she never delivered, and Lucius O'Trigger paid her for delivering letters to Lydia, when she was actually delivering them to Malaprop.
Act 2. Captain Absolute's Lodgings. Jack Absolute and Fag have a discussion, in which Fag tells him that he went to visit Anthony and told him Jack was in Bath, but did not tell him why. When Jack asks Fag if he told any of the servants why he is in Bath, Fag lies and tells him that though Thomas was inquisitive, he did not tell him anything about Jack's visit to the city. Fag tells Jack that he told Anthony he is in the city to recruit soldiers and Jack gets worried that Fag told too elaborate of a lie. Jack asks if Faulkland is there, and Fag tells his master that Faulkland is upstairs.
When Fag exits, Faulkland comes in and asks Jack how things are going with Lydia. "I have not seen her since our quarrel; however I expect to be recalled every hour," Jack says, and Faulkland asks why he doesn't just go off with her at once. "What, and lose two-thirds of her fortune?" Jack replies, alluding to the fact that he must win the approval of her family so that he will get Lydia's money.
"If you are sure of her, propose to the aunt in your own character, and write to Sir Anthony for his consent," Faulkland says, but Jack tells him that he must woo her in the guise of a poorer man before he can assure her affection and loyalty. Jack then makes fun of Faulkland for being so moody and unsure of Julia's love for him, before revealing to him that Julia is in Bath at the moment.
"Can you be serious?" Faulkland asks, alarmed. Suddenly, Fag enters and announces the arrival of Bob Acres. With this, Jack encourages Faulkland to stay, since Acres will know something of Julia. He also reveals that Acres is a rival of "Ensign Beverley" and it is fun to listen to Acres speak ill of Jack's alter ego.
Acres comes in and greets the men, confirming to Faulkland that Julia is in fine health. Faulkland is a little bit offended by this, latching onto yet another thing to make him insecure about his relationship with Julia—"isn't there something unkind in this violent, robust, unfeeling health?" he says. Acres goes on to say that Julia has been "the belle and spirit of the company wherever she has been—so lively and entertaining!"
When Acres discusses the fact that she is so musically proficient, Faulkland moans, "You see she has been all mirth and song—not a thought of me!" Jack teasingly asks Acres if he remembers the songs that Julia sang, listing names of songs about missing a distant loved one. Suddenly, Acres remembers the song she sang, with the lyrics, "My heart's my own, my will is free."
This only makes Faulkland more insecure, but Jack tries to assure him that he should be happy to hear that Julia has been happy. When Acres reveals that she was doing a lot of country dances, Faulkland gets really upset, suggesting that he would have been able to handle another kind of dance, but country dancing feels like a betrayal. He rails against his mistress and leaves in a huff.
Left alone, Jack and Acres discuss Acres' appearance, and the fact that he used to have a very bad fashion sense. Acres resolves to look better, saying, "My hair has been in training some time." He then says that he wants to beat "Ensign Beverley," clearly ignorant of the fact that the ensign is actually Jack.
When Acres exits, Fag enters and tells Jack that his father is there. Anthony Absolute greets his son and immediately tells him that he is going to marry someone that he chooses. Anthony fails to mention that he wants Jack to marry Lydia, the girl he already loves, and Jack assumes that his father must be talking about another girl and so refuses. This only enrages Anthony, who insists that Jack must do as he tells him, no matter who he chooses for his son. Before he leaves, Anthony tells his son that he will take away his commission if he does not consent to the marriage in the next six and a half hours.
When Anthony leaves, Fag visits Jack and tells him that he should "drop his acquaintance." Frustrated, Jack snaps at Fag, and leaves angrily. Miffed, Fag says, "When one is vexed by one person, to revenge one's self on another, who happens to come in the way, is the vilest injustice!" Suddenly he is interrupted by an errand boy, and Fag snaps at the boy much in the way that Jack snapped at him. He chases the boy out of the room, "kicking and beating him."
Scene 2. Lucy enters and discusses the fact that she knows that Jack is a new suitor of Lydia's, but decides not to tell anyone for a while. She then discusses the fact that Lucius O'Trigger thinks he is corresponding with Lydia when he is actually corresponding with Malaprop.
Lucius comes in shortly and Lucy presents him with a letter from Malaprop, which he thinks is from Lydia. It is filled with misused words, and Lucius calls her "the queen of the dictionary!" Lucius pays Lucy for her help and kisses her, which she does not appreciate. When they hear someone whistling, Lucius runs away quickly.
Fag enters and Lucy tells him that Anthony is planning to marry Jack to Lydia. Fag finds this very funny, knowing his master's double identity, and rushes off to tell him.
A contrast is struck between the temperaments of the young and the old, and both ends of the spectrum are satirized. The young people in the play are fanciful and curious; Lydia reads sentimental novels and wants so badly to marry for love that she denies her own desire for financial security. Jack is willing to assume the identity of a much poorer man for the express purpose of winning her over. Meanwhile, the older characters are so serious and severe that it is comical. The unimaginative and humorless attitudes of the older characters is typified by Malaprop's line, "Nothing is so conciliating to young people as severity."
Another contrast in the play is that between servants and employers. Indeed, the play began with two servants gossiping about their employers' affairs, and the complication of this relation becomes even starker in this section of the play. Malaprop fears that Lucy will have told Lydia of her affair with Lucius O'Trigger, and denounces her as a simpleton. Meanwhile, however, Lucy is anything but simple and is involved in her own scheme to make a little extra money on the side for the confidences she keeps and the favors she does.
Lucy's various favors are quite scheming, and lead to a great deal of chaos in the affairs of her employers. She tells the audience, in her own kind of confidence, that she was paid to tell Malaprop about Lydia and Ensign Beverly, that she was paid to deliver Lydia letters from Bob Acres, but never did, and that she was paid by Lucius O'Trigger to deliver letters to Lydia. Little do any of these people know the liberties that Lucy has taken with this information. Lydia thinks that Lucy is keeping her secret safe, Malaprop thinks Lucy is keeping her secret safe, and Lucius thinks that Lucy is helping him win favor with Lydia, when she is in fact 'helping' him seduce Malaprop.
In this section we are introduced to the exceedingly insecure Faulkland, who interprets every piece of information as evidence of the fact that his beloved, Julia, does not love him, or else that there is something wrong between them. Indeed, when he hears she is in Bath—a cause for celebration, no doubt—he is distressed to hear that she is in good spirits and good health, interpreting it somehow as evidence of her inconstancy or unreliability. Jack makes fun of his friend for his fickle insecurity, the fact that nothing can calm his nerves about his relationship.
The tone of the play, even when stakes and tensions seem high, is exceedingly lighthearted and comical. Every scene offers a comic relation between the characters, whether it is the relation between the inarticulate Malaprop and her scheming servant Lucy, or a jesting discussion between the ultra-smooth Jack Absolute and his neurotic and insecure friend Faulkland. The scenarios are made all the funnier by the temperaments of the characters, a true comedy of manners.