In a present-day fictional
duchy, a corrupt and self-interested ruling family abuses its
power and seeks its private ends through sexual extortion,
deception, and tyranny. The despotic and perverse Duke Arnaud
and his daughter, the beautiful, influential, incestuous
Contessa, subvert the law to prosecute the duke’s grieving
widowed daughter-in-law, Lady Martine, because she will not
yield to Arnaud’s sexual bidding, even when he withholds her
inheritance from her late husband. Martine’s brother supplies
her with an attorney, but despite his counsel, her own volatile
temperament confounds her defense. With Contessa’s connivance
and urging, and by intimidating a weak judge, Arnaud holds a
sham hearing and trial in which he bends the law to his own will
in order to coerce and punish Martine.
ARNAUD: The Duke, “a man of
three-score years,” ruler of a fictional, feudal
duchy, father of Pascal and father-in law of Martine.
MARTINE: Lady Martine de Luc,
grieving widow of Pascal de Luc, in the prime of her life.
CONTESSA: Daughter of Duke Arnaud, in
her late 20s, vivacious, conniving, and unscrupulous.
DUPLASS: Brother of Lady
Martine, about Martine’s age, supportive of her resistance to
LACOSTE: Attorney, friend of
Duplass, “of very reverend reputation; witty, courteous, liberal,
full of spirit; stuffed with all honorable virtues.”
BALTHUS: Lord Chief Justice,
elderly, “a slight unmeritable man,” who can be “taught and
train’d and bid go forth.”