The scene is set outside Castle Bunthorne, the home of the aesthetic poet Reginald Bunthorne, where "twenty love-sick maidens" are singing of their infatuation. The elderly Lady Jane tells them that Bunthorne is in love with Patience, the innocent village milkmaid. It appears that the ladies' tastes have been so etherialized by Bunthorne that they have broken off their collective engagements with the soldiers of the 35th Dragoon Guard. The soldiers march in, headed by Colonel Calverly, Major Murgatroyd, and Lieutenant The Duke of Dunstable, and are shocked to see their former fiancees ignoring them. The poet enters, reads them his poem "Oh Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!" and rushes off, followed by the ladies. The dragoons angrily march off. Bunthorne re-enters alone and admits that he is nothing but an "aesthetic sham." On seeing Patience, he confesses to her that he really does not like poetry, and is heartbroken when she tells him that she is sure that she couldn't possibly love him. He goes off in despair.
Lady Angela tells Patience that until she has experienced love she will never know true happiness. At this moment another aesthetic poet, Archibald Grosvenor, known as "Archibald the All-Right," appears on the scene. He immediately asks Patience to marry him and is surprised that she does not recognize him as her childhood sweetheart. He tells Patience that he is in the unfortunate situations of being so beautiful that he is loved by every woman he meets. Patience realizes that to be perfect, love must be unselfish and therefore she cannot love anybody as perfect as Grosvenor, although there is nothing to prevent him from loving her. Grosvenor agrees and they go out sadly in opposite directions.
The rapturous maidens now lead on Bunthorne, who is so heartbroken at Patience's rejection of him that he has put himself up to be raffled! Suddenly, Patience rushes in and begs Bunthorne's forgiveness. The ladies turn back to their military lovers, but this reunion is soon broken up by the arrival of Grosvenor, to whom they promptly transfer their affections, much to the horror of not only Bunthorne and the Dragoons, but of Grosvenor himself.
The second act opens with Lady Jane observing that sicne the rapturous maidens have deserted Bunthorne for Grosvenor, the way is clear for her to declare her own love for Bunthorne. As she leaves, Grosvenor enters, followed by the maidens. He reluctantly agrees to read them one of his poems, and tells the maidens that although they love him, his heart is fixed elsewhere. Patience comes in and admits that she only loves Bunthorne out of a sense of duty. Grosvenor bids her farewell and goes sadly off. When Patience tells Bunthorne that Grosvenor is "the noblest, purest, and most perfect being" but that it is her duty not to love him, Bunthorne snaps back that she doesn't really know what love is, causing Patience to run off in tears. Bunthorne complains to Lady Jane that until Grosvenor arrived he was loved by all the ladies, and Lady Jane promises to help him get rid of the interloper.
Colonel Calverley, Major Murgatroyd, and the Duke now enter, dressed in aesthetic costumes. Angela and Saphir are pleased to see the dragoons' conversion to aestheticism, and the five dance happily off. Grosvenor walks in, joined by Bunthorne, who complains of the way the girls have deserted him since Grosvenor arrived and threatens to curse Grosvenor unless he becomes a "commonplace young man." Grosvenor is glad to concur. Patience comes in and is at first pleased to see how amicable Bunthorne has become, but then points out that she can never love anyone as perfect as he is now. Bunthorne protests but is interrupted by the arrival of Grosvenor in an ordinary suit, along with the ladies. Patience, discovering that her Archibald is no longer perfect, promptly falls into his arms, and Bunthorne, crushed, decides to wed Jane, his one remaining adorer. However, the Duke enters, declaring that it is only fair for him to choose a lady who is distinctly plain, namely Jane, who joyfully accepts him, so that "Nobody is Bunthorne's Bride!"
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