The play is set in France in 1654, and revolves around an upheaval in a famous acting troupe. Elomire, the troupe's renowned leader, is furious because Prince Conti, the troupe's patron, is forcing a street performer, Valere, upon them. Elomire finds Valere and his work to be revolting and base, while Bejart, the troupe's second in command, is worried about offending the Prince, and, thereby, losing their patron. Valere is a terrible bore, who loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice, which he amply demonstrates at his first entrance, where upon he delivers an uproariously funny and extended monologue. Elomire can barely withhold his contempt, but Valere is completely unaware of the barbs tossed his way. The Prince arrives, anxious to see how Elomire and Valere are getting along, having high hopes for their union. The Prince feels Elomire's work has grown stagnant and that the troupe needs new blood. Elomire, convinced that Valere will never be able to work in an ensemble situation, challenges Valere to present one of his plays with the rest of the troupe assists as a compatibility test. The strategy backfires, however, as Valere not only works well with the troupe, but the troupe finds themselves enchanted with Valere and his high jinks theatrics. Seeing this, the Prince immediately offers Valere a place with the troupe over Elomire's protests. Elomire, unable to compromise his artistic principles, strikes out on his own.