In an elaborate 18th Century Greco-French topiary labyrinth of Sparta, we find Hesione, a stern philosopher, and her beautiful young nephew, Agis. She is pining for the day when Agis will kill the wicked Princess Leonide, who stole their kingdom. Her valet Harlequin and gardener Dimas arrive to report that Hermocrates, Hesione's brother and - perhaps - Sparta's most diligent philosopher, is planning Agis' trip to kill Leonide. Harlequin and Dimas are overjoyed at the prospect of the trip to get away from their overly sedate masters. Hermocrates enters and they all praise the impending death of Leonide, the devil's spawn.
As they exit, a beautiful young woman enters unseen by them: it is Princess Leonide, followed by her wisecracking maid, Corine. The Princess has a heroic crush on Agis, not knowing that his sole mission in life is to kill her. She is on a mission of love. In short, she wants her man and she will do anything for love. Knowing that women?other than Hesione?are strictly forbidden in the garden, both Leonide and Corine dress as men, Phocion and Troy. As they practise their manly poises, Harlequin arrives and introduces himself as the Harlequin, "Classic Clown."
Harlequin immediately discovers that they are women. The Princess explains that she wants to woo Agis and, he, struck by her sincerity, agrees to help. Dimas arrives, singing of a gardener's life. As they meet, Agis enters and is immediately impressed with 'Phocion's' noble and refined visage. As they exit, Corine and Harlequin are even more abruptly affected by each other. Agis and the disguised Princess vow to be faithful friends. She immediately implores him to arrange a meeting for her with his uncle, Hermocrates. He agrees and, moved by their friendship, he reveals what he has never told another soul: he is the true Prince of Sparta. This is all news to her. He explains the whole story: his parents killed and the kingdom lost. He asks her to renounce all passion and to be guided solely by logic. She must also swear to kill Leonide! She agrees.
Corine and Harlequin enter decrying the vicissitudes of love and Corine sings of her passion for him. Hesione and Dimas appear on the other side of the garden. Princess Leonide as Phocion entreats Hesione to allow her to have an audience with Hermocrates. Hesione refuses and Leonide feigns passionate love for Hesione. Hesione is flustered but titillated and agrees to send Phocion to Hermocrates.
Corine enters and Dimas engage in a little verbal sparring that degenerates into a wrestling match during which Dimas discovers Corine's true sex. Corine reveals that her mistress loves Agis and tries all too successfully to seduce him. Surprised by her seduction's success, she's struck silent. They leave together.
The princess reappears and finds Hermocrates. She expresses her desire to take up the life of the mind under his tutelage. He warns her of the rigors of such a life and cautions her regarding the unsavory nature of the heart. He sees through her disguise and realises that she is a she. She claims to be, 'Aspasie,' and proclaims that her admiration for Hermocrates goes well beyond his mind. Through her advances his passion begins to swell and, seeing her efforts bare fruit, she leaves him wanting more and says that they can develop the specifics of her course of study later. Hermocrates tells Dimas to follow 'him' and keep him away from Agis. Hesione arrives and asks Hermocrates to take Phocion as a pupil. He refuses and they leave.
The princess and Agis arrive as Agis discourses about his hate for the odious sex that goads men to love. Further, he tells her that he is off today to seek out and kill Leonide. Suddenly, she uncaps her hair revealing her true sex and claims to be 'Cecile'. She tells how Princess Leonide decreed that she marry one Hubert, who, "smelled of vinegar and cheese," and so she ran away. He is entranced.
Hesione tells the princess (as Phocion) that she must go. The princess responds taking her seduction up a notch. At the agreed moment, Corine arrives with a portrait of Hesione that Phocian plans to treasure in lieu of any other way to express his love. Touched, Hesione tells of her youth when the fickle affections of the boys hurt her feelings and of who she escaped that pain by taking up the life of the mind. Overwhelmed, she admits her love for Phocian, kisses 'him' and promises to win Hermocrates' permission for him to stay.
Agis passes by still working on the problem as Hermocrates asks Dimas the results of his spying on the princess. Dimas reveals that which Hermocrates already knows, that is that Phocian is a woman. Dimas tells him to marry her and join the world, as it were.
Agis enters again, still mulling things over, as the princess waves at both Hesione and Hermocrates, each thinking her loving look is theirs alone. Corine enters and the princess brings her up to date. Hermocrates enters and begins a lesson in logic but keeps being distracted by the princess' charms. Harlequin enters with a portrait of Hermocrates for the princess repeating the portrait technique used for Hesione. Hermocrates wilts.
Agis arrives and demands to see the princess alone but accidentally lets them know that he's revealed his identity as the true prince of Sparta. He's embarrassed and leaves. The others leave also.
Corine tries to cheer up the princess. Meanwhile, Hesione and Hermocrates are inspired by the empathy they feel for their miniature topiary tree. Perhaps, they realise, that the tree and they might be better as, "a lusty fig, a rosy pear, a bursting plum, a swollen peach, tumescent grapes . . ."
Dimas talks to Agis to make up for his rift with 'Cecile' (the princess). Corine appears and hints heavily that Dimas should find out who's arriving. In comes Harlequin dressed as the Baron Hubert du Vinaigre de Fromage in search of his lost love Cecile. He enrages Agis, insulting his aunt and uncle as, 'that rancid addlepate and his crusty sister'. Agis loses control, blurts out that he loves Cecile and just as he's getting ready to throttle Harlequin, he recognises him. Agis' rage falls away as he realises what he said.
Hesione appears wearing makeup, a new hairstyle and jewellry. She finds 'Phocian' and proclaims her love. Hermocrates arrives and has also fallen in love with princess Leonide. Proving that 'when it rains, it pours' Agis proclaims, 'O merciful heavens above! Her sentiments match mine! The charms of her speech have thrown me into passion's chasm.'
Observing the inane behaviour of their betters, Dimas and Harlequin sing, "Henchmen Are Forgotten." Corine arrives and reveals her true identity confirming what they've just sung and demanding a reprise.
Hermocrates arrives wigged and grotesquely made up for his nuptials. He admits that to Agis that he has let his logic lapse and fallen in love. Hesione appears dressed with a similar intent. Each hopes to sneak out of town without the other knowing their real intent but they weaken and confess simultaneously. They reveal their respective portraits of princess Leonide and, realising they've been duped, demand an explanation. The princess tells the truth. Agis is moved by her frankness and hopelessly in love tells her that now Sparta will be ruled by the mind (his) tempered by the heart, theirs, which they'll share as man and wife. They all sing the finale, "Then let the world be told, how sweet it is to fall with heart and mind at last entwined, a triumph of love for all." As they leave Hesione consuls Hermocrates, "Maybe we'll meet someone at the wedding."
The curtain falls.
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