Don Pasquale, an old man, tells his nephew, Ernesto, that he has found a young woman for Ernesto to marry, but Ernesto refuses. Ernesto tells Pasquale that he has already found his lover, a poor young woman by the name of Norina. Pasquale becomes angry at his nephew's lack of respect, and in an effort to punish Ernesto and cut him out of his inheritance, takes it upon himself to marry a young woman himself. His infant son would take the inheritance instead. Don Pasquale calls upon his doctor, Dr. Malatesta. The two men discuss Pasquale's plans to marry, and after thinking for a while, Malatesta describes a young beautiful woman. After a barrage of questions, Malatesta tells Pasquale that the young woman is his sister. Pasquale is delighted and overjoyed. However, Malatesta has his own plans. Thinking Pasquale is acting foolishly, Malatesta has devised his own plan to teach Pasquale a lesson. When Ernesto returns, still refusing to marry the woman Pasquale has found for him, Pasquale gloats of his own marriage and kicks Ernesto out of the house.
Becoming aware that he will be without an inheritance Ernesto pleads to his friend, Malatesta. His hopes are dashed when he learns that it was Malatesta who arranged the wedding. Pasquale, eager to meet the woman, sends Malatesta out to get her.
Sitting on her terrace alone and reading a book, Norina is having a pleasant time. While she's reading, she is delivered a message from Ernesto stating that all is lost and he is leaving. Her sadness is cut short by the arrival of Dr. Malatesta. He has been secretly supporting her relationship with Ernesto. As he details their plans, Norina, heartbroken, hands him Ernesto's farewell letter. After recalculating his plans, he tells her that she must pretend to be his sister. His plan is to drive Don Pasquale nearly insane so that he will bend to their will. Norina happily agrees and pledges to do her best.
Alone in the living room, a sad and depressed Ernesto contemplates his fate, deciding whether or not to leave Rome. When his uncle arrives, he is quick to exit. Pasquale is anxious to meet his bride-to-be, and is surprised when Malatesta introduces his to his sister "Sofronia." She has agreed to marry right away. The wedding takes place shortly after. During the ceremony, Ernesto barges into the room, not knowing of Malatesta and Norina's plan. Malatesta quickly pulls Ernesto aside and explains the plan. Relieved, Ernesto plays along with their scheme and sits through the entire ceremony. Finally, when the marriage Notary (played by Malatesta's cousin) signs off on the mock wedding, Pasquale gives his entire fortune to "Sofronia." The moment he does, she immediately changes her demeanor and refuses Pasquale's embrace. Demanding that changes need to be made, including his manners, "Sofronia" begins her tirade. She even demands that Ernesto accompany her on her evening strolls.
Pasquale is dumbfounded, while Ernesto and Malatesta try to hide their smiles.
Sitting in his living room, which has been extravagantly redecorated, Pasquale thumbs through an ever-growing pile of bills and invoices. "Sofronia" emerges from her chambers in a beautiful gown. When Pasquale finally musters up the courage to confront her, he demands that she stop the over-the-top spending. She casually brushes him off as one would do with a fly, before finally giving him a slap to the face. She tells him that she will not do as he says. She is leaving for the evening and will not see him until he awakes the next morning. As she departs, a small letter falls from her cloak. Pasquale picks up the letter and is shocked by its contents - a rendezvous within the garden that evening is to take place between an unknown admirer and "Sofronia." Now with proof, he can put an end to the marriage. He quickly calls Malatesta for aid. Malatesta persuades Pasquale to remain calm and to not act so carelessly in his accusations. He tells Pasquale that they will secretly hide in the garden in order to catch "Sofronia" red handed. Pasquale finally agrees and puts his trust into Malatesta.
Later that night in the garden outside of the house, Ernesto and "Sofronia" sing of their love together. When Pasquale and Malatesta arrive to catch her, they are unable to see who her admirer was due to his quick escape. Moments later, Malatesta announces that Ernesto has arrived and he brings his bride-to-be, Norina, with him. "Sofronia" tells Pasquale that there can be no other woman to live under the same roof as her and that if Norina does, then she will divorce Pasquale. Pasquale cannot contain his joy when "Sofronia" leaves. When Ernesto comes out to the garden to ask for Pasquale's permission to marry Norina, he happily obliges and tells him that he will give him an inheritance after all. When Ernesto brings out his new bride, Norina, Pasquale's jaw drops to the ground. Malatesta fills Pasquale in on the plan and everyone makes their amends. Pasquale joins in the moral of the story: old people should not get married.
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