Ponceludon is a French baron who is wealthy in property but poor in cash. Local peasants are in poor health, the result of a festering marsh that needs to be drained. Ponceludon travels to Versailles to plead his case before King Louis XVI. There, he is informed that he has no chance of success unless he can impress the court with his verbal prowess, for the king and his courtiers value ironic and insulting banter above all else.

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