Tom Rakewell is a promising young man who’s decided, since his teens, to live an easy life. His levity worries Trulove, his future father-in-law, who’s come to announce that he’s found a job for him at the bank. Tom refuses: he’s sure that he can live from hand to mouth, trusting in his lucky star and satisfying all his wishes. Ann, his sweet girlfriend, doesn’t feel like to thwart him. Nick Shadow arrives bringing the news of the death of Tom’s unknown uncle and of his designation as heir to a huge fortune... Nick got him to accept to leave immediately to London; Tom exchanges with Ann a tender goodbye.
As a beginning to a hedonistic life, Shadow introduces Tom at Mother Goose’s where easy girls and young guzzlers are cheering on love. Tom undergoes a severe interrogation about his inclination to libertinism: his self-confidence fails only remembering Ann. Mother Goose demands Tom for herself.
Ann has no news about Tom and feels abandoned. She sadly asks solace to the night and the moon. She feels that Tom needs her and so she decides to go and look for him in London.
In the living room of his house in London, Tom feels bored by the idle life his is having and longs for Ann. Nick arrives and, with subtle arguments, advises his friend to marry Baba the Turk, a bearded woman, the attraction of St. Gilles Funfair. The object of Nick’s insinuations is the real freedom, which is feasible only facing desire and conscience.
Ann has found Tom’s house but doesn’t dare to enter. Preceded by a cortege of servants, Tom arrives and is moved by Ann’s unexpected presence. But Baba the Turk brings him back to reality, as she complains for the stop. Tom must confess to Ann that the woman is his wife. As Ann leaves in a sorrow, Baba moves towards home, strutting about among a small crowd of curious people.
At Tom’s house, Baba is chattering, tireless and intolerant. A quarrel breaks out. She starts to break everything that comes at her hand, while Tom seeks refuge in his sadness. Nick Shadows arrives with a prodigious machine that is supposed to have the power of turning stones into bread. Tom gets interested in the discover and agrees in sponsoring its launching, in order to set the world free from hunger and pain.
Dust and cobwebs cover Tom’s house. Sellem, an auctioneer, is in charge of selling the furniture by auction. One exceptional “piece” is left: it’s Baba the Turk. Ann returns; Baba advises her to find Tom and to put him on the right track. Besides, Baba knows that the Funfair is her future.
At night, in a churchyard, Nick asks Tom the payment for his services. Nick doesn’t want money: he wants his friend’s soul and offers it as a prize in a game of cards. But Tom wins, thanks to Ann’s love, too. Nick sinks in the grave but succeeds in taking away Tom’s reason.
A patient in the mental hospital, Tom prepares the festivities for Venus, while other patients make fun of him. Ann arrives and visits him: put on the alert by the keeper, she has to pretend of being Venus and to call her boyfriend Adonis. The keeper introduces also Trulove, who tries to take away his daughter, rebuking her that “the story is over”. Tom feels that Death is coming. He invokes Orpheus to sing and invites the nymphs and the shepherds to cry on Adonis’ fate. Then he falls on the straw mattress. Before the curtain falls once and for all, Nick Shadows reappears, together with all the other characters, to tune up the moral of the story: the devil finds a job to all the idlers.