One morning, Dorimant is lounging in his room when an orange-woman appears. In the course of buying some fruit, Dorimant, who has a remarkable reputation as a lover, hears that a young woman of quality and fortune from the country had fallen in love with him at sight, despite her mother’s attempts to keep her daughter away from thoughts of loving any heartless man of the fashionable world. Although he is in the process of ending an affair with Lady Loveit and beginning a new one with Bellinda, Dorimant is interested. Shortly afterward he receives his friend Bellair, a fop who is very much in love with a young woman named Emilia and wishes to marry her instead of the wealthy bride his father has picked out for him. The father’s choice is Harriet, the young woman who was so taken with Dorimant.
To complicate matters for young Bellair, his father arrives in town to hasten the marriage. Lodging in the same house with Emilia and unaware of his son’s affection for her, the old gentleman has fallen in love with her and wishes to make her his own bride. Young Bellair, with the help of his aunt, Lady Townley, hopes to win his father’s consent to marrying Emilia.
Meanwhile, Lady Loveit is beside herself at the neglect she suffers at the hands of her lover. She complains bitterly to Bellinda, not knowing that it is Bellinda who has won the recent attentions of Dorimant and is about to become his mistress. True to his promise to Bellinda, Dorimant visits that afternoon and notifies Lady Loveit that he is finished with her. His action frightens Bellinda, although the deed was done at her request.
At Lady Woodvill’s lodgings that day, the lady herself is preparing Harriet to meet young Bellair, for Harriet’s mother is as anxious for the match as is his father. That Harriet does not wish to marry him makes little difference to the mother. When the two young people meet, they quickly confide their dislike of the match to each other. Then they proceed to play a mock love scene for the benefit of the parents, to throw them off the track.
That same afternoon, Bellinda and Dorimant meet at the home of Lady Townley. Dorimant makes Bellinda promise to have Lady Loveit walk on the Mall that evening so that Dorimant can confront her with Sir Fopling Flutter, a fool of a fop, and accuse her of being unfaithful. As they speak, Sir Fopling Flutter enters the company and then demonstrates what a fool he is by the oddities and fooleries of his dress, deportment, and speech.
That evening, young Bellair and Harriet go for a walk on the Mall. There they meet Dorimant, who is forced to leave when Harriet’s mother appears. Lady Loveit tries to make Dorimant jealous by flirting, but only succeeds in bringing Dorimant’s reproaches on her head.
Later that same...
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Dorimant, a London dandy with a great reputation as a lover. He brutally casts off one mistress for another. He masquerades part of the time as Courtage to hide his identity from Lady Woodvill, Harriet’s mother. As Courtage, he wins Lady Woodvill’s admiration, as a means of acquiring her consent to marry her daughter.
Sir Fopling Flutter
Sir Fopling Flutter, a foolish fop. He dresses, acts, and speaks foolishly.
Lady Loveit, Dorimant’s mistress. Tired of her, he tries to escape from the entanglement with her. She complains bitterly to Bellinda, not knowing that she is supplanted in Dorimant’s affections by Bellinda.
Bellinda, a beautiful woman who succeeds Lady Loveit as Dorimant’s mistress. She is as amoral as Lady Loveit and Dorimant. She does not mind Dorimant marrying Harriet as long as her love affair with him remains a secret.
Harriet, a beautiful, wealthy girl from the country. She is attracted to Dorimant, but she is the girl Old Bellair wants his son to marry. She is uninterested in marrying young Bellair and he is uninterested in marrying her. She is finally permitted to marry Dorimant.
Bellair, a London dandy and a friend of Dorimant. He wishes to marry Emilia, rather than Harriet, the woman his father has chosen for him. He marries Emilia without his father’s knowledge.
Old Bellair, Bellair’s father. He falls in love with Emilia, whom his son loves, and wants to marry her himself.
Lady Townley, young Bellair’s aunt. Bellair hopes she can help him win his father’s consent to marry Emilia.
Lady Woodvill, Harriet’s mother. She is eager for a marriage between her daughter and Bellair. Her main interest is in keeping her daughter from being seduced by Dorimant.
Emilia, a young woman whom Bellair hopes to marry. Old Bellair is also smitten and wants to marry her, not knowing of his son’s intentions. She and Bellair marry secretly before Old Bellair can intervene.