Author: The anonymous author of the work, presumably a man.
Florinda: A good noblewoman who is supposed to marry a rich, old fool (Don Vincentio) but is in love with a young gallant (Belvile).
Hellena: Florinda's sister, who resists the decree that she should go to a nunnery.
Don Vincentio: The wealthy young man Florinda is supposed to marry.
Don Belvile: A young English colonel who is in love with Florinda but has no money.
Don Pedro: A young man who is friends with Florinda and Hellena's father, who would like to thwart Florinda's intended marriage.
Stephano: Servant to Don Pedro.
Callis: Governess of Florinda and Hellena.
Antonio: Don Pedro's friend, a gallant young man and son of the Viceroy, who would like to marry Florinda.
Frederick: A friend and traveling companion of Belvile and Blunt.
Blunt: An Englishman and gentleman buffoon traveling with Belvile and Blunt.
Angelica: The widow of a Spanish general, now turned whore.
Lucetta: A girl hoping to profit through rich men.
Sancho: Lucetta's seeming pimp.
Aphra Behn's Restoration comedy The Rover begins with a prologue defending the writer. The byline declares that the Prologue has been written by a "person of quality," and the Prologue goes on to say that everyone has different tastes, and that while the theater's "in-group" will probably hate the play, that does not mean that it's a bad play. The Prologue reads as if its writer has received bad reviews and now chastises reviewers and audiences alike for not judging a play based on its own merits. It concludes by declaring that playwrights labor over every line of their work in order to create truly realistic dialogue and situations, so a successful play is one in which the characters' reactions and the plot are familiar to all. The writer further tells the audience that they are present not because they seek refined works of high quality, but because they prefer plays stuffed with jokes and dissipation, and that that is what the anonymous author of the play—a "he," according to the Prologue—has attempted to provide.
The action opens with Florinda chastising Hellena for her endless questions about love and lovers. Florinda reminds Hellena she is nunnery-bound and should not consider such questions, and Hellena responds even more impertinently that she aims to find a lover and free herself from the yoke of religious life during the Carnival. In Naples, Carnival time provides an outlet for repressed upper classes to wear masks and wander the streets flirting (and more) with other masked people. Social strata fade away, and nearly everyone can be found on the streets drinking and cavorting. Hellena intends to use this opportunity to avoid being recognized on the streets as the young noblewoman who intended for a religious life, and to find someone to help her explore her desires and hopefully aid her in escaping the nunnery entirely. The conversation reveals that Florinda is in love with a young English colonel, Don Belvile. Florinda declares that she hates her rich fiancée and will not marry him, and Hellena cheers this disobedient attitude.
Don Pedro, his servant Callis, and Stephano enter while readying themselves in masks for the streets. Don Pedro flirts with Florinda even as he conveys her father's wishes that she respect Vincentio and his fortune. Florinda blushes at the mention of Belvile and then must defend her honor, saying that she has a fondness for him but nothing more. Hellena fiercely criticizes the decreed confinement of herself and Florinda, despite Pedro's quiet recriminations. When Don Pedro points out that Florinda will still obediently wed whom she is told, Hellena explodes with wrath at the idea of marrying such a beautiful, spirited woman to a cripple for the sake of money, security and reputation.
Don Pedro orders Callis to lock Hellena up until she's sent to the convent, as he is tired of her wayward behavior. Don Pedro's reminder of her fate causes Hellena to make an aside to the audience saying she's still intending to find a fellow this Carnival, thereby escaping her fate. Before leaving for the celebrations, Don Pedro urges Florinda to marry his good friend Antonio, and he suggests the wedding date for the very next day. Don Pedro reveals that he hates Don Vincentio as much as he loves Antonio, and that is why he urges such disobedient behavior. Florinda seems to acquiesce as Don Pedro and Stephano (who has been silent throughout this conversation) leave for the party.
Hellena turns upon Florinda for denying her true love, Belvile, but Florinda points out that she has no argument against a young, rich, handsome man. Shifting gears, Hellena begs Callis to allow the sisters a last gasp of freedom by letting them attend the Carnival. Hellena points out that no one would know because of the masks. Hellena persuades...