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.
Old Bellair—he is the father of Young Harry Bellair, brother of Lady Townley, and enamored of Emilia, to whom his son is betrothed without his knowledge and in defiance of his wish that he marry Harriet.
Young Harry Bellair—in defiance of his father’s wishes, he secretly marries Emilia while pretending to be in love with Harriet.
Belinda—she is in love with Dorimant.
Two Chairmen—they mistakenly carry Bellinda to Loveit’s after her meeting with Dorimant.
Mr. Dorimant—a promiscuous gentleman, he ends a liaison with Mrs. Loveit, seduces Bellinda, falls in love with and promises fidelity to Harriet, and ingratiates himself to Harriet’s mother, Lady Woodville, under the name of Courtage.
Emilia—she is in love with Young Bellair and is courted by his father.
Sir Fopling Flutter—foolishly vain about his appearance and his manners to the point of vulgarity, he courts Mrs. Loveit.
Harriet—Lady Woodville’s daughter, she is in love with Dorimant.
Mrs. Loveit—in love with Dorimant, she flirts with Sir Fopling Flutter in order to make Dorimant jealous and to take revenge after he breaks up with her.
Mr. Medley—a friend and confidant of Dorimant.
Pert—Lady Loveit’s maid.
Mr. Smirk—the Parson who marries Young Bellair and Emilia.
Lady Townley—Old Bellair’s sister, she helps the lovers in their rebellion against her brother.
Lady Woodville—Harriet’s mother, she fears her daughter will be seduced by Dorimant; she is charmed by him herself when he courts her as Mr. Courtage.
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Old Bellair is a lecherous man in his mid-fifties, accustomed to imposing his will upon others and being obeyed. He disregards Harry’s feelings about marriage, and he flirts with Emilia by disparaging her. But he is not a villain: when he realizes his will has been irreversibly thwarted he yields, even admiring his son’s pluck in standing up to him.
Young Harry Bellair, a companion to Dorimant and Medley, thus outwardly seeming to be a libertine, is a stalwart devotee of love and fidelity. He has the conviction to resist his father and the wit to fool him as he does.
Bellinda is a willing accomplice in Dorimant’s plot to inflame Mrs. Loveit’s jealousy because she loves Dorimant. She also senses that his love for her is lust rather than real love. Nevertheless, she yields to him. She sees that his behavior toward Loveit, even though she furthers it for her own self-interest, shows an ill-nature in him. She is clear-sighted but guided by passion.
Dorimant is a charming, witty libertine, whose major interest is to satisfy his appetite for pleasure. A man-about-town, he frequents theaters, parks, markets, and malls, and he is more concerned with the suave image he projects than with the substance of his character. Women are toys to enhance his self-delight and self-admiration. Once the novelty and intoxication of a romance wears off, after flirtation and seduction have succeeded, Dorimant’s excitement gives way to boredom and is stimulated by his need to escape the clutches of the woman he has professed to love and to conquer another one. Despite his deserved reputation as a rake, Dorimant seems to undergo a conversion after he meets Harriet. He renounces liberty and libertinism and promises to be true to and content with her, but there is some remaining ambiguity about his future relationship with both Loveit and Bellinda.
Emilia is an ingénue—pretty, innocent, true in her love, and with a touch of wit. She does not understand, as Townley does, that Old Bellair’s rebukes are flirtatious, but she is able to imitate his expressions playfully when Townley does.
Sir Fopling Flutter, a foolish dandy, is vain and self-indulgent. He has a taste for French manners and fashion, but his attempts to use French words make him ridiculous. His love of excess allows him to use a candelabra to light the way even in daylight. He represents all the characteristics of foppishness taken to their extreme, and his toast at the end of the first scene in Act IV provides a good picture of life among the Restoration dandies. He is, despite his foolishness, not entirely a fool. Although he pursues Mrs. Loveit, he senses her antipathy to him.
Harriet has a wild streak hidden by her seemingly demure manner. She pursues Dorimant’s acquaintance despite her mother’s objections and hides her attraction to him from her mother. She is levelheaded and independent; although she refuses to let her mother choose her husband, she will not disobey her and marry without her consent. She is a keen observer of social manners and knows what poses signify flirting, as she shows when she and Harry pretend to be lovers.
Mrs. Loveit loves Dorimant and is jealous of him when he neglects her and pursues other women. Her jealousy moves her to an anger equal to her love, and she tries to take vengeance against him, not just because of Dorimant’s infidelity but also because he tried to effect a breakup by foisting Fopling, whom she despises, off on her. She countered his trick by encouraging Fopling’s advances and making Dorimant look foolish. Despite her love for Dorimant, she refuses to see Fopling a third time and scorn him publicly in order to restore Dorimant’s pride.
Lady Townley, Old Bellair’s sister, is a sophisticated and liberal-minded woman who helps Harry and Emilia circumvent her brother’s opposition to their marriage. She understands that Old Bellair’s apparent expressions of disapproval for Emilia are actually expressions of fondness.
Lady Woodvill, Harriet’s mother, has never met Dorimant, but having heard of his reputation, she is dedicated to keeping her daughter from meeting him. She is an admirer of what she sees as the virtues of the past and condemns the license of the present. She succumbs to Dorimant’s charm when he undertakes to woo her as Mr. Courtage.