Willmore, the Rover, arrives in Naples where he meets his fellow exiles Blunt, Frederick, and Belvile. They begin rather aimless adventures in quest of pleasure. Although Willmore is an example of the appealing, energetic Restoration hero of wit, it is the women characters who, indirectly, control the action. Hellena, destined by her father for a convent, wishes another kind of life and is willing to venture into the carnival setting to seek it. Once she has seen Willmore, she decides to make him her husband, even if she must pursue him in disguise. In order to thwart his affair with Angellica, an aged former mistress of a Spanish general, she disguises herself as a page. Her sister Florinda has been promised, against her will, to Antonio. Florinda has been in love with Belvile since he saved her life and that of her brother Don Pedro during a battle. Despite numerous mishaps and mistakes that endanger her, she manages to win Belvile in the end. Both women achieve marriages that will assure financial independence and compatibility and will not require excessive emotional commitment.
Not all pleasure seeking, however, achieves its ends. Behn implies that the persons must possess some attractive qualities and panache. Blunt, crudely direct in his hedonism, finds himself deceived and robbed by a courtesan. He represents the naïve country squire of Restoration comedy, who becomes the butt of farcical humor. On the other hand, Willmore’s excesses—drunkenness, brawling, and promiscuity—are redeemed by his wit, savoir faire, and overall good nature.
The drama possesses an abundance of humor, sprightly wit, and farcical adventures. Although the celebration of loyalty may have been its greatest appeal for the Restoration audience, the drama is also noteworthy for its portrayal of strong-willed heroines who choose their own future and act to bring it about. The sequel, The Rovers: Or, The Banished Cavaliers, Part II (pr., pb. 1681) is generally regarded as inferior to the first part, although it is noteworthy for its use of two figures from commedia dell’arte: Harlequin and Scaramouche.