Don Antonio, a Spanish nobleman and the wealthy son of a Viceroy of Spain, has been betrothed to Florinda through an agreement with his good friend, Florinda's brother, Don Pedro. However, Don Antonio is intrigued with the courtesan, Angellica. It is apparent that if he marries Florinda as planned, he will keep Angellica as a mistress, too. Don Antonio fights with the English gentlemen over the right to visit Angellica and is wounded by Willmore in a brawl. Eventually, Don Antonio gives up his claim on Florinda and forms a bond with Angellica, whom he nobly undertakes to support after her career as a courtesan is ruined.
Belvile is an honorable and steadfast English colonel who fell in love with Florinda when he protected her from an attack during the siege of Pamplona. Belvile is one of many exiled Englishmen traveling around Europe during the Interregnum, the period after the beheading of Charles I and before the reinstatement of his son, Charles II. Unlike his English fellows, Belvile is not interested in any of the many courtesans in Naples, but pines away for his true love. He hopes to find her in Naples and marry her. However, it is Belvile's bad luck to get himself into countless situations that make it difficult for him to meet Florinda and elope with her as they had planned.
Angellica is a famous courtesan who at the time of the play's events has just lost her benefactor, Don Pedro's wealthy uncle, who had been paying her monthly expenses of 1,000 crowns. Now she is advertising for a new lover, so she has placed three portraits of herself on the outside of her palatial home, along with the price. Angellica is accustomed to a life of luxury, but she has paid for it by sacrificing her honor and virginity for the riches she extracts from the men who fall prey to her seductive beauty. For Angellica, being a courtesan is a matter of survival and independence; to fall in love would ruin her, for then she would be at the mercy of the men she uses. Unfortunately, she falls hopelessly in love with one of the worst sort of men, Captain Willmore, who wants only physical satisfaction and not a love relationship. After being "undone'' by Willmore, Don Antonio graciously offers to be her lifelong companion, thus removing her from the need to market her body.
Blunt is a country gentleman and not as sophisticated as his friend Belvile. His favorite oath, "adsheartlikins," gives him away as a landed country bumpkin, a stock character. Blunt foolishly believes that a courtesan has fallen in love with his manly physique, and thus he proves an easy mark for her ruse to take him to her house and defrock him of his valuables and clothing. Blunt fears that his friends will laugh at him for his misfortune, since he had bragged overmuch of his conquest before he went with the "wench." This fuels his desire for revenge, which he nearly takes upon Florinda, the next woman he meets in the street, whom he mistakes for a harlot and whom he intends to rape brutally to avenge his wounded pride. When his friends do in fact laugh at him, Blunt goes into a rage, spluttering that he is "not an ass to be laughed at.’’ He lacks their gentlemanly power of restraint and decorum. Blunt is further humiliated when, ironically, a local tailor sews him a Spanish costume, ‘‘the mode of a nation [he] abominate[s],’’ instead of a "proper" English one.
Callis is governess to Florinda and Hellena. She is sympathetic to their plights, and so she willingly assists them in deceiving their brother, Don Pedro, so that they can enjoy the carnival in Naples. They are not so loyal to her, however, for when Florinda decides to run away from her brother's home to find and marry Belvile, Valeria pushes Callis into a chest and locks her in to give Florinda time to escape. Neither Florinda nor Hellena shows any remorse for this subterfuge.
Florinda is the only pure and innocent young woman in the play....
(The entire section is 1,630 words.)