The play is set in Naples and opens as three kinswomen of noble birth and Spanish heritage discuss the thrills associated with the pursuit of love. Florinda is in love with the English Colonel Belvile, but has been promised by her father to a rich old man she despises. Florinda’s brother, Don Pedro, is equally determined to marry her off to his wealthy young friend Don Antonio. Florinda laments her fate, and receives support from her sister Hellena, who is destined to be a nun – also against her own inclination. The three women decide to have some fun while they can, and ramble out of the house to enjoy the festivities of the Italian Carnevale.
Enter three English Cavaliers. Frederick and Blunt are intent on finding willing female companions, but their friend Belvile is heartsick over Florinda and eschews all other women. The men are quickly intercepted by a fourth comrade, the English sea captain Willmore – The
Rover indicated in the title. Willmore, by his own admittance, is a philandering womanizer, given to drink and mischief making. The famous and beautiful courtesan, Angelica Bianca comes to Naples. Both Pedro and Antonio, as well as Willmore, become rivals in pursuit of her attention.
As the various characters engage in the Carnevale festivities, masks are donned, kisses are exchanged and swords are crossed. In the end some characters are wounded in body, some in pride, and some by Cupid’s arrows. Those who are true to their own nature, in defiance of societal convention, are the ones who prevail.