How do the prologue and epilogue inform the rest of the play?
The prologue tells the play's audience to avoid being hypocritical by censuring the play for things they accept in their daily lives. It says that playwrights get their material from the follies of the people they come into contact with, so what we are seeing on stage is a manifestation of our own foibles. The epilogue points to Fopling and says the audience should not laugh at him too much, as he represents all of us. Thus, both the prologue and epilogue are mildly didactic, as they inform the audience that they too must beware of artifice, superficiality, and pride. We should not point and laugh too much, as what we see on stage is not far from what we could see in a mirror.
Assess the degree to which the play is a satire.
The play satirizes the artificial mannerisms and modes of presentation of the genteel, in particular calling attention to their hypocrisy, boorishness, and insipidness. Sir Fopling Flutter is a satirical character because he is the grossest instance of one who lacks substance and pretends to be a great wit. Etherege also satirizes the games, plots, and ploys in the rituals of courtship and romance, showing them to be convoluted, cruel, and laborious at times. Despite these examples, however, the satire is lighthearted; it is not particularly damning. Etherege was part of the society he based his play on, and had no interest in cutting it to pieces. The audience finds themselves admiring the wit, vivacity, and sparkle of this play, even as they laugh at the commentary Etherege makes.
What makes the play a comedy?
Comedy's purpose, as Rose A. Zimbardo writes, is to "strip man of his pretentions to heroic singularity." There are not really any "heroes" in comedy because the medium makes the hero come back down to earth. Mankind does not conquer nature in comedy but instead is subjected to it. When someone "falls" in comedy, it's not in death, it's in romantic conquest. In this play, Dorimant is considered the hero, but Etherege makes it clear we should not admire him wholesale. By the end of the work, Dorimant does not continue on in his pride and rapaciousness but is instead humbled by love. He and all of the other characters are put in their place, their follies and foibles mocked and then appropriately mitigated. People get what they deserve, and Etherege makes sure it is very funny to watch.
Are we supposed to like Dorimant? Are we supposed to feel badly for Mrs. Loveit?
Dorimant certainly behaves badly; he's a lothario, prideful, and likes to stir up trouble because he is bored. Nevertheless, he is witty, genteel, well mannered, smart, and capable of conceding when he meets his match. He's not a hero we can admire like Odysseus or David Copperfield or Sherlock Holmes, but he nonetheless wins our grudging admiration. As for Mrs. Loveit, we feel badly for her to an extent. Dorimant uses her ill, but she is a raging, maniacal figure who does not know how to navigate the society in which she moves. Any pity we have for her evaporates with her histrionic reaction to being spurned, and we are amused when Harriet takes her down a peg before she slinks offstage.
Why has the play traditionally been called a "plot of characters" rather than a "plot of action"?
The play a very, very flimsy plot. There are a few points of tension: Will Dorimant win Harriet? Will Young Bellair and Emilia marry? What will happen with Dorimant and Mrs. Loveit and Belinda? Overall, however, the plot is thin. Some storylines are not related to others, such as Sir Fopling's, which has practically nothing to do with the other identified concerns. Thus, the characters of the play are the part that most absorbs us. We follow their intrigues, laugh at what they say, consider their merits and detractions, and revel in their interactions with each other. There is little suspense about the way things will work out, but there is great delight in following the dialogue between characters.