The play is centred on the two lovers Mirabell and Millamant (originally played by John Verbruggen and Anne Bracegirdle). In order for them to marry and receive Millamant's full dowry, Mirabell must receive the blessing of Millamant's aunt, Lady Wishfort. Unfortunately, she is a very bitter lady who despises Mirabell and wants her own nephew, Sir Wilfull, to wed Millamant.
Another character, Fainall, is having a secret affair with Mrs. Marwood, a friend of Mrs. Fainall's, who in turn once had an affair with Mirabell.
In the mean time, Mirabell's servant is married to Foible, Lady Wishfort's servant. Waitwell pretends to be Sir Rowland and, on Mirabell's command, tries to trick Lady Wishfort into a false engagement.