The Duality of the Libertine Philosophy in Aphra Behn’s The Rover

First performed in 1677, The Rover captures and explores the Libertine philosophy through the words and actions of Cavalier characters. The playwright, Aphra Behn, seems to hold contradicting vindications in this work: a rewarding look at the Libertine lifestyle and a call to arms against the misogyny exhibited by the Libertines in the play. These contradicting messages come together, however, when one reviews the complete philosophy that Behn holds in the work. Throughout The Rover, Aphra Behn expresses both approval and disapproval of the Libertine lifestyle by rewarding the sexual promiscuity exhibited by her male Libertine characters, but punishing, however subtly, the misogynistic violence and hypocrisy towards the female characters that the Libertines also take part in.

Behn identifies Libertine characters in her work by their promiscuous actions and words. Hellena describes the behaviors of Willmore for us when she says, “Well, I see our business as well as humours are alike: yours to cozen as many maids as will trust you, and I as many men as have faith” (Behn 36). This is setting up the promiscuous characteristic of the Libertines, which is validified when Willmore says to Angellica, “By heaven thou’rt brave, and I admire thee strangely / I wish I were that dull, that constant thing / Which thou wouldst have, and nature never meant me: / I must, like the cheerful birds, sing in all groves, / And perch on every bough, / Billing the next kind she that flies to meet me; / Yet, after all, could build my nest with thee, / Thither repairing when I’d loved my round, / And still reserve a tributary flame” (Behn 78).The Libertine characters also express vocal disapproval of marriage, which explains why they value free sex and promiscuity so deeply. We see this when Willmore says, “All the honey of matrimony, but none of the sting, friend” (Behn 34). Willmore is explicitly saying sex outside of marriage is better because there are no marital responsibilities to uphold. Behn also includes threats of sexual violence towards women and the dehumanization of women as part of the promiscuity of her male Libertine characters.

The Libertine characters (and Blunt, who is somewhat of a Libertine groupie) exercise threat of violence towards their love interests in many places throughout the text. Belville exhibits this violent streak when he says to Florinda when she attempts to refuse his advances in the garden, “Come, no struggling to be gone; but an y’are good at a dumb wrestle, I’m for ye, look ye, I’m for ye” (Behn 45). Belville ignores her nonconsent and threatens to have sex with her regardless of whether she struggles or not. The character Blunt, after finding Florinda in the street, threatens this: “I will kiss and beat thee all over; kiss, and see thee all over; thou shalt lie with me too, not that I care for the enjoyment, but to let thee see that I have ta’en deliberate malice to thee, and will be revenged on one whore for the sins of another. I will smile and deceive thee, flatter thee, and beat thee, kiss and swear, and lie thee, embrace thee and rob thee, as she did me; fawn on thee, and strip thee stark naked, then hang thee out at my window by the heels, with a paper of scurvy verses fastened to thy breasts, in praise of damnable women” (Behn 67).This unwarranted threat of extreme degradation towards Florinda comes not from anything she herself did, but from the lifestyle that Blunt is living. Pedro says about Florinda when she is trapped between in the hands of Libertines, “I am better bred, than not to leave her choice free” (Behn 73). By saying that the only choice Florinda has in her rape is what man can rape her, and then the underlying threat all the men will rape her no matter who she chooses is an example of how violent these men act. This kind of threat of sexual action without the woman’s consent or choice is characteristic of the Libertines in the play. We see an example of the dehumanization when Blunt says, “Our cupids are like the cooks of the camp: they can roast or boil a woman, but they have none of the fine tricks to set ‘em off, no hogoes to make the sauce pleasant and the stomach sharp” (Behn 10). By comparing women to meat, and even food, Blunt is reinforcing the lifestyle of using women up that his colleagues and himself lead. She includes these examples of sexual violence to emphasize the lack of choice or freedom that the women in her work have. By identifying which characters represent Libertines and inscribing their beliefs into their words and actions, Behn enables the reader to then question whether her work is attempting to validate Libertine philosophy, deconstruct the lifestyle, or perform a mixture of both.

When one asks whether or not Behn approves of the Libertine philosophy in this work, one has to be open to receiving a complex answer. Behn seems to approve of the lifestyle when she makes the Libertine men criticize Blunt, who can be described as a Roundhead, by mocking him for being a fool; “I hope ‘tis some common crafty sinner, one that will fit him. It may be she’ll sell him for Peru; the rogue’s sturdy, and would work well in a mine” (Behn 17). By emphasizing the foolery of one who participates in Libertine behavior, but doesn’t outwardly call himself that, Behn is placing the other Libertine men in a more honorable, in a limited sense, light. The ending is also somewhat of an approval of the Libertine ways. Belville says, “Faith, sir, I am as much surprised at this as you can be. Yet, sir, my friends are gentlemen, and ought to be esteemed for their misfortunes, since they have the glory to suffer with the best of men and kings: ‘tis true, he’s a rover of fortune, Yet a prince, aboard his little wood world” (Behn 83). This introduces the ending where the Libertine men are rewarded for the sexual plot of the play.

This happy ending, however, may be used as evidence for Behn’s disapproval of the Libertines. Behn subtly critiques the Libertines with her use of female characters and the creation of the situations her male characters get into while in pursuit of those female characters. The before-mention ending is quite a happy one for the male characters, but it leaves a slightly unsavory taste in the reader’s mouth. The reason for this is the misogyny that Behn includes in the actions and the speech of the male characters. If she approves of the ideas behind the Libertine lifestyle, she seemingly disapproves of the misogynistic habits that Libertines, at least the ones in her play, practice. These disapproval of misogynistic behavior is seen in two ways. The first way is by giving her female characters a sense of individual agency to argue back against the ways of the men. Hellena expresses this when she responds to Willmore, “Why must we be either guilty of fornication or murder if we converse with you men? And is there no difference between leave to love me, and leave to lie with me?” (Behn 15). Behn uses this response as an example of slight criticism towards the misogyny of the Libertines. A sense of agency can be seen also when Hellena says to Florinda, “Like me! I don’t intended every he that likes me shall have me, but he that I like” (Behn 33). Florinda saying that she doesn’t intende to let any man have her, but instead choose who she has sex with, Behn is proposing an answer to the problem of misogyny within the lifestyle. Another way Behn expresses disapproval of the misogyny the men in her work prey upon is by putting the Libertines in humiliating or degrading situations because of their ruthless pursuit of the women. The most obvious scene in this way would be when Pedro and the other men are threatening to rape Florinda, and the audience knows that Pedro would be committing incest and he does not. His ignorance is due to his lack of acknowledgement towards women’s consent and voice. Behn includes this to say that misogyny doesn’t work in the Libertine lifestyle.

It should be evident that, in The Rover, Behn expresses an approval for the underlying Libertine philosophy and yet a disapproval for the misogynistic behaviors of her Libertine characters; now, one can ask what Behn writes as the answer for this disparity in the Libertine lifestyle. We see in the examples set up beforehand in this paper and in other times throughout her text that Behn believes that fixing this misogynistic strain in the lifestyle and allowing women the same freedom and ability to choose with sex is the answer for a truly happy ending for all the characters involved. It is clear now that Behn is critiquing the Libertine philosophy while she is celebrating it. She can only do this to a limited extent, however, since her very audience is made up of mostly Libertines. She subtly criticizes the lifestyle in order to both make a living from her writing and to get the Libertines to actually listen to her message. The very fact that the characters at hand are actually Cavaliers representing Libertines works for her benefit because if a Libertine was to catch onto the subtle criticism and rouse an argument against her work, she could use the excuse that the characters are not actually Libertines.

Aphra Behn wrote The Rover in an effort to address three different ends. Firstly, she wrote the play to entertain her Libertine audience. Secondly, she wrote it to display the lifestyle in an artistic fashion. Lastly, Behn used the play to both approve of the Libertine philosophy and criticize the misogyny practiced by its followers. She displays the lifestyle by creating sexual promiscious characters that consider themselves “Cavaliers” of their time, and she includes women who are both victims of these men and agents fighting against the misogyny presented by these men to subtly criticize the way Libertines in her time treat women’s choice and freedom.

Works Cited

Behn, Aphra. The Rover and Other Plays. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. Print.

Sex and Sexuality in the Rover

Sex and sexuality as historical constructs acquired new meanings in the Restoration, with them becoming the essential components of the economy of exchange. Situated amidst the popular libertine culture, the ideals of love, virtue and more importantly, the image of the woman was being redrawn, with her sexuality and resulting autonomy being redefined. Dithering ambiguity ruled over the question of the ownership of a woman’s body, be it a virgin or a whore. The power structures within the Restoration society were gradually changing due to the heavily influential trading economy and the transformed ‘gaze’. This essay will try to analyse how the ‘Repressive Hypothesis’, as Foucault calls it ends up inciting a discourse centred on sexuality, backed by the changes in ‘the gaze’ and thus, the resulting ethos. The libertine culture contributed much to the rise of prostitution as an active economic activity. Keeping that in mind, the essay will attempt to trace how the constructs of sex and sexuality in a trading economy, firmly enmeshed in power structures determine the identity of a woman, her sexuality and autonomy.

Sexuality in the seventeenth century constantly oscillates between free expression and forceful repression, entrenched in the volatile structures of power. It has been contended that this period saw the rise of repression against sexuality, on the backdrop of the rise of capitalism. The nature of sex changed from being a potentially productive activity to a pleasurably commercial activity, one which sustained the economy of exchange. The repression incited productive discourses on sexuality too, which the Restoration theatre faithfully exhibited.

Most Restoration plays, be it a comedy or a tragedy border on a morbid obsession with sex and sexuality. The early Restoration plays are about libertines and their excessively sexual, ecstatic lives. However, it isn’t as if the excessive display of sexuality on stage or moral diatribes against such excesses popped up suddenly. The presence of these conflicting forces can be attributed to the court politics of Charles II, the Merry Monarch of the Restoration. His merry-making was faithfully imitated by many of his followers, who lived their lives like Willmore, the Rover. Needless to say, such a pleasurable existence was despised by many citizens, primarily for its immorality and for the extravagant spending of public funds.

There is indeed a backlash to the Restoration’s libertine values, the most popular tirade(possibly Puritan) against it being Jeremy Collier’s A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage in 1698. In it, Collier denounces ‘their Smuttiness of Expression; Their Swearing, Profainness, and Lewd Application of Scripture…Their making their Top Characters Libertines and giving them Success in their Debauchery…the Rankness and Indecency of their Language’.[1]

Such a backlash as an evident repression also brings about the desire to talk about sex, albeit in a controlled discourse. There is a gradual transition in terms of how the discourse on sexuality operated, from focusing on its productive role[2] to a profitable, commercial role. Though it is not the focus of our discussion, it is important to note that at this juncture, the categories of sexuality opened up and many deviant types were sleekly accepted into the current spectrum.

Sexuality as a term can be defined as the sexual receptivity or interest of an individual. Interestingly, the seventeenth century seems to have had no moral scruples, since it boats of a reasonable frankness regarding sex and sexuality of its society[3]. Though The Rover doesn’t even once mention the word ‘Sex’ meaning copulation[4], the idea is quite warmly ‘in the air’, harping on everyone’s mind, be it the characters, actors or the spectators themselves. Indeed, the Restoration stage was quite familiar with illicit gestures, revolutionary transgressions and freer discourse. The ‘bodies’ on the stage would be on display as an alluring act.

As the act of ‘sex’ was integrated into the circuits of profit and production, the prostitute occupying the threshold space begins to be an active participant in the economy. Sexuality as a construct of power dynamics conjoined with money evolves around the prostitute, client and the pimp and around the lover, the beloved and the estates attached. Angelica selling herself for a thousand crowns and Hellena proposing to use her money to marry threatens to erase any difference between them. So does the incident concerning Willmore and Florinda, when he thinks of Florinda as a prostitute and so, pays her a pistole as advance payment for the services she is going to render. For Willmore, any woman is to be taken and exploited if she ‘looks available’[5] and can be monetarily compensated.

The ‘Repressive Hypothesis’ as termed by Foucault has been the fundamental link between power, knowledge and sexuality. The suppression of any expression brings out an opposite reaction in the form of a controlled rebellion. This is self-evident from Florinda and Hellena’s life in The Rover and how they attempt to achieve some freedom, thought the nature of that freedom achieved is debatable. The play begins with Hellena being refused knowledge about the life of lovers, just because she is going to enter the nunnery. She persists, discursively bargaining with Florinda and actively participating in a discussion about marriage and its aftermath, savouring every minute detail.[6] Moreover, Hellena is determined to fall in love and marry, not waste away her treasures in the nunnery. When she meets Willmore, Hellena is quite sure about the power she wields over him; she has won him over with her thriving sexuality, but just that wouldn’t sustain their relationship. Willmore being a Rover would certainly seize the opportunity to jump over to another ship whenever possible. The only way she discovers to keep him tied down is to marry him, though whether that is a permanent, valid solution is left unanswered.[7]

If one thinks about the nature of repression visible in the text, it is mainly in terms of suppressing the freedom of women and exploiting their sexuality. Any such suppression is battled by speaking about it and thus, defying authority and hoping for freedom in the future. In Act I of the play, Hellena’s erotically charged diatribe against Florinda marrying Don Vincentio, the old Sir Fifty for mere jointure is met with nonchalant, yet smothering responses from Don Pedro. For all she says against the match, Don Pedro just replies with ‘Very Well’ and ‘Have you done yet?’[8] In the end, he terms her a wildcat and orders her to be locked up till the Carnival ends. Hellena, by disregarding the nunnery is looking forward to sexual freedom and autonomy in the near future. For that very purpose, her dialogues are extensively pepped with erotic overtones and carnal pleasures implicitly implied. She thus attempts to establish herself outside the reach of power, yet be the one wielding power in any relationship.

However, for the hegemonic, masculinistic forces operating in the play, it is of essence to gain mastery over any such attempts to freedom. For that very purpose, they begin subjugating the ideal of freedom at the level of language, controlling free speech and facile claims to autonomy or even identity of the self.[9] Willmore’s encounter with Florinda in Act III would be a good example. Florinda appears in the garden in an undress, waiting for Belvile; Willmore enters the garden first, drunk and takes Florinda to be a whore, whom he can sleep with. Inspite of her protests, he is determined to enjoy her there and then. Her threats of calling out for help or calling out rape are ignored, as Willmore highlights the pitiful position she is in. At that moment, she is not Florinda, but a woman who kept the door open and so was clearly inviting clients to enter.[10] Willmore is discursively obliterating Florinda’s identity as a chaste woman and gradually pushing her to the position of a whore, who can be bought for a pistole.

As the dichotomy between repression and expression is explored through multiple heated exchanges in the play, it ends up evoking an intensified form of revolutionary speech, often optimistic. It is backed by reason and a ferocious expression of implied autonomy. This is evident in Act V when Hellena defends her choice of refusing the divine nunnery and choosing a debauched life. She argues for spending her inheritance of three hundred thousand crowns on her love life than lifeless religion.[11] She thus attempts to express her autonomy amidst a hostile atmosphere of repression.

The Restoration saw many changes occur in terms of gender and the resulting power dynamics. There evolved a clearer distinction between men and women and their roles in both public and private spheres. At this juncture, the men began seeing themselves as a group ‘as men’, along with a gradual shift from Renaissance paternal patriarchy to a fraternal patriarchy.[12] Masculine authority underwent structural changes, shifting from the man as the figurehead of the family to the man as a leader sharing power. The categorization of gender led to the development of a homo-social group[13], further leading to the domination of masculine figures in the public sphere and the pushing of the feminine into the private domain. This is perhaps the reason why most women of that period were inherently (and legitimately) obsessed with accessing the public domain.

During the Restoration, comedy as a genre develops around sexuality too, with an unusual fascination for focusing on prostitution. Sexual intrigue is at its best, as the construct of the masculine and the feminine breaks up into multiple varied identities. The Rover is itself constructed out of these multiple identities of both men and women and how these identities are often blurred. Willmore is perhaps the most constant Constant[14] as he himself proclaims, remaining the libertine he is till the play ends. Belvile remains the quintessential, benevolent Renaissance lover while Blunt, the dull believing country fop realizes that he has been cheated due to his naïve character, and thus begins suspecting every woman[15]. Amongst the women, it becomes hard to distinguish between the virgin and the whore as the play progresses. Florinda is taken for a prostitute twice, while Angellica desires to rise above being a whore, having lost her heart to the English Piccaroon.

The various models of sexuality in the play are quite evident the way they are visually represented on stage. It had become important for certain characters to be dressed lavishly, to let the spectators focus on their bodies, which is a role for most women. They had to attempt to be the focus of ‘the gaze’, to be deemed marketable and have a profitable value. It is the role of the prostitute, whose portraits are hung outside her apartment, to entice customers. The portraits are in Simulacrum, acquiring an identity of their own away from the original copy, the prostitute herself. The clients will decide whether the thousand crowns are to be paid, depending upon the attractiveness of the portraits. As noticed, both Willmore and Pedro are enticed by the portraits, willing to pay the amount required.[16]

The way the actors[17] are dressed or positioned on stage decides their image and in turn, their sexuality. Florinda’s identity as a chaste woman is erased when she is in undress[18], or when she is masked[19], pushing her to the position of a whore. Both Willmore and Don Pedro seek access to her body, even though it might be against her wishes. Another worthy example of how sexuality is visually expressed would be the Fop in any Restoration play. He is usually dressed extravagantly, with numerous physical embellishments, as the courtiers in the old Renaissance plays used to dress.[20] The Fop is often associated with an outdated model of masculinity and a current form of femininity since he desires to attract ‘the gaze’, which is the sole role of any woman in the exchange economy. In contrast, the other ‘masculine’ men appear dressed simply, even for a carnival. There is a gradual emasculation of the Fop, which separates him from any other male character. In The Rover, Blunt is quite fascinated with his physical appearance and is flattered when he presumes that Lucetta has fallen for him.[21] Blunt desires to be looked at rather than looking, which has long become a clichéd feminine pursuit.[22]

The ‘gaze’ in the Restoration, along with its power dynamics is closely linked to the induction of the female actress on stage.[23] Any female actress or even a female playwright was deemed to possess a freer sexuality. For the female playwright, putting out her work in the public domain and commercially engaging with it was equal to selling herself. If the playwright be married and was writing, it amounted to adultery, since she was sharing what was her husband’s private property, albeit intellectual. [24]In most cases, the female playwright would be placed in an equal position to that of a prostitute. Similarly, even the female actresses were often attacked vitriolically by sexuality, termed as overtly promiscuous and deemed shameless whores. Even men who acted were suspected of compromising with their sexuality. [25]

The gaze as a gendered construct is a legacy inherited from the Renaissance; however there has been a transition in the position of the object of the gaze, from a masculinistic to a feminized one.[26] In the Renaissance, boy actors used to enact the female characters in the play, the audience being cognizant of that fact, yet comfortably ignoring it. The theatre used to focus on what the body produces, in terms of expressions and emotions. Since it was a boy-actor masquerading as a woman, there was less attention paid to the physical attributes; sexual, materialistic descriptions of either men or women are hard to be found. Even the most sexualised characters in the Renaissance, like Cleopatra from Antony and Cleopatra are scantily described (physically), with negligible materialist, sexual overtones. However, as one shifts to the Restoration, there’s a deluge of physical representation, focusing on what the body is [27]and suppressing the abstract. This is more applicable to the women, since there is a gradual and intensified visual fetishization of the female body. The women in The Rover are visually objectified, in terms of their physical attributes and the pleasures they might possible beget for the men. They are seemingly valued by their ‘exchange’ and ‘use’ value. Angellica and her portraits are at the extreme end of the spectrum, with intense visual objectification and an indication of active participation in the trading economy. Moreover, the transition of ‘the gaze’ has both effected a differing identification of the masculine and the feminine, but consequently blurred the contradictions within. In the play, Angellica is the inaccessible prostitute, but once she begins loving Willmore, which is quite uncharacteristic of women in her profession, Willmore becomes the inaccessible lover.[28] There is an active reconfiguration of the scopic economy in the play, as Angellica attempts to attain Willmore bywinning him over with her love.

Moreover, if we attempt to answer the question of the supposed excess of sexual display on the Restoration stage in relation to the repressive hypothesis, one can possibly connect it to the itemization of the female actress’s body. In sync with the gradual commodification of sexuality, the materiality of the female body is emphasised upon, to perhaps stress upon the authenticity of the actress playing the role.[29] Also, the actress’s sexuality is closely linked to her professional identity. Thus, the emergence of the female actress on stage along with the gradual materiality of sexuality helps trace the transition of the ‘gaze’ as a gendered construct.

The Rover as a play primarily sustains itself on the economy of exchange, with sexual relationships as its legal trading currency. Set amidst a carnival, the play functions with men as the traders, cleverly bargaining to bag the best offer possible, while the women function and rebel against being the object of the gaze[30]. However, these positions are fluid enough to create a chaotic plot, with multiple constructs being defined and redefined. The traditional rhetoric of love is gently trashed, though not completely disregarded while desire,[31] conjoined with a profitable exchange is pushed to the fore as an influencing factor. Though Belvile and Florinda plead loyalty to being quintessential Renaissance lovers, their relationship would be thought of as an outdated one. Belvile’s nuanced musings concerning Florinda and his supposedly romantic antics would probably amuse the audience but not connect emotionally with them. Florinda’s stressing of chaste love subsuming any considerations of money[32] in a purely commercialized market would be thought of as immature.[33] In the Restoration, the material and sexual considerations underline the ethereal qualities of love.[34] Willmore is the expert player, evading marriage, advocating temporary liaisons which prove profitable and includes choosing the right woman due to her firm financial background.[35]

The power dynamics in the economy of exchange banks on two social institutions, prostitution and marriage. Both men and women were looked upon as a medium of sustaining oneself economically, as Florinda is to be betrothed for a jointure while Willmore is all the more attracted to Hellena after he learns of her being worth two hundred thousand crowns. [36] As is Willmore, the libertines with their extravagant sexual tastes and lifestyles would often slump to the lower end of the economic spectrum. To improve their financial standing and to further fund their sexual exploits, they search for women to be in a relationship with. In a fit of love, Angellica provides Willmore with five hundred crowns[37], which he presumably spends on other women, but doesn’t reciprocate the love he receives from her. As Moretta curtly observes, Willmore would have remained chained to Angellica, provided he had remained poor. However, after having been rendered with sufficient funds, he moves on to the next woman.

The other institution that sustained the economy of exchange was prostitution, as a profession and a flourishing trade. It was majorly attached to the sale of the woman’s body and the pleasures attached to it. Though prostitution as a trade had been prevalent for ages, the Restoration saw it evolve as one of the important economic activities, possibly due to the promoted rise in the number of libertines. Complicit with the rise in rakes was perhaps the rise in the number of prostitutes, who could be relished for money and yet, didn’t carry any horrid baggage of relationships.

In the economy of exchange, the prostitute operates as the primary commodity, up for trade, with her identity being pushed to the background. Her image is constructed by men, her clients and herself; out of the contradictions amongst the two evolves the true, money-minded prostitute. Plainly put, she is a woman, receptive to the lascivious approaches by men, provided they can pay the stated price. Her identity as a woman is non-existent, as we see in the encounter between Willmore and Florinda.[38] Willmore sees her as a woman, who had kept the door open and so, she is open to being taken, even though Florinda professes to be virtuous and not a whore. The mention of rape worsens the situation, as it essentially means that the woman’s desire, be it a prostitute or not, doesn’t matter for the libertine if he can pay for the sexual services she renders. (Perhaps, not every prostitute can afford to choose her clients like Angellica does.) This complicates the idea of the ownership of a woman’s body and the autonomy that Behn’s heroines attempt to express throughout the play.

The Restoration stage had problematized the ideals of ‘virtue’ and ‘chastity’, the identity of a woman as a virgin or a whore was ever ambiguous, being always on the periphery of either category. Moreover, it was perhaps possible to shift from one category to another, but not without any massive repercussions. Angellic[39]a, despite being a prostitute professes love for Willmore, a quirky and dangerous characteristic for any woman of her profession. That renders her helpless and deprives her of the power she earlier used to wield over Willmore and the other men. As she shifts from the position of the object of the gaze, her market value continues to decline. The end of the play doesn’t suggest any worthwhile existence for Angellica, with Antonio professing his desire for her and him probably as her next lover, while she pines away for Willmore.

It appears as if the prostitute in an exchange economy can only wield power, though facile in a libertine culture if she manages to remain sexually desirable, emotionally aloof and economically shrewd. She would then be able to choose her own clients and fix her own rate. However, this is all more of hypothetical power, far from reality perhaps. The play and the Restoration stage itself seem to suggest that she becomes a free-floating commodity, losing her autonomy as she pledges her body in the market for sale and circulation. Her life is stuck with moving on from one lover to the other, latched to a masculine figure for her economic and physical existence. If such is her pitiful existence, forever engrossed in balancing acts, is then prostitution an act of role-playing?

The ‘Finis’ of the play questions and contradicts the very economy of exchange by which it operates. At the beginning, most of the characters swear to be Homo Economicus[40], as rational humans, pursuing their ends intently in the economy; be it Angellica, Willmore or even Hellena. But, as the curtains drop, the situations have been reversed. Despite having been an astute prostitute, Angellica falls in love with Willmore thus depreciating her value in the market herself. When rejected by that libertine, she goes off with Antonio, one of her lovers and would probably live as a parasite on numerous estates thereafter.[41] Willmore chooses Hellena for her money and agrees to be bound by the institution of marriage, perhaps not considering whether that will hinder his existence as a libertine.[42] Having desired to ramble in life[43], Hellena chooses Willmore as her companion, that inconstant libertine, who attempts his best to avoid any institutionalizing of their relationship. Agreed that persuading Willmore to marry her is a masterstroke, which perhaps provides her with a secure future, but her choice itself mightn’t necessarily be the wisest one.

The Rover as a play is thus riddled with numerous complications arising out of an active engagement with the economy of exchange. The constructs of sex and sexuality have evolved and possess new identities in the Restoration. Along with the incitement to discourse about sexuality is the intense repression of it, albeit through the market. The women in the play attempt to explicitly express their desires and struggle to be autonomous. But, if analysed closely, it is a farce. The sexualities of the women are being brutally exploited, their bodies being itemized by ‘the gaze’ and their identities obliterated beyond recognition. Moreover, the solutions adopted by the women, in fact, subvert their autonomy. The supposed repressive hypothesis along with the strong influence of a materialist economy evokes the active stimulation and voracious display of bodies[44], while obscuring identities and pushed the structures of power into total disarray. The conclusion of the play leaves us with multiple questions, regarding the social position of the woman, either as a virgin or as a whore and her autonomy along with the nature of sexuality itself. The economy of exchange seems to be juggling with the power structures while closely engaging with the ‘gaze’ and the very nature of the trading market when aligned with sexuality. In the end, it becomes difficult to wrench out anything from the ensuing chaos, since nothing seems to be constant like Willmore is.

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Notes

·Behn, Aphra. The Rover. Worldview, 2016. Print.

· Foucault, Michel, and Robert Hurley. “We “Other Victorians”” The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage, 1988. 1-14. Print.

· Foucault, Michel, and Robert Hurley. “The Repressive Hypothesis.” The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage, 1988. 15-50. Print.

· Corman, Brian. “Comedy.” The Cambridge Companion to English Restoration Theatre. By Deborah Payne Fisk. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2000. 52-69. Print.

·J. Owen, Susan. “Sexual Politics and Party in Aphra Behn’s. Plays of the Exclusion Crisis.” (1994): 37-47. Print.

· Novak, Maximillian E. “Libertinism and Sexuality.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 53-68. Print.

· Rosenthal, Laura J. “Masculinity in Restoration Drama.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 92-108. Print.

. Fisk, Deborah Payne. “The Restoration Actress.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 69-92. Print.

Footnotes [1] Collier, Jeremy. “A Short View of the Immorality, and Profaneness of the English Stage.”Web. 20 Mar. 2016.[2] It would be appropriate to term it as ‘a familial role’, to provide the family with an heir. The very act of sex wasn’t seen as a ‘purely’ pleasurable act, rather it was a strictly formal procedure to gain respectable acceptance to the society. [3] Foucault, Michel, and Robert Hurley. “We “Other Victorians”” The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage, 1988. 1-14. Print.[4] There is slight ambiguity regarding the period when the word ‘Sex’ meaning copulation originated, though dictionaries place it at 1350-1400.Moreover, to clarify, the word ‘Sex’ is used in the play, but only in terms of gender, not the act. (…I love Mischief strangely, as most of our Sex do… (1.1.26))[5] 3.5.30-70[6] 1.1.121-28 & 1.1.30-34[7] Rover Part II talks about Willmore’s exploits after Hellena’s death, but there isn’t any details about their private life.[8] 1.1.117/1.1.23[9] This is an extension of Foucault’s argument regarding Sex – ‘…As if in order to gain mastery over it(Sex) in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said…’[10] ‘What, I’ll warrant you would fain have the World believe now that you are not so forward as I. No, not you,- why at this time of Night was your Cobweb-door set open, dear Spider- but to catch Flies?’ (3.5.56-60)[11] 5.1.535-539[12] Rosenthal, Laura J. “Masculinity in Restoration Drama.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 92-108. Print[13] Along with the emergence of the homo-social group, there is a realization of it rupturing, as it happens in Act III, Scene 6. The sharing of women within the group can happens only through discourse, however Willmore almost rapes Florinda, thus leading to the rupturing of the group.[14] ‘I am call’d Robert the Constant.’(5.1.491)[15] He remains the Fop at the end of the play too, entering the stage as ‘an odd figure…dressed in a Spanish habit…’ (5.1.558/5.1.560)[16] However, Willmore laments his state of poverty that prevents him from buying Angellica’s services. (2.1.110-115)[17] I refer to them as actors but they are essentially characters.[18] (3.5.56-60)[19] 5.1.113[20] ‘…The fop’s outstanding characteristic is excess: a giant wig, too much lace, exaggerated gestures, copious theatricality…’ Rosenthal, Laura J. “Masculinity in Restoration Drama.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 92-108. Print.[21] I have Beauties which my false Glass at home did not discover.’ (1.2.220)[22] Subsequently, Blunt becomes a Homo Economicus, as he is described by his possessions. (3.2.38-45)[23] Fisk, Deborah Payne. “The Restoration Actress.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 69-92. Print. [24] Fisk, Deborah Payne. “The Restoration Actress.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 69-92. Print.[25] (This can be linked to the changes that masculinity is going through at this time and how they did become the object of the gaze at times.) Rosenthal, Laura J. “Masculinity in Restoration Drama.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 92-108. Print. [26] Rosenthal, Laura J. “Masculinity in Restoration Drama.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 92-108. Print.[27] Fisk, Deborah Payne. “The Restoration Actress.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 69-92. Print.[28] 4.2.132[29] ‘…actresses did make possible a more physical, less abstract, representation…Restoration drama…tends to underscore the materiality of the female body, as if to emphasize the authenticity of the actress playing the part…’ Fisk, Deborah Payne. “The Restoration Actress.” A Companion to Restoration Drama. By Susan J. Owen. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2001. 69-92. Print.[30] I would prefer to call the gaze a ‘commercial gaze’ here, as it is more apt for the market.[31] The text also celebrates female desire for sexual freedom, and the spatial reallocations happening in the text which is far more satisfactory than the facile, misogynist ending.[32] 1.1.70-85[33] However, Florinda mightn’t out rightly ignorant, as she often refers to her economic value in the market, and even substitutes herself in Angellica’s place, as a saleable commodity out there. (4.2.10-13)[34] Dasgupta, Anannya. “Whether She Be of Quality or for Your Diversion: The Harlots and Ladies in The Rover.” The Rover. Worldview, 2016. 126-38. Print.

Moreover, the language of sentiments in the play is inherently deceptive, since it is discovered to be actually be the language of materials.[35] Almost every woman (even the prostitute) in the play is a Homo Economicus, defined and valued by the money she possesses. Even men are Homo Economicus, like Ned Blunt extensively described by his possessions. (3.4.38-48)[36] (4.2.198-199) Later, Pedro accuses Willmore of the same. (5.1.519-20)[37] 4.2.149-150[38] True, Florinda isn’t a prostitute but a chaste woman, but at this juncture, she is almost relegated to the position of a prostitute.[39] In this essay, I haven’t focused much on Lucetta. There is gradation amongst prostitutes as well, and Lucetta is the calculating, unemotional prostitute, who cares for only money. She is even willing to subsume herself under a masculine figure if it yields money.[40] (‘…economic man…consistently rational and narrowly self-interested agents usually pursue their subjectively-defined ends optimally…’) “Homo Economicus.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.[41] This is infact the fate of every prostitute, to be mistresses of gentlemen and be parasites on their estates.[42] It is true that he marries her for her money, which will further fund his libertine activities. However, it might happen that his freedom might be curtailed by Hellena, the Inconstant.[43] 1.1.194[44] Foucault, Michel, and Robert Hurley. “The Repressive Hypothesis.” The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage, 1988. 15-50. Print.

Opening of Behn’s The Rover

It is imperative for drama to require much more consideration regarding the intended audience than other literary forms, since in the end, a play is meant to be a performance. In drama and its theatrical depiction, the spectators experience the authorial vision in a defined form unlike when they’re made to read and rely on their own visualization and imagination. As a result, playwrights are often seen to incorporate popular tastes and perspectives while penning their scripts. Whether they are actually influenced by these, or they happen to be simply commenting upon them, objectively or otherwise, the relationship between theatre and the relevant epoch is undeniable. Moreover, it is a mutual process, for just as natural it is for the writer to be swayed by social factors, similarly, it is inevitable that at some level, the writer should endeavour to give back to the society his own individual insights on the prevailing circumstances. The extent that a writer might go to for this purpose, apart from his own determination and character, depends on his estimate of the perceptive ability of his audience, the general cultural atmosphere and relevant restrictions such as that of censorship.Therefore, for Aphra Behn, as a female playwright in seventeenth century England, it was inevitable that she camouflage her subversions and polemical insights in the guise of wit and comedy. While Behn’s works in her time would have generally been understood as elaborately written comedies integrating the staples of Restoration drama, the discerning individual can distinguish subtle commentary regarding gender notions, property laws, class structures, etc. Whether these were really intended on the writer’s part, or were worked into her prose in a subconscious matter-of-fact fashion, or whether they merely happen to stand out given their retrospective analysis in the twenty-first century, is of course a question which is out of the scope of this assignment and also somewhat immaterial. Although, in her own words, Behn reveals that she had to “write to please an age which has given several proofs it was by this way of writing to be obliged”; indicating that she was well aware of the limitations imposed upon her as a professional female playwright.However, right from the beginning of The Rover, it is clear that the main theme concerns restrictive social constructs regarding women. The scene opens with a dialogue between the two sisters Florinda and Hellena, and at the surface, it could be categorized as a stereotypical conversation between two young girls regarding fanciful subjects accompanied by a generous dose of wit and chiding. A parallel could be drawn here to the conversations between Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It; although, coming from a female writer, the Florinda-Hellena dialogue comes across as much more natural. Moreover, given the latter scenes of mistaken identities and comic situations arising due to them, further connections could be drawn to Shakespearean drama. Nonetheless, the first quip itself provides a subtle indication that the play shall move along subversive lines, as signified by the purported nature of the female protagonist, Hellena: “What an impertinent thing is a young girl bred in a nunnery! How full of questions!” All through the play, it is seen that Hellena is constantly reminded about her imminent life in a nunnery, and when her actions and speech go against the perceived idea of a nun, she is further reprimanded for it. For the very image is such a strong one that it overpowers the rest of the individual’s personality, when perceived by others. A sober life of celibacy, austerity and renunciation – a complete contrast to Hellena’s inquisitive and vivacious nature, as could be warranted by another retort from Florinda: “Hellena, a maid designed for a nun ought not to be so curious in a discourse of love”The light-hearted dialogue thus moves on to the subject of love and consequently to the predicament of Florinda, where she must marry against her will even though she admires Belvile. However, Florinda is seen to be aware of her own situation and the social nuances regarding marriage as she states, “I understand better what’s due to my beauty, birth and fortune, more to my soul, than to obey those unjust commands”. Here one might find an echo of Alisoun’s mercantile view of marriage as seen in Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath. The respective dilemmas of the two girls, betray careful characterization on the part of Behn, possibly to comment upon the patriarchal workings of society. Marriage was (and in certain areas, still is) deemed an essential life support for ‘respectable’ women, and more often than not, matches were made based on monetary interests. Apart from that, women were left with few options, the nunnery being a common recourse. However, in the case of Hellena, hers wasn’t a voluntary decision. Taking this argument further, it could be said that in the eventual non-conformity of Florinda and Hellena, where they both refuse to adhere to the rules forced upon them by a patriarchal society, Behn was taking a stance herself, with a clear attack on prevalent gender notions. Therefore, she could be said to be a pioneer feminist, even before the movement was actually formulated. As Virginia Woolf states in her famous essay, A Room of One’s Own – “All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds”. It might be added here that Behn was the first English woman to earn her livelihood as an author. Behn then moves on to reveal the basic plot and characterization in the scene and what follows is an assertion of Hellenda’s will: “Nay, I’m resolved to provide myself this Carnival, if there be e’er a handsome proper fellow of my humour above ground”. This happens to be the first mention of the Carnival, which then remains a constant presence in the play. Critics maintain that the carnival needs to be viewed as a hyperbolic metaphor for the general debauchery of the Restoration era, as it is seen as an atmosphere of uninhibited gallivanting and licentiousness thanks to the convenience of disguise as part of the masquerade. However, whether Behn wilfully intended it to be so is of course debatable; but Shyamala Narayan corroborates the historical context as, “The return of Charles to the throne brought about a deliberate reversal of the Puritan ethic and created an atmosphere in which promiscuity and systematic frivolity became the norm”. The dialogue then finally ends with a similar assertion from Florinda: “I have I know not what that pleads kindly for him (Belvile) about my heart, and will suffer no other to enter”The marriage debate is stirred again with the entry of their brother, Don Pedro, where both the parties lay forth their arguments with precision. While Florinda implores her brother: “I would not have a man so dear to me as my brother follow the ill customs of our country and make a slave of his sister”, Pedro continues to assert the common viewpoint: “But you must consider Don Vincentio’s fortune, and the jointure he’ll make you”. To which Florinda again echoes her earlier sentiment: “Let him consider my youth, beauty, and fortune, which ought not to be thrown away on his age and jointure”. Thus, Behn reflects upon the generally accepted mercenary view of marriage and the state of female inheritance laws, due to which, family members seemed to try and wash their hands off their women. At the same time, Hellena takes up Florinda’s cause in her characteristic saucy manner, emphasizing the sheer unfairness of the match with Don Vincentio: “And this man you must kiss, nay you must kiss none by him too, and nuzzle through his beard to find his lips. And this you must submit to for threescore years, and all for a jointure.”Subsequently, Pedro cuts short Hellena’s amusing tirade with a reminder of her future as a nun. To which, Hellena retorts in the first aside of the play; a technique that Behn uses with great efficiency for her dramatic purpose. Pedro finally exits after putting forward an alternative and suitable match for Florinda in the form of Antonio, eliciting the following response from her: “I’ve no defence against Antonio’s love, for he has all the advantages of nature, the moving arguments of youth and fortune”. Thus, all through the scene, the transactional nature of marriage remains a lingering theme.Finally, in the last part, the girls manage to convince Callis, their governess, to allow them to attend the carnival with her acting as a chaperone. However, in an aside, Callis reveals her own desire to be a part of the masquerade and thus puts forth her concern as a mere excuse for the same. Therefore, it might be deduced that while the carnival is a place that must be frowned upon by women of a decent household, secretly, it holds a fascination for all; and so they begin their preparations for the adventure: “Come, let’s in and dress us”. Having introduced all major characters and themes in the first act, Behn thus sets the tone for the rest of the play.

The Use of the Fantasy Genre in Behn’s The Rover and More’s Utopia

Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and Aphra Behn’s The Rover are two vastly different works of literature that focus on different matters: More’s work is a political document, while Behn’s can be categorized as more of a social one. While the two works in themselves are quite different, both of these authors employ a similar form to shape their work around in order to promote serious issues within their respective writings, with More utilizing the fantasy-like trope of utopia to offer themes evocative of socialism, and Behn using a similar fantasy-like structure of Carnival to challenge the social role of women at the time. By using these fantasy genres, More and Behn are able to test the accepted political and social realities of the era and replace them with hugely radical concepts, all without their work being perceived as threatening because of the “loophole” that the fantasy genre creates. Through an analysis of both works, it is clear that both authors would not have been able to pose these ideas without using the scope of fantasy to mask the seriousness and controversy of these novel issues: Utopia is a primitive socialist document that presents a property-less and classless society during one of the most centralized and hierarchical political situations in history, while The Rover vastly shakes up the status of women by allowing its female characters to choose their own fates, also presented during a time in which women essentially had no political rights and little social freedom. At the time More composed Utopia, Europe’s political systems were rooted in monarchial trends, or small deviations thereof, and class systems were highly hierarchical and immobile—generally, a person’s social and political status were based on which class he was born into and how much property he owned. The fantasy island of Utopia presented in More’s book, however, completely abandons these political realities and replaces them with concepts suggestive of a socialist society—shared land and no private property, no social class lines, and shared labor—completely radical ideas during a time when monarchies still dominated political Europe. However, because More presents these radical ideas within the scope of a description of a fantasy island, the seriousness and danger they could potentially pose become mitigated. For example, with terms such as “aircastle,” “happiland,” and “nowater,” used to name places found within Utopia, it is evident that Utopia is being presented within a fantasy realm, not as a scathing political commentary.Throughout Utopia, communist ideas are nestled between Raphael’s elaborate descriptions of the fantasy island of Utopia. Again though, because the book is structured around the concept of a fantasy-like place, and thus is perceived as a hypothetical “this is how it could be,” rather than a blatant statement from More as “this is how it should be,” the socialist tone is therefore greatly alleviated and not considered dangerous to the political structure at the time. For example, while describing working conditions in Utopia, the character Raphael is simultaneously highlighting the socialist tenet of shared labor. Raphael states, “… Each year twenty people from each house go back to town, having done two years in the country, and are replaced by twenty others. These new recruits are then taught farming by the ones who’ve had a year on the land already and so know more about the job. . . This system reduces the risk of food shortages. . . Two years is the normal period of work on the land, so that no one’s forced to rough it for too long. . .” (More, 51) and later when he says “… wherever you are, you always have to work” (More 65). This concept of an entire population sharing in the same labor duties is highly characteristic of a government rooted in socialism, and though More’s book was written during a time of political turmoil, the overarching trend was still one of strict division of labor and class. Again, though, because these concepts are being brought forth within the discussion of a fantasy island, they are technically not meant to be taken as suggestive, and rather as mere descriptions of a “perfect” place, far away from the reader. The concept of shared labor is again focused on when Raphael explains how all Utopians have a six hour work day, and additionally when he says, “And now for their working conditions. Well, there’s one job they all do, irrespective of sex, and that’s farming” (More, 55). This idea of every person not only doing work, but doing the same kind of work was radically different from the current policies of More’s Europe, as farming work was relied on by only the peasants, and the noble and ruling classes at the time partaking in little to no work at all. Raphael actually speaks of this reality in the lines, “They don’t wear people out though… that’s just slavery—and yet that’s what life is like for the working classes nearly everywhere else in the world” (More 56). Though Raphael’s descriptions appear socialist in theory, because they are being applied to describe another place, not being out forth as a potential system for the current place, readers can see how More’s trope of utopia is a success in that his book is able to offer these radical ideas without More himself looking radical and or dangerous.In addition to the idea of shared labor, Utopia also presents the idea of the abolishment of private property and instead the concept of shared land between the nation, and the abolishment of social class division. For example, when describing Utopian homes Raphael states, “In both cases they’re double sing-doors, which open at a touch, and close automatically behind you. So anyone can go in and out—for there’s no such thing as private property. The houses themselves are allocated by lot, and changed round every ten years” (More 53). During a time in history when a man was essentially nothing without property, this was an extremely radical idea used to categorize a nation. Again the concept of shared land and no class division is highlighted when Raphael describes a typical dining experience in Utopia: everybody eats together and shares the food. According to Raphael, it’s actually “considered rather bad form” (More 62) to not eat in the dining hall with the rest of society. This concept of sharing that binds Utopia is especially prevalent in descriptions of social class. For instance, this idea is expressed quite unequivocally by Raphael when he says, “Under such a system, there’s bound to be plenty of everything, and as everything is divided equally among the entire population, there obviously can’t be any poor people or beggars” (More 65). Again Raphael focuses on the fact that Utopians are not divided by social class and that no one has more or looks richer than another—a defining feature of European society at the time. Raphael states, “You see, from the Utopian’ point of view—apart from the few who’d had occasion to go abroad—all of that splendor was merely degrading. . . . The Utopians fail to understand. . . how anyone can be silly enough to think himself better than other people, because his clothes are made of finer woolen thread than theirs” (More 68-69). The idea of a classless society was something that Europeans at the time would have been completely unfamiliar with, as it was custom for the nobility to act and dress as such, and for peasants to do the same for their respective role. Social class was highly hierarchical and immobile in the 1500’s, which is another reason why the concepts of a classless society reflected in More’s Utopia could appear as controversial. More’s decision to present these ideas, regardless of whether he endorsed them or not, within the scope of a fantasy island, though, is a key tactic in their success in having an effect on readers. While on the outside More’s document appears nothing more than an optimistic sci-fi novel, the fact that it is seen as “only fantasy” enables serious political issues to simultaneously surface—issues so radical at the time that they could not have been published outside of the realm of “utopia.”The Rover, is quite similar to More’s Utopia in its use of a fantasy-type setting—in Behn’s case, carnival—to enable the discussion of a radical idea. Through Behn’s use of the setting of carnival in her play, her female characters are both enabled and granted a wish unheard of at the time: a woman’s ability to choose her own marital fate, rather than having it determined by a male. During the time Behn’s play was composed, women not only had no political rights, but also were unable to make personal decisions, such as who one wanted to marry, as it was predetermined by a paternal figure. This situation was no different for two of the women in The Rover; Hellena was assigned to enter a nunnery, pursuant to her brother’s wishes, and her sister Florinda was also arranged to marry a man she had no interest in rather than the one she loved, again based on her brother’s and father’s wishes. At the beginning of the play, these two outspoken women both express their strong will to make the decision of what they want and who they want to be with for themselves, rather than falling victim to the voice of a male figure. Florinda voices her distaste in following her brother’s orders and marrying the man he or her father had selected for her stating, “With indignation; and how near soever my father thinks I am marrying that hated object, I shall let him see I understand better what’s due to my beauty, birth and fortune, and more to my soul, than to obey those unjust commands” (Behn I.i.20-24). This line allows readers to see immediately that Florinda has a strong will, yet is at the mercy of a patriarchal social structure at the time. Likewise, her sister Hellena also expresses this same will in her resistance to enter a nunnery as her brother had commanded and her sympathy for her sister’s similar situation. Hellena says, “Is’t not enough you make a nun of me, but you must cast my sister away too, exposing her to a worse confinement than a religious life?” (Behn I.i.90-92). The exchange between Hellena, Florinda and their brother Pedro at the beginning of the play help to demonstrate the accepted social hierarchy in regard to women at the time, but also the extraordinary will that Hellena and Florinda possess to defy it. For example, when Hellena is protesting her brother’s plans for her to become a nun, he becomes irritated at her indignation and tells the maid to “lock her up all this Carnival, and at Lent she shall begin her everlasting penance in a monastery” (Behn I.i.136-137). With this comment though, Hellena has an equally as strong reaction, stating, “I care not; I had rather be a nun than be obliged to marry as you would have me, if I were designed for’t” (Behn I.i.137-138). Pedro reasserts his command, insisting that Hellena will become a nun as he had planned, but again Hellena objects and exposes her willful personality and wishes, sarcastically saying, “Shall I so [become a nun]? You may chance to be mistaken in my way of devotion. A nun! I am like to make a fine nun! I have an excellent humour for a grate” (Behn I.i. 140-143). Through witnessing this exchange at the beginning of the play, readers are not only able to view the typical social structure at the time, one in which a man’s word prevails, but also can see the will of Hellena and Florinda to rebel against it. With the introduction of Carnival and with it the ability to wander the streets in masquerade, though, this key plot technique that Behn introduces allows both Hellena and Florinda to temporarily escape and reverse this social hierarchy. “What, go in masquerade? ‘Twill be a fine farewell to the world, I take it. . .” (Behn I.i.171-172), the maid exclaims. Through Behn’s use of Carnival, both women are indeed able to say farewell to the world as they see it, and, more importantly, this radical social reversal is also looked upon as a situation that is actually plausible under this fantasy-like trope as well.For example, the minute Florinda and Hellena put on their Carnival masks, both girls are able to escape their social realities, as Hellena playfully flirts with men on the street, and Florinda is able to finally take action and find Belville, the man whom she wants to marry, against her brother’s will. In disguise, Florinda is able to write to Belville, in hopes that they can sneak away undetected and elope. Belville states, “See how kindly she invites me to deliver her from the threatened violence of her brother. . .” (Behn I.ii. 249-250). These disguised transactions between Florinda and Belville and between Hellena and any male figure at all could not have occurred without the setting of Carnival; not only does it greatly contribute to the plot of the play, but it also is an agent in Behn’s reversal of accepted social patterns. For instance, because Florinda’s brother did not approve of Belville, in a normal situation she would have been unable to have communication with him; with Carnival and masquerade, though, avoiding the social realities for these two characters becomes attainable, and for the first time they are able to take action in their own right.Though most of The Rover consists of the comedic actions and consequences of masks mixed with male hormones as a result of the celebration of Carnival, the play’s most significant and serious issue of this interrupted social hierarchy that had permitted Hellena and Florinda to be with men they had chosen is resolved quite interestingly at the end of the play when Carnival has come to a close and the masks have been removed. By using Carnival as an agent, Florinda and Belville are finally able to get married, albeit behind Pedro’s back, yet the fact that for the first time Florinda is able to make a decision based on what she wants, rather than what her brother wants, even in the absence of Carnival, is highly significant. Though Carnival allowed for the circumstances in which this marriage could take place, the marriage’s success in the end actually makes permanent what was originally perceived as a “temporary” reversal of this social order, sending a quite radical message in the success that occurs through a woman’s freedom to choose her own fate. Florinda highlights this freedom in offering advice to another man, stating, “. . . follow the example of your friend, in marrying a maid that does not hate you, and whose fortune, I believe, will not be unwelcome to you” (Behn V.i.165-167). Though this does not seem like a dangerous or harmful concept, at the time the play was composed, freedom, in any scope of life for women, was not something that was frequently heard of or accepted. Behn’s decision to use Carnival to allow this situation to both occur, and then be resolved to the benefit of Florinda, in the end, allows for a serious social proposition to occur within the scope of this comedy.The ending of The Rover also is resolved on a positive note and to the benefit of Hellena’s wishes after Carnival is over, another example of the solidification of the reversal of the assumed social roles that Carnival permitted. For example, though Willmore is not interested in marriage, and instead pleads with Hellena to “return to [his] chamber,” (Behn V.i. 436-437) Hellena is steadfast in her desire to become married, responding to Willmore’s request with “. . . let but the old gaffer Hymen and his priest say amen to’t” (Behn V.i. 441-442). When the crisis is resolved, however, it is Hellena, the woman, not Willmore, who gets her wishes granted as Willmore agrees to marriage. Moreover, even when Pedro learns that Hellena has deceived him, the marriage still proceeds, yet again highlighting the notion of a woman’s will trumping a male’s plans. This concept is evident when Pedro says to Hellena, “This was your plot, mistress, but I hope you have married one that will revenge my quarrel to you” (Behn V.i. 535-536), willfully allowing Hellena to go forth with what she wanted, rather than what he wanted for her. As the play draws to a close, it ends on a discussion of the power of a woman’s will: a power that was enabled through Behn’s use of the celebration of Carnival in the plot, yet ended up outlasting Carnival as well. Even after the theatrics that the celebration had brought had drawn to a close, both Florinda and Hellena were still able to go through with their plans to marry men that they chose, not men that were chosen for them by their father or brother. The strong will of these two characters is summed up at the conclusion of the play when Valeria states, “There’s no altering destiny, sir,” and Pedro, for the first time, recognizing the will and desire of his sisters, responds, “Sooner than a woman’s will: therefore I forgive you all, and wish you may get my father’s pardon as easily, which I fear” (Behn V.i. 537-539). This statement of the desire of a woman to follow the path that she so chooses, is, again, a radical concept during this conservative era, but by being placed within the scope of a comedy, and more significantly within the light-hearted celebration of Carnival, Behn, like More, is able to send a very radical message without appearing radical herself. Carnival takes the “blame” for many of the circumstances and events that occurred, yet in the end, Hellena and Florinda are both able to override their brother and his representation of the patriarchal society at the time and instead follow their own will and plans, Florinda marries Belville, the man she loves, and not only does Hellena not have to enter a nunnery, but she too is able to marry a man she has chosen for herself.To a modern reader, the issues raised in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and Aphra Behn’s The Rover—namely More’s description of a society rooted in socialism and Behn’s female characters trumping defined social patterns and expectations set by its patriarchal society—do not appear to be at all radical or threatening, but when put into the context of an extremely centralized government and hierarchical social order in More’s case, and a patriarchal dominated society in Behn’s, the respective ideas that their plays raise appear much more controversial. However, by placing these ideas within the realm of “fantasy,” through More’s island of Utopia, and Behn’s masquerade of Carnival, the ideas themselves become far less radical—these ideas are rooted in fantasy-like worlds, and thus do not appear to be a threat to the “real world order” of the time. Through More and Behn’s tactic of using fantasy settings to bring to light very real matters, both of these authors successfully allow for readers to interpret serious issues that in these eras would have been near impossible to raise outside of a world of fantasy.

The Mask of Marriage: Virtue, Honor, Reputation and Female Identity in the Sexual Economy of The Rover

In The Rover, Aphra Behn illustrates a world in which sex and economic exchange unite under the mandates of the patriarchy. In such a society, sexuality is commodified, and a woman is either sold into the marriage market (by her family, in an effort to secure wealth and class status), or she sells her own marketable wares to the highest bidder. Female identity, then, is also bound up in matters of sexuality. Who one is as a woman is linked to the (constructed) role or station she occupies in society — a role or station, that is, which is itself defined by a particular kind of sexual activity or expression. All of these markers are, of course, ultimately subject to the determining male gaze: a woman is who or what she is perceived to be. The Rover, therefore, suggests that “female identity” is quite a fluid concept, varying along the spectrum of sexually-based perception and economic function. In a society where the line between “kept woman” and “woman of quality” is so potentially ambiguous, so thinly drawn (since both “types” are implicated and active in the sexual market economy), virtue, honor and reputation play a significant role in making this distinction. For the plays three main female characters, Angellica, Florinda and Hellena, their loss, temporary absence and maintenance of “honor,” respectively, illustrate the importance of virtue in the market economy. Ultimately, Hellena will embody the lessons about virtue modeled for her by Angellica and Florinda, thereby creating for herself a life that celebrates and echoes the spirit of Libertinism. As a courtesan, Angellica Bianca enacts a sexual economic and social role in which her virtue, both in terms of her “honor” and “virginity,” holds no value. Sex, not virtue, is the commodity that belongs to and defines the “prostitute.” Angellica relies heavily on her sexual credit, on men believing her sales pitch and buying her goods, to make her own living and to carve out her appropriate space in society. She has no time for foolishness such as love, stating that she is both “resolved that nothing but gold shall charm (her) heart” (II.i.135-136), and thankful to have been born under a “kind but sullen star” that has kept her from falling in love (II.i.139). When Angellica first appears in the play, she is a famous courtesan whose very image arrests the attention of Naple’s male population. Upon seeing her picture (Angellica’s form of self-promotion/advertisement), Willmore comments, “How wondrous fair she is” and curses the “poverty” that prevents him from affording her price, a poverty of which he “ne’er complain(s) but when it hinders (his) approach to beauty which virtue ne’er could purchase” (II.i.102-105). From Willmore’s language, it is clear that Angellica is conceived of as an object of “purchase” distinctly outside the realm of “virtue.” “Purchase” and “virtue” are binary terms – if Angellica embodies market value, she must necessarily lack “honor” value). What happens, however, if Angellica wants to take back the honor she relinquished as a prostitute? What if she wants to explore love – explore “relationship” possibilities outside a life of paid sexual service? She encounters such a desire – and dilemma – in the rake figure of Willmore. When Willmore convinces Angellica to sleep with him for free, she essentially surrenders the “market power” her position as a courtesan has afforded her. Her value is not in virtue, but in sex. However, when she offers that sex for free, she loses her influence as a prostitute. In her soliloquy, Angellica confesses:In vain, I have consulted all my charms, In vain this beauty prized, in vain believedMy eyes could kindle lasting fires.I had forgot my name, my infamy,And the reproach that honour lays on thoseThat dare pretend a sober passion here.Nice reputation, though it leave behindMore virtues than inhabit where that dwells,Yet that once gone, those virtues shine no more. (IV.iii.396-405)In her role as a courtesan, Angellica had in essence insulated herself from the “reproach” of the mainstream public. In her context, quarantined from “that general disease of (her) sex so long” (II.i.137-138), protected in what she later calls her “innocent security” (V.i.270), she had found a place of acceptance insofar as she was idolized, lusted for and doted upon. However, once she offers her heart to Willmore, who does not dote on her, who is false in the “vows” he initially swears (II.ii.148), she is exposed to the judgments and expectations of a different value system. In this context, she is reminded of her “infamy,” her questionable reputation and how no one would take seriously her desire for love (the “sober passion here”). Angellica’s soliloquy also reveals her awareness of how dearly a good reputation is valued, for it emphasizes how much such a reputation “costs.” In adopting a “nice reputation,” one abandons (or “leaves behinds”) less-honorable “virtues”; that is, virtues that are more in line with the Libertine spirit: bawdiness, “saltiness,” fun, freedom, etc. However, “once gone” the qualities of a good reputation – honor, purity, virginity – are forever lost and leave no trace of the “bolder” virtues they supplanted, for both sets of virtues “shine no more”. More importantly, however, Angellica is here realizing that she cannot recover and the honor she would need to secure love. She echoes this understanding in a speech to Willmore later in the play, where she says:But when love held the mirror, the undeceiving glassReflected all the weakness of my soul, and made me knowMy richest treasure being lost, my honour, All the remaining spoil could not be worthThe conqueror’s care or value.Oh how I fell, like a long worshipped idolDiscovering all the cheat. (V.i.268-279). In her prostitution, Angellica had been continually shielding herself against feelings that would have interfered with het trade. Once unguarded, Angellica is confronted with hard truths exposed (“reflected”) in the “undeceiving glass” of her unreciprocated love for Willmore. Her romantic desires lay bare all the “cheat(s)” of her profession, the vain “charms” and “prized beauty” mentioned in the earlier soliloquy. More tragically for Angellica, however, is the recognition that her “richest treasure” had not been her good looks or sexual appeal, but her “honour.” Without that virtue, all she has is body, the “remaining spoil”. However, it is the body with the virtue that is “worth/The conqueror’s care (and) value.” “Value” here is multivalent: it means both market or economic value, as well as the love and respect awarded a woman of good repute. In both economies then, the one of commodity exchange and the one of care, Angellica is denied space once she expresses her love for Willmore. Without the mark of honor, a woman in subject to base treatment and ill regard, as evidenced by Florinda when she temporarily “loses” her virtuous distinction. Unlike Angellica, Florinda is a “woman of quality,” an upper-class Spanish lady who has retained her good reputation. However, she is still a member of the sexual economy in that she finds herself a begrudging participant of an arranged marriage. Her father “designs” for her to marry the “rich old Don Vincentio,” (I.i.16-17), a relic of Spanish Imperialism (having made his money plundering Spanish colonies) who will increase Florinda family’s wealth and social standing. Florinda, however, dreads a possible future as the wife of Don Vincentio, calling him a “hated object” (I.i.19) on whom the qualities she recognizes as her marketable goods, her “youth, beauty and (initial) fortune” (I.i.74), would be wasted. Hellena agrees that Don Vincentio would be an inadequate lover, commenting that he is too old to reproduce with Florinda – able to “perhaps increase her bags, but not her family” [I.i.84]) and “figuratively” identifying his sexual defects through the metaphorical image of his “foul sheets” (i.i.115). The other man in Florinda’s family, her brother Pedro, also views her and her unspoiled sexuality as a potential bargaining chip. He would like her to wed Don Antonio, who is both Pedro’s good friend and the viceroy’s son. Therefore, Pedro might be motivated by some sense of male camaraderie, but is more likely advocating for his chum in order to increase his own political influence and status. In either circumstance, Florinda’s romantic wishes are completely ignored, for she has fallen in love with the Englishman Belvile. During a street-masquerade, disguised by her vizard, she freely makes a promise with Belvile to meet her later that night. Ironically, it is this disguised exchange that will lead to the obfuscation of her honor and confusion surrounding her chaste identity.Florinda leaves the carnival scene to await Belvile in a garden for their arranged rendezvous. Unexpectedly, however, she encounters the rakish Willmore, who does not recognize her as “Florinda,” a decent woman and his friend’s love interest. As far as he is concerned, she is simply a beautiful woman alone at night, and thus suspect for being both unaccompanied and a wanderer in the dark. Therefore, she must be a prostitute, and Willmore accordingly declares her, in sexual excitement, to be “a very wench!” (III.v.16). An attempted rape scene proceeds, with Willmore pressuring Florinda to consummate their meeting hastily – for, in pausing too long, she would be allowing a quick “accident” to become a blamable act of “willful fornication” [III.v.35-38]. She could claim rape but, as Willmore points out, who would believe her intentions as being “honorable”? “Why, at this time of night,” he asks, “was your cobweb door set open, dear spider – but to catch flies?” (III.v.53-54). Not only does Willmore’s question/accusation rob Florinda of any redemptive virtue, it also inverts the rape scenario by painting Florinda as the predacious party, with the “spider” catching “flies” in her “cobweb”. It is not until Belvile enters and recognizes his lover that Florinda’s identity as a “lady” is affirmed. Furious at the shame and harm that might have come to Florinda, Belvile wonders how Willmore could have mistaken her for a prostitute: “Coulds’t (thou) not see something about her face and person, to strike an awful reverence in thy soul?” (III.vi.23-24) No — apparently in the dark of night, to male eyes blind with lust and desire, there is nothing innately glowing about a female’s virtue to distinguish her from an “errant harlot” (III.vi.20). In the unrecognized figure of Florinda, Willmore simply saw “as mere a woman as (he) could wish” (III.vi.25). This episode of mistaken identity confirms Angellica’s observation that, indeed, once the title of “good reputation” is lifted, its associated virtues in women “shine no more.” In a rather tragicomic turn, Florinda finds herself in a similar situation later in the play, when she accidentally wanders into Blunt’s chamber. Recently robbed and humiliated by a prostitute pretending to be a lady, Blunt sees in Florinda the opportunity to avenge his embarrassment: “(I) will be revenged on one whore for the sins of another” (IV.v.52). Thus, he and Frederick attempt to entrap Florinda in forced group sex. It is not until Florinda gives Blunt a ring, showing him a physical representation of her virtue, offering a token of value rather than demanding one it as a prostitute would, that the men question their assumptions. “I begin to suspect something;” says Frederick, “and ‘twould anger us viley to be trussed up for a rape upon a maid of quality” (IV.v.123-125). These rape scenes and the rapidity with which they transpire, underscore the extreme fluidity of female identity. Although ostensibly out of place, “formally” incongruous in a comedy, they are significant for the way they demonstrate how deeply the “female self” is enmeshed in matters of sexual activity and male perception. Clearly, “honor” is not an innate quality, but one that must be corroborated by social status. This is precisely the “social” game that Hellena will play in order to ensure her happy ending. From the lessons modeled for her by Angellica and Florinda, Hellena understands the importance of female honor. Like her counterparts, Hellena is implicated in the economic exchange between the sexes, fully recognizing and appreciating the value of her quality wares. In the first scene of the play, for example, Hellena speaks of herself as a rare-find object d’art, “fit” for love. She asks Florinda, “Have I not a world of youth? A humour gay? A beauty passable? A vigour desirable? Well shaped? Clean limbed? Sweet breathed?” (I.i.38-40). In possession of these traits, it seems Hellena has appraised herself to be quite a catch, placing a high value on her contribution to the sexual market. It is this recognition of herself as commodity that motivates her decision to play the field before leaving for the nunnery and beginning “her everlasting penance in a monastery” [I.i.135]. She sets her sites on the Libertine Willmore, whom she meets in disguise at the street-masquerade. Her intentions, her priorities, are rather ambiguous. Whereas Florinda adores Belvile and Belvile alone, with a desire to ultimately marry the Englishman, Hellena may be more interested in extending the moment of flirtation, the space of play and experimentation represented by the masque. “Is there no difference between leave to love me, and leave to lie with me?” she asks Willmore, who is anxious to have her in his bed (I.ii.189-190). This is perhaps Hellena’s attempt to prolong the thrill of the carinvalesque, and evidence of how she is a type of female rover. For Hellena, the best way to extend Saturnalia is to don the mask of marriage.In order for Hellena to be accepted by her social context while in a contradictory pursuit of multiple love experiences, she must retain her virtue. By the end of the play, she is anxious to secure Willmore’s marriage vow, which, as a rake, Willmore is of course disinclined to offer. But her wish for marriage stems not out of a desire to share some intimate, monogamous bond with the tamed Libertine. Evidence of this can be found in her objection to Willmore’s proposition of sex without/before marriage:‘Tis but getting my consent, and the business is soon done. Letbut old gaffer Hymen and his priest say amen to’t, and I dare laymy mother’s daughter by as proper a fellow as your father’s son, without fear of blushing. (V.i.424-427)From this language, which undermines the “religiousness” of the marriage sacrament with its allusion to the pagan god Hymen, it seems that Hellena’s motives for marriage have little to do with some need to be “virtuous” in the pious, Christian sense. Rather, Hellena understands how the institution of “marriage” would bless, or “say amen to”, her name. Functioning as a cloak protecting her honor before the judgmental eyes of the patriarchy, the label of “marriage” would afford Hellena the opportunity to have varied sexual relations, if this is indeed her desire, as her intentions remain ambiguous, reflecting the openness and limitless options she wants from life. In this way, marriage acts as the ultimate disguise. It places a permanent mark of virtue upon a woman, allowing her the sexual freedom of a Libertine without fear of losing her honor and facing the misfortune experienced by the non-virtuous, “fallen” prostitute figure of Angellica. That Angellica is simply rushed off the stage at the end of the play, unable to join the inner-circle of the “good” characters, unable to be involved in the resolution of the comedic plot, is a formal parallel to her narrative of “ostracism” in 18th-century patriarchal society.Because the women in The Rover speak of themselves as commodified objects, content to be agents or members of the sexual economy, it seems that Aphra Behn is not launching a full critique of the patriarchy in her play. Additionally, the fact that Willmore is included as one of the characters in the happy restoration of peace in the comedy, suggests that Behn is also not condemning Libertinism. Instead, her play demonstrates the role of the woman in Libertine society. Angellica, Florinda and Hellena all represent ways that women can negotiate their role within the mandates of a patriarchal context — either successfully (Florinda, Hellena) or tragically (Angellica). The most successful character, Hellena, seems able to reconcile her honest desires with social expectation. She, as a female rover, plays the system and can be both free and accepted, both sexual and virtuous, and live the kind of robust life that Aphra Behn – in this way a Libertine herself – fully endorses.