|← The Song of the Lark||Abstract →|
“The Rover” by Aphra Behn Analysis 1. This paper (based upon actual viewing of the play “The Rover” by Aphra Behn at the ZZZ theatre on zz.zz. 20zz) analyzes characters, settings, as well as effectiveness of the actors’ costumes and performance in conveying the main message of the play, that of the free spirit and liberty. 2. At first examination, Behn seems to endorse libertine sense in “The Rover” (1677). Even virgin Hellena, on the verge of entering a nunnery, urges her modest sister Florinda, “let’s Ramble” (1 Rover 1.1.168) as she effects three role, costume, and gender changes (gypsy, female reveller, boy). The term she uses (like “rover” itself) has unmistakably erotic overtones in the Restoration, its primary meaning “to hunt for sex”. Of course Hellena, in order to properly distinguish herself from the courtesan Angellica Bianca with whom she competes for Willmore’s affections, remains chaste throughout the play, yet given his opinion that virtue is an infirmity, one might wonder why she wants him. Hellena indulges in the aforementioned shape-shifting just like a libertine, and her roving and machinations are perhaps more complicated than those of her victim. Just as she seems to understand the sinful inheritance of the free spirit’s notion, Hellena reminds Florinda, “if you are not aLover, ‘tis an Art soon learnt” (1 Rover 3.1.47–48). Florinda, no more anxious to marry the aged Vincentio whom her father has chosen than Hellena is to become a nun, prefers Willmore’s companion and mascot Belvile, certainly, one whom she hopes to reform by marriage.
3. The setting of the play accentuated the fact that in the process of carnival, Hellena flirts openly and shamelessly with her beloved, discovering in the process that he is more interested in variety than in constancy (to her original personification as a gypsy): “I know you Captains are such strict Men, and such severe Observers of your Vows to Chastity, that ‘twill be hard to prevail with your tender Conscience to Marry a young willing Maid” (3.1.160–63). Her part of this parley is droll indeed, since there are no recorded testimonials to the chastity of such men or to the tenderness of their consciences when the possessor of a maidenhead is in view. She then plays female libertine in her sentiment to bring him to the point: “should I in these days of my Youth, catch a fit of foolish Constancy, I were undone” (3.1.169–70). Willmore, true to his type, will say virtually the same thing in the sequel, reflecting, as it happens, on his marriage to the departed Hellena: “such a fool I was in my dull days of Constancy, but I am now for change, … for Change, my dear, of Place, Cloathes, Wine, and Women. Variety is the soul of pleasure” (Rover 1.1.145–48). However, Hellena is no libertine. She seeks marriage and the satisfaction of reforming her rake, just as Harriet does with Dorimant in The Man of Mode. Early in their play together, Willmore’s overture to his “gypsy” Hellena, “I long to come first to the Banquet of Love! and such as swinging Appetite Ibring, ” is tactfully and firmly rebuffed with the simple logic of her question in response: “is there no difference between leave to love me, and leave to lie with me?
” (1 Rover 1.2.183–84; 188–89). 4. The brilliant performance of the actors helps audience visualize what it really means to feel liberty and free spirit and then to completely loose this notion. For instance, person playing Willmore on the scene behaves very subtly at first and then turns into a self-centered egoist whose actions and their consequences undercut the benign nature of his libertinism. His approach to the rose-selling woman in his first scene is direct, grossly physical, barely veiled with metaphor: “Fair one, Wou’d you wou’d give me leave to gather at your Bush this idle Moneth, I wou’d go near to make some Body smell of it all the year after” (1 Rover 1.2.87–89). His remark to his companions, “there’s but one way for a Woman to oblige me” (1.2.243–44), borders on gross self-definition. Actors on the scene stress upon the fact that in the play’s epicenter, Behn would seem to discredit her hero somewhat heavily when he drunkenly attempts the virtuous Florinda, the love of his best friend Mr. Belvile. He meets her spluttering “what a filthy Beast is this?” with “Iamso, and thou oughtst the sooner to lye with me for that reason” (3.5.139–41). 5. Actor playing Willmore is dressed in such a way that his sole appearance shows his changeable nature. For instance, his sleeves are rolled high at some point of the play (moments when he changes from benevolent and kind person to sarcastic bore); and he wears long-sleeved shirt (as if trying to hide from everyone) at the end of the play – during moments when he wants to escape the harsh reality of his life.
Willmore is too inebriated to recognize his victim hardly excuses his behavior, as Belvile charges: “Damn your debaucht Opinion” (3.6.217). The episode is merely a microcosm of his friend Blunt’s angry assault on the same woman later in the play, feeling justified as he does by having lost his breeches, his money, and his dignity to two cutpurse-whores: “Cruel, yes, I will kiss and beat thee all over; kiss, and see thee all over; thou shalt lye with me too, not that I care for the injoyment, but to let you see I have taien deliberate Malice to thee, and will be reveng’d on one Whore for the Sins of another” (4.5.611–15). These attempted rapes expose the poisonous nature of the gentle and mocking cavalier lyric that precedes them: “And with kind force he taught the Virgin how / To yield what all his Sighs cou’d never do” (2.1.172–73). Force is unkind, unappreciated by women. 6. In general, the production of this play at ZZZ theatre was a great success. Willmore is only slightly more housebroken than the rustic companion who is the butt of his jokes. Even allowing for the convention of disguise and misrecognition, Hellena’s change of identity easily fools Willmore. He does not understand the usefulness of going masked himself in the middle of carnival season so that the exasperated Belvile must explain it to him: “whatever Extravagances we commit in these Faces, our own may not be oblig’dtoanswer ‘em” (2.
1.2–3). This symbolizes his failure as a rake, an identity that depends absolutely on secrecy and guile—Willmore, as it happens, is made to answer for everything. Belvile confronts him with his notorious lack of savoir-faire: “do’st know the danger of entring the house of an incens’d Courtizan?” (252–53), as if he were a Mr. Horner not in on his own joke. In her appearance as a boy, Hellena helps torpedo the Willmore-Angellica Bianca relationship by pretending that she is a page helping Willmore woo another woman, right in front of the incensed courtesan with whom he has just spent a gaudy night, who exclaims: “there’s no Faith in any thing he says” (4.2.455). Thus exposed by playwright and characters, it is as if Willmore must be schooled in rakehellism by the women in the play. Annoyed that Blunt has reminded him of Hellena after having spent the night with Angellica Bianca, he confesses, “I had quite forgot her else, and this Night’s debauch had drunk her quite down” (3.1.124–25). As the first play ends, Willmore gives himself over to marriage with Hellena, proclaiming in the play’slastwords: “Lead on, no other Dangers they can dread, / Who Venture in the Storms o’th’ Marriage-Bed” (5.1.544–45).