The Rover by Aphra Behn 1. This paper – a reflection upon the play The Rover (originally composed by Aphra Behn), which was performed at East Los Angeles College on 2009 – argues that originality, uniqueness, and feeling of independence are the main traits of The Rover. 2. This Aphra’s adaptation was a truly creative effort. The source for The Rover (1677) was the play Thomaso, an interminable semi-autobiographical fantasy by Thomas Killigrew, her old friend and employer. Although Aphra retained Killigrew’s plot, his characters, and many of his best lines, the play was transformed from a closet piece into a fast-paced comedy. Aphra added one major character, impudent Hellena, an improved version of Betty Goodfield of The Woman Turn’d Bully. Like most Behn heroines, Hellena masquerades in costume, taking advantage of her incognito to propose made to Willmore ‘rather than put your Modesty to the blush, by asking me. . .’ (Behn 45). Thus she puts into practice the philosophy she has just expounded to her older sister: Florinda. . .who will like thee well enough to have thee, that hears what a mad Wench thou art? Hellena Like me! I don’t intend every he that likes me shall have me, but he that I like.
(56) Although Hellena is an original creation infused with Aphra’s own spirit, the other characters were left as Killigrew created them, notably Thomaso, now called Willmore. Willmore is a stud in human form, with the habit of assaulting anything in petticoats. ‘Thou know’st there’s but one way for a Woman to oblige me’, he explains. His amorous solicitations are expressed in alimentary analogies: ‘Oh, I long to come first to the Banquet of Love! and such a swinging Appetite I bring’ (77). 3. The settings of the play performed at East Los Angeles College were somewhat similar to the original settings of The Rover in the sense that this modern performance was brought to selected people almost secretly. However, the purpose of creating this image of privacy at East College was different from the original case. Initially, The Rover was brought on stage anonymously. To avoid discovery, Aphra resorted to her old ploy of concealing her sex behind the pronoun ‘he’ in the prologue. If it was her intention to fool the antagonistic group among the critics, she accomplished her aim, for The Rover was a hit. Its dashing portrayal of the exiled royalists made it a favorite of the King and the Duke of York, and the latter requested a sequel, which was dedicated to him in 1681.
Besides being presented at Court, The Rover became a permanent repertory piece, with performances well into the eighteenth century. Despite its popularity, the play appeared without a name on the title page when it was first printed. It has been suggested that Aphra concealed her identity because she had no desire to impair the success of her play with the accusation of a woman’s authorship. But The Rover had long since established itself. Why did Aphra persist in anonymity? A postscript to the first issue suggests one reason. It informs readers that The Rover had been delayed in the press because of a report about town that it was merely Thomaso’s adaptation. 4. Mr. ZZZZ, the first to play The Rover at East Los Angeles College is the original comedian and is genuinely funny in many other plays he performs in. XXXX, to whom the part of Blunt in The Rover was given, was generally cast for an old man. Both of these actors help one realize the deep thoughts behind the seemingly care-free plot of The Rover. This play revolves around economic troubles. What is strange in this particular work, however, is the extent to which Behn’s status as a woman author in the literary marketplace is largely excluded.
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The Rover is not the only play of this author that is close to an unacknowledged original; yet all are edited as her own works. Indeed many of her plays are closer to their basis in English drama than her "translations" are to the overseas works from which they purportedly derive. What then is the purpose of drawing attention to The Rover as adaptation of the original play? Could all the works by this author properly and productively fit into the categories many employed their conceptualization of the Behn’s almost plagiarism-like plays? There some authors tried to categorize the literary relationship of the present to the past in three classes of "translation": metaphrase or word-by-word translation; paraphrase or translation with latitude where the old author is kept in view by the translator but his words are not so strictly followed as his sense; and finally imitation, which assumes the liberty to vary the words and the sense and also to forsake them both on occasion, so that the writer is taking only some general hints from original works. 5. Would it not be possible to see a large part of Restoration literature, not just avowed translation, in these terms and do textual editing and footnoting simply suggest this in a prolix way?
If so, is it a useful impression to give to the twentieth-century reader who, in common with her age, regards words clearly as intellectual property and makes plagiarism not a social embarrassment but a legal offense? So back to the nitty-gritty of footnoting. 6. My own experience of The Rover is that it is different. Although there may be excess there may also be inadequacy. The reading of La Calprenede's very lengthy Cassandre to find an allusion to Alexander's snakes in Oroonoko, for example, may seem excessive, but not to have read all La Calprenede's romances as background or context for Behn’s works in general is perhaps an inadequacy, since he was so obviously an influence on her earliest writings as well as her latest. Can one ever do enough of reading in sources? Should not one feel guilt at not completing the fusty discussions of church history or at prematurely ceasing the asthmatic rifling of concordances unused for decades? What is enough, what is excess?
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