Hey Awesome Lit Class! It’s Mariam and Velvet here with our presentation for our first text this sem, “The Rover” by Aphra Behn!
Anyway, we decided to use a blog for our presentation so that it would be easy to look back and revise if you wanna do this play for your essay or if it comes out for the exam (hint hint hahahaha jkjk). During the course of the class after our short 15 minute presentation, do feel free to leave comments under the respective sections to make notes of your group discussions! To navigate, we are looking at 4 main issues:
Mary – Setting
Velvet – Disguise
Mary – Sex and Marriage
Velvet – Women
These will be under “Home”. There are a few other pages to give you some background info, and the links to these are at the top right hand corner of the blog.
Enjoy the blog!
Hey guys! Mariam here.
I think the setting is a pretty good point to start talking about the text. As you can see, it’s in Naples, which may be familiar coz it’s mentioned in “The Tempest”. More significantly though, it is set when Naples is having a Carnival!
The Carnival setting further heightens the frivolous, playful tone of the play. It is after all, a comedy, and the fun and fanfare of a carnival would make it even more fun to watch the play as you can just imagine how cool the set would be like. When asked by her governess what she will do at Carnival, Hellena replies, “That which all the World does, as I am told, be as mad as the rest, and take all innocent Freedom.” As we can see, the madness and freedom of Carnival is heightened by the fact that everyone is wearing masks and masquerading. As Belville points out about the masks he and Willmore are wearing, “Whatever Extravagances we commit in these Faces, our own may not be oblig’d to answer ‘em.”
This kind of environment is especially dangerous for a licentious character like Willmore. In fact, Willmore’s sexual desire threatens to become violent almost immediately after he comes ashore at Naples. A woman dressed like a courtesan at the carnival shuns Willmore’s advances and Willmore quickly becomes aggressive, his sexual desire restrained only by the more honourable Belville who beseeches him to “use no Violence here.”
I also think that the sense of frivolity and fun mirrors the weird and wonderful lack of morals that characterizes the Restoration. You get the sense that nothing is really taken seriously. Cue “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.
Can we say that A.B was inspired to write a play about the power that disguises provide, having been an ex spy? I would say definitely so. Doubtlessly, that is not the only point that she would like to make, but the power of disguise is certainly an essential aspect of the play.
Thus, we can parallel AB’s play’s crucial theme of Disguise with her life as an ex-spy, which involves putting on a charade everyday of her life when she was one.
Women and disguise:
Florinda and Hellena end their discussion of their oppressed lives with an act of resistance- going out in disguise to join the carnival celebrations. The anonymity made possible by the carnival disguise allows them to be temporarily free and do as they desire, namely to participate in the public spheres.
Disguise somewhat also drives the plot and allows the young women to meet the men they will marry.
Question: What does it say about disguise and freedom? Also, is too much freedom a bad thing? Where does it show in the play?
Hellena’s adoption of a male disguise: Why did Hellena choose to disguise herself as a man rather than a “public woman”, etc?
Perhaps it can be said that she uses male disguise to avoid some of the problems encountered by masked women, such as being approached for sex. She is also able to bring messages to Willmore, and talk to men openly thus gaining insights about their characters.
Conversely, why did Florinda not choose a male disguise?
The role of the Mask:
In 1660s, women started wearing masks when they attend the theatre. Subsequently, when prostitutes also started to wear masks, the distinctionss between respectable women and prostitutes became blurred. The mask becomes a sign associated with an offer of anonymity, where freedom is offered from conventional roles.
It is both a subversvie and liberating object for [women] characters. On one hand, it frees them from recognition and allows them a certain degree of liberty, whereas on the other hand places them in dangerous situations.
Any examples of women/men being placed in dangerous situations because of the mask?
It’s Mariam again (:
Hellena and Wilmore have a pretty interesting love line over the course of the play. They are attracted to each other right from their first meeting at the Carnival (p168), and you can see from their funny and cute conversation that sparks really start to fly. Yet he has not begun to think of her in a sexual way – in the very next scene he longs “for (his) arms full of soft white kind – woman! such as I fancy Angellica”. He wins over Angellica with a speech (p185) and consquently gets nasty with her (for free!). The day after, he meets Hellena again though (p190), and they resume their playful flirting, making Angellica jealous (p194: praises H’s beauty, p195 :lies to H about being with Angellica all night long!!! tsktsk).
Willmore represents the typical restoration ideology. He doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. He believes in free sex.
To visit women one after another is like business for him. He says, “Love and mirth are my business in Naples; and if I mistake not the place here’s an excellent market for Chapmen of my humour.” Willmore represents typical restoration idea in the sense that he like restoration men doesn’t want to live with a single woman for a whole life. Even Charles II had several mistresses.
Willmore advances many arguments in favour of free sex. He only denies the institution of marriage not the notion of marriage. Nonetheless, in the end he marries Hellena out of love. It is interesting to know that Aphra Behn also wrote “The Rover II” where Willmore is given choice between money and love. But he denies money and lives with a poor woman after Hellena’s death. It is love which made him refuse money.
Finally we take Hellena’s view about marriage. She is very much like Willmore in her views. She is also taken as female rover in this play because she is also roving for men. She seems to be voicing Aphra Behn. In restoration period women were forced either to marry or to go to nunnery. Hellena dismantles this notion. Hellena wants to enjoy her life. So she visits Carnival in search of a male partner. She holds the notion that a woman should marry that man whom she is well acquainted with.
Florinda and Belvile have been attracted to each other even before the play starts, when she meets him when her brother brings him home. (B: Why am I chose out of all mankind to be the object of your bounty? F: Sir, from my window I have often seen you, and women of my quality have so few opportunities for love, that we ought to lose none.)
Yet she is in a fix, since her father and brother value money more than the compatibility of her marriage.
Either they’re being oppressive or, if you think about it, quite realistic/pragmatic, since money is pretty important in this world. Girls, ask yourselves – would you marry a guy you kinda like who is rich, or a guy you’re madly in love with but is poor?
The commodification of women in the marriage market is Aphra Behn’s the most persistent theme as all her plays she seems to be critiquing this. There is a sense that women have no choice. Yet Florinda takes her own stand, and loves Belvile for his machoness (at least that’s what I think) and not for money.
(“I’ll not deny I value Belvile; when I was expos’d to such dangers as the licens’d lust of common soldiers threatned, when rage and conquest flew thro the city then Belvile, this criminal for my sake, threw himself into all dangers to save my honour, and will you not allow him my steem?”-Act I scene 1)
Willmore’s violent tendencies reappear in Act 3 Scene 3 when, drunk, he stumbles across Florinda who is waiting in her garden for Belville. He takes her for a “delicate shining Wench” and immediately tries to seduce her. Despite Florinda’s protests, Willmore continues to harass her, saying that she is “oblig’d in conscience to deny [him] nothing” and that the garden “is a fine convenient place” to make love.
When Florinda finally threatens to cry rape,
Willmore thinks she is being coy: “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?” Willmore’s imagery is disturbing because he is suggesting that Florinda, being out in the garden at night with the gate open, wanted a man to come along and seduce her, or put another way, that she was asking for trouble. When caught by Belvile, he gives the excuse that he thought she was a “harlot” under the light, which implies that it’s okay to rape hookers. IS IT?!?!?! What do you think guys?
In Act 4 Scene 3, Florinda is almost raped again, this time by Blunt, who is bent on revenge after his unfortunate experience with Lucetta. In this scene, Blunt gives voice to a disturbing misogyny when he tells the disguised Florinda how he plans to abuse her: “Cruel, yes, 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 Injoyment, but to let you see I have ta’en deliberated Malice to thee, and will be revenged on one Whore for the Sins of another.”
In the context of a jilted lover, Blunt’s hatred is understandable, but the sexual violence he describes is frightening rather than comical. The scene becomes even more alarming when Blunt invites an eager Frederick to take part in his revenge: “We’ll both lie with her, and then let me alone to bang her.” Again, it is Belville who saves Florinda from her attackers; she gives them a ring she received from Belville, and the two men agree to talk to Belville before having their way with her. Frederick echoes Willmore’s earlier explanation for his attempted rape of Florinda when he says, “I begin to suspect something; and ‘twou’d anger us vilely to be truss’d up for a Rape upon a Maid of Quality, when we only believe we ruffle a Harlot.”
Like the second assault, the third attempted rape in the play occurs because of Florinda’s disguise. In Act 5, Blunt, Pedro, Willmore and the other men draw swords to determine who will have the pleasure of ravishing the disguised Florinda, who they believe to be a whore. Pedro wins the draw and pursues his sister around the stage to try to claim his prize. It’s almost incestuous at this point. Yet the sexual mix-up and physical bustle of Pedro’s pursuit of Florinda transforms this attempted rape into a farcical episode. The absurdity of this scene, especially the fact that Florinda is afraid that Pedro will discover her identity and not that he will attack her—“Good Heaven, defend me from discovery”—make this attempted rape seem slightly less disturbing than the assaults made by Willmore and Blunt.
Nevertheless, the attempted rape scenes are characterized by some disturbing actions and dialogue. These scenes can be understood in the context of Behn’s critique of the powerlessness of women. If Florinda could freely love and marry Belville, she would not have to meet him in the garden at night or disguise herself during Carnival in order to speak to him, and thus she would not be vulnerable to the sexual attacks attempted in the play. Moreover, the severity of the attempted sexual violence is such that Behn’s critique extends to the unacceptable treatment of all women. The comic frame of the play allows Behn to depict this subjugation in a particularly extreme fashion. I think it shows the ugly side of the Restoration period. While rape is unavoidable no matter what the moral climate, perhaps the sexual freedom and decadence made it even easier for guys to want to have their way with women whether or not it was consensual.
Two Aspects of the Discussion of Women in The Rover:
1. Position of women in a patriarchal society.
2. The Difficulty of distinguishing women of varying statuses.
1. Position of women in a patriarchal society
– women as commodities
– restricted to only the private spheres
Before marriage, women of Florinda’s class are controlled by men of their family namely being Pedro and Florinda’s father respectively. After marriage, the wife moves from being controlled by men of her family to being controlled by her husband. Hellena’s description of Florinda’s future role is also one that is confined to the “new apartment he makes his dressing room”, dwelling in the country and namely the bedroom of the new house. Thus, it seems that here, Florinda and Hellena through their discussion, have come to an understanding where marriage is a problematic situation and institution that serves only to continue the entrapment of women, as they are seemingly “properties” that only have transferred hands.
In another situation, Angellica is like a commodity belonging to only herself when she has yet to fall in love with Willmore. She has the wit and beauty like no others when she is not in love, serving to only increase her material value and desire in the eyes of men. However, the instance she falls in love and gives her love and money away to Willmore is the time of her downfall as her “commodity value”, or prestige, fell and he thus shifts his attention away from her. As a result, the vulnerability to romantic love shifts her away from a position of strength in an economic system which recognizes her value as a priceless commodity to one of dependence in the economy of emotion (p26, Anne Russell). She is now transformed from an articulate and intelligent character to a stereotype of a jealous and emotional woman.
To add on, even while Angellica may have been a famous courtesan before she fell in love, and is even a relatively successful commodity belonging to only herself, her success is one that arises out of her popularity in the “private sphere” of life even though she is a “public woman”, aka being popular notoriously, regardless of her popularity amongst men.
Thus, the above two situations shows how women are still being “commodified” by men regardless of their societal ranks in the patriarchal society. More ironically, despite it being the Carnival Time, a period which emphasized greatly on freedom, women are still largely restricted to the private spheres of life.
2. The Difficulty of distinguishing women of varying statuses.
– the trouble (or lack of it?) in trying to tell apart a fair maid and a prostitute.
The difficulty that Blunt has in telling a “maid of quality” from a “harlot” is shared by men throughout the play. Blunt mistakes the prostitute Lucetta for a rich wife who loves him, and Willmore mistakes Florinda for a prostitute. It is almost as if it is a recurring theme that Aphra Behn wants to point out, that sometimes the boundaries separating the women of ranks and “whores” are actually a fine line apart only, perhaps particularly more so to the eyes of men.
In another sense, Behn could indirectly be trying to imply that the different “ranks” of women do not really matter to men as all they merely want could be to move between the different circles of ranks to meet different kinds of women, and also that ultimately, a woman has only one purpose- which is to fufill the sexual expectations of a man. This is somewhat proven when Florinda is saved by her cousin Valeria from being assaulted by Blunt and Frederick only to have perfunctory apologies being made to her, as though nothing more is expected.
So does it mean that the language used by Angellica or Lucetta is about equivalent standards to that of Florinda’s?
Why is the boundary distinguishing a fair maiden from a harlot so ill-defined?
However, the fact that Willmore chooses to offer marriage to Hellena eventually instead of Angellica seems to imply that no matter how the boundaries of women’s rank may be ill-defined at times, ultimately, it is such that a prostitute would still not be extended some social graces as that of a chaste woman. It can be said that perhaps men of the Carnival time still value virginity more than the declaration and offer of free love itself, backing my point fundamentally that perhaps they do feel that a woman’s main purpose is to fulfill the sexual expectations of a man, and offers of something as transient and intangible as love is unimportant and perhaps even meaningless to them.
Question: Is there any parallel to this viewpoint with the fact that the play was revived about a 100 years later? Are there any differences in values and morality with contemporary world? How can we read Florinda’s attempted rape? ( the difficulty of distinguishing women of different classes.. or perhaps more than that? )
Another Question: Are there any questions, class?!?!?!?!?!!?