Aphra Behn Essay

Aphra Behn Essay

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Aphra Behn, who is the first female to achieve status of a professional playwright attempted to alter and influence the literary cannon through her writing, which was a precarious occupation but allowed literature to evolve in a wider range. Behn was also one of the wittiest and entertaining as evidenced through her most renowned play, The Rover, which is a restoration, yet dark comedy set in 17th century Italy while under the colonial reign of Spain. The large cast of characters becomes embroiled in scenes and consist a mix of themes of infidelity, seduction, misrepresentation, and elaborate swordplay, which create tension and confusion in addition to many comedic episodes. The play expresses its author's objections to the vulnerability of women in Restoration society. Perhaps ironically, it also appeals to the prurient interests of the audience by putting women in morally compromising situations. Based loosely on contemporary Thomas Killigrew's 1564 unperformed play, Thomaso, or The Wanderer (1664), Behn's play is less lewd and more profound.
The Rover has been widely acclaimed by critics to be a feminist play, in particular a proto-feminist play which defined by The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms as ‘a philosophical tradition that anticipated modern feminist concepts and the discussion of women’s issues when the term feminist was nonexistent prior to the twentieth century. The writing is concerned with the unique experience of being a woman or alternatively writing designed to challenge existing preconceptions of gender.’ (Baldick, 2009: 128)
In The Rover, Behn places characters in morally corrupted situations and circumstances to force audiences to reconsider preconceptions, inspiring the new movement in feminist thi...


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...uality keeps her from happiness. Through Angellica, Hellena, and Florinda, Behn reveals that the libertine female has no place in late Stuart society. The playwright’s observation comes as a wistful warning at a time when women seemed to push the limits of tradition. Actresses appearing on stage might feel they had found a career of bodily expression, but from Behn’s experience as a woman with male colleagues, the freedom is a façade. ‘Women on stage faced fetishization and loss of status. Behn’s commentary on women’s position in the late Stuart period serves to point out the double standard of libertinism in court life and the public sphere.’ (Staves, 2004: 73) By exposing and mocking the Puritanical and Cavalier restraints imposed on women, she encourages viewers to reevaluate women’s limited roles in the new age by giving her female characters a louder voice.


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