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A chaotic and complex play, The Rover (1677-1681) explores themes of gendered violence, class, and familial relationships. Written by the playwright Aphra Behn (1640-1689), the play finds its setting in mid-1600s Naples during carnival season.
Below is a summary of Aphra Behn's The Rover.
|Overview - The Rover
|Author of The Rover
|Brief summary of The Rover
|List of main characters
|Florinda, Hellena, Willmore, Don Pedro, Don Antonio, Belville, Angelica
|Violence, gender roles, and social class.
|Naples, Italy during Carnival Season.
|The play challenges traditional notions of female passivity and male dominance, portraying women who assert their sexual agency and seek their own pleasure. The play also critiques the hypocritical morality of the upper classes and celebrates the festive atmosphere of Carnival, where societal rules are temporarily suspended.
The Rover opens with a conversation between two noble Spanish sisters, Florinda and Hellena, currently in Naples. They feel restricted by their brother, Don Pedro, who is responsible for them while their father is away. Pedro wishes for Florinda to marry his friend Don Antonio and for Hellena to become a nun.
However, Florinda is in love with a poor English man called Colonel Belvile, and Hellena longs to find true love. The two women have also been banned by Pedro from attending the carnival in town but go regardless in disguise as lower-class women. They bring their cousin Valeria and their friend Lucetta, who is a prostitute.
At the carnival, they meet the central male characters of the text, who are enjoying the carnival as a group. Belville and Florinda begin conversing, though he cannot see beyond her costume. Hellena finds herself attracted to Willmore, an unreliable English naval captain who moves from woman to woman quickly.
The two speak flirtatiously. Lucetta sets her sights on Blunt, a wealthy but naive English nobleman, who she believes she can seduce and rob. Another member of the group, Frederick, is also present. Florinda eventually reveals her identity to Belville but must flee when her brother arrives. Belville laments their situation and wishes to free Florinda.
The next day, the English men go to visit Angelica, a well-known and expensive prostitute, but none of them can afford her. However, both Antonio and Pedro can afford Angelica. They arrive separately with the intention of procuring her services. Pedro realises what Antonio is doing and is enraged as he sees Antonio as being unfaithful to Florinda.
They decide to duel the next day, but Pedro declares the duel is over Florinda, not Angelica. Antonio and Willmore also fight, resulting in Antonio leaving. Angelica is displeased that she has lost a customer and confronts Willmore. The two begin to flirt, admitting feelings for each other and soon sleeping together.
Florinda, Hellena, and Valeria, still in disguise, see the other English men in the street and eavesdrop on their conversation. They hear Willmore boast about his time with Angelica, and Hellena grows jealous. However, when she emerges, he flirts with her again. She then reveals her face, and he is struck by her beauty. Angelica sees this and becomes jealous. Meanwhile, Florinda tests Belvile's loyalty. He decides that night he will rescue her.
This rescue does not go to plan. Florinda waits in her garden for Belvile. However, Willmore arrives first. He is drunk and mistakes Florinda for a prostitute, attempting to rape her. Belvile and Frederick arrive, stopping him. Pedro and his men hear the commotion. The Spaniards and the English engage in a brief fight, during which Florinda runs off. Belvile is very concerned about how he will save Florinda as she is due to marry Antonio the next day.
Meanwhile, Antonio is at Angelica's home, trying to procure her services. Willmore hears this, and the two duel. Willmore emerges victorious and leaves. Antonio's men arrive and blame Belvile for Antonio's injuries, taking him hostage.
Antonio orders Belvile to fight in his place against Pedro, disguised as him, as Antonio cannot fight while injured.
Belvile and Pedro fight the next day while Florinda watches. She hates the fighting and begs Belvile, who she thinks is Antonio, to stop. He does so, and Pedro believes this proves his love for Florinda, offering her hand in marriage to him. Florinda is horrified until Belvile secretly reveals his identity. His cover is soon blown to Pedro by the arrival of his friends. Pedro is furious, taking Florinda away.
Angelica and Willmore have another interaction in which she tells him that the disguised Hellena is actually a noblewoman. Willmore is overjoyed at this news. Hellena then enters, disguised as a man, to interfere, but Willmore soon recognises her. Angelica demands that Willmore be faithful to her, and he refuses. She leaves in a fury, vowing revenge. However, Willmore is now intent on finding Hellena.
Fact! The title of the play, The Rover, refers to the character of Willmore. A rover is one who moves around frequently, never staying in one place. It also refers to a person who moves quickly from relationship to relationship.
Florinda and Valeria escape Pedro's grasp and orchestrate a plan with Belvile. To distract him, Belvile brings Pedro to see Blunt, who has been robbed by Lucetta and now has a hatred for women. All the men find his situation hilarious.
Florinda hides in the house that Blunt is in, and he attempts to rape her, taking out his newfound rage against women. She claims her nobility, and he and Frederick, who also took part in the plot to rape her, lock Florinda away until they can determine if she is lying.
The other men arrive, mocking Blunt. In response, he boasts that he has a woman in another room. It is decided that Pedro will decide if she is noble, but before he can do this, Valeria enters and distracts him once again.
While Pedro is gone, Belvile and Florinda quickly marry, as do Frederick and Valeria. Angelica confronts Willmore again, threatening to kill him but eventually deciding against it. Pedro begins to doubt Antonio's loyalty to Florinda and questions whether he should allow her to marry Belvile instead. Willmore informs Pedro that he is too late and the couple have already married. When they re-enter, Pedro gives them his blessing.
Hellena and Willmore meet again, and he agrees to marry her. Pedro is uncomfortable with this but still agrees. The couple fear the union but still seem to have affection for each other.
The Rover is a complex play with an expansive list of central characters. Below is a table of key figures in the text.
|Florinda is a ladylike noblewoman struggling under the control of her father and brother. She longs to marry her true love, Belvile, and will do anything to achieve this, concocting elaborate schemes.
|Elegant, determined, strong-willed.
|According to her father, Hellena is destined for the nunnery, but she despises this decision. She is the most independent female character in the play, going after what she wants, which proves to be Willmore. Through smarts and cunning, she gets him to marry her. Hellena fights against the expectations of women at the time.
|Independent, intelligent, courageous.
|Willmore is a frivolous and unreliable English naval officer. He adores women and moves from relationship to relationship quickly with little regard for others' feelings. Willmore dislikes constraints and rules, he does what he wants. He attracts the attention of both Angelica and Hellena, eventually agreeing to marry Hellena.
|Unreliable, lustful, unpredictable.
|Don Pedro is the brother of Florinda and Hellena. He is domineering, trying to marry Florinda off to Antonio and send Hellena to a nunnery. He sees this as protecting their family's purity by controlling his sisters' personal and sexual lives. Hypocritically, Pedro pursues Angelica, a prostitute.
|Controlling, sexist, manipulative.
|Don Antonio is an unreliable nobleman and close friend of Pedro. He is betrothed to Florinda but rarely acts like it, seemingly obsessed with Angelica instead. Antonio also bends the truth often, forcing Belvile to pretend to be him in a duel with Pedro.
|Self-serving, deceitful, disloyal.
|Belvile is one of the more morally upright male characters in the text. He is a poor colonel and his only ambition is to marry Florinda. Belvile goes to great lengths to save her from the clutches of her controlling brother. He is also calm and grounded, unlike many of his friends.
|Loving, dedicated, measured.
|Angelica is a prostitute who charges high fees for her services. Many men are willing to pay this due to her beauty, grace, and reputation, including Pedro and Antonio. However, Angelica falls in love with Willmore instead, freely sleeping with him. She becomes infuriated and jealous upon discovering his feelings for Hellena.
|Elegant, jealous, volatile.
The Rover is set in Naples, Italy in the mid-1600s. This setting is relevant due to the reason why the English male characters are here at this particular time. The English male characters in The Rover are all Cavaliers. This means that they fought on the side of King Charles I (1600-1649) during the English Civil War (1642-1651).
The war was fought between those in favour of keeping the monarchy, the Cavaliers, and those in favour of giving all control to parliament, the Roundheads, led by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).
The Cavaliers lost the war, with many being exiled to mainland Europe, like the characters in Behn's play. Behn herself was a strong supporter of the monarchy, even acting as a spy for King Charles I.
The Rover is a long play with many twists and turns. It explores complicated interpersonal relationships within families and between genders.
Violence is everywhere in The Rover. However, there are different types of violence depicted. The male characters in the text use violence as a solution to their issues.
There are numerous duels in The Rover, typically taking place after two men have some sort of disagreement. The key thing about this kind of violence is that the two participants are usually on equal footing. They both agree to the duel and have similar weapons to carry it out with.
For example, Pedro and Antonio duel over who Florinda will marry, with both of them equally matched.
However, there is also a significant amount of gendered violence in The Rover. There are multiple incidents in which male characters try to rape Florinda, not realising who she is. It is only her nobility that saves her.
Men in The Rover frequently exercise their power over women through violent means, like assault and harassment. A female playwright herself, Aphra Behn, sheds light on this issue in her play, juxtaposing the two forms of violence.
Class is central to The Rover. Class prejudice is rife and impacts many of the characters in Behn's play. In order to protect themselves and their reputations, when going to the carnival and flirting with men, Florinda and Hellena disguise themselves as lower-class women. This seems to allow them more freedom than they have as noblewoman.
For aristocrats, familial status is also important. This is why Pedro is insistent that he controls who his sisters do and do not marry. While he partly picks Antonio to marry Florinda because he is his friend, Pedro also chooses him because he is a wealthy man of the upper class. Belvile, on the other hand, is noble but poor, making it harder for him to marry Florinda.
Read on for key quotes from Behn's play.
Content warning: contains discussions of sexual assault.
|'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.'
|This quote is said by Willmore, and it exemplifies his character. He moves around, seeking love and fun wherever he goes. Willmore has no intention to seriously settle in Naples; he only wishes for frivolous pursuits.
|'Like me? I don't intend every he that like me shall have me, but he that I like. I should have stayed in the nunnery still if I had liked my lady abbess as well as she liked me.'
|Hellena is speaking here, elaborating on her want for independence and freedom as a woman, particularly in issues of romance. Hellena does not wish to be with every man who is interested in her, nor one that is chosen by someone else. She wants to make her own decisions.
|'Cruel, adsheartlikins as a Gally-slave, or a Spanish Whore: 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.'
|These are the angry and violent words said by Blunt when he attempts to assault Florinda. He blames her for the actions of another woman. Behn is showing here the power and authority men exercised over women at this time and how it was so often abused.
Behn wrote the play, that depicts Cavalier characters, partly in praise of the new King Charles II.
The setting of Naples is significant because many Cavaliers were exiled to mainland Europe. Naples also held carnivals where social norms were typically loosened, as happens in The Rover.
At the end of the play, Florinda and Belvile marry, while Hellena and Willmore agree to marry soon after.
Main themes in The Rover include violence and class.
Behn wrote The Rover while living in England.
Where is The Rover set?
When is The Rover set?
The mid 1600s.
What are two key themes in The Rover?
Violence and class.
Which side did Aphra Behn support in the English Civil War?
Which character is The Rover named after?
Where does Hellena's father and brother wish her to go?
To a nunnery.
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