Best MA Student Short Essays for ENG579 2007-8

Dr. Morillo

Kevin Casey

ENG 579

Dr. Morillo

Paper 1

Sept. 19, 2008


What to Do About Lucy?

The Writer-in-Waiting in Wycherly’s The Country Wife


When Lucy turns aside to claim responsibility for the maelstrom of misdirection that spins the The Country Wife to its close, her lines sound odd:  “Now could I speak, if I durst, and solve the riddle, / who am the author of it” (V.iv.272-3).  How could this lady-in-waiting, who does not even first enter until almost halfway through the play and appears in only four scenes altogether, be the architect of such a plot?  Much like the presence of the theater itself, the writer has an unbilled role in the play that manifests in Lucy, serving both as a dramatic device and also an authorial voice.  While the character would seem an afterthought in the Dramatis Personae (in fact, appearing last in the list of Women), Lucy has an indelible impact on two crucial scenes—Act III, scene ii and Act IV, scene i—that requires her return in the final scene to bring the play to a satisfactory conclusion.  Simultaneously, Wycherly—perhaps self-interested in pursuit of a living by his pen—comments via Lucy’s actions on the nascent Restoration theater and the importance of the playwright, creating a dual position for Alithea’s maid as his writer-in-waiting.

Preceding Lucy’s entrance in The Country Wife is a fascinating bit of dramatic criticism from Sparkish, the bumbling fool who wants in on every joke, even when he is the punchline.  Horner and Harcourt have their fun with him, prompting a discourse on theater and Sparkish’s assertion about all who attend plays that “we speak more wit and so become the poet’s rivals in his audience” (III.ii.103-4).  Indeed, he does “scorn writing” (III.ii.112) but acknowledges it a necessary evil in the game of love.  Yet his own idea of poetry seems quite different than that of the Restoration stage.  A question from Dorilant gets an angry response from Sparkish on the writers’ renewed reign: 

Damn the poets!  They turned ‘em into a burlesque, as / they call it; that burlesque is a hocus-pocus trick they / have got, which by virtue of the ‘hictius doctius, / topsy turvey,’ they make a wise and witty man in / the world a fool upon the stage, you know not how, / and ‘tis therefore, I hate ‘em too, for I know not but / it may be my own case, for they’ll put a man into a / play for looking asquint (III.ii.121-8). 

Sparkish lambastes the current playwrights and longs for “their predecessors…contented to make serving men only their stage fools” (III.ii.128-31).  He even declares knighthood is his for the asking, but that he declines the honor for fear of being parodied onstage.  Harcourt reasonably asks:  “But why shouldst thou be afraid of being in a play, / who expose yourself everyday in the playhouses / and as public places?” (III.ii.137-9).

It seems that the Restoration stage’s subject matter hits too close to home for Sparkish.  If the goal of a play, in part, is to instruct, Sparkish wants no part of the lesson.  He is, in his words, the writer’s rival.  He speaks for the Interregnum, or at least a tamer brand of drama than the Restoration comedy.  In his view, the theater is much like the woman of the title: best kept tucked away in the country, devoid of ideas or vitality, for fear that she fully realize herself and—heaven forbid—cuckold her husband.  For Sparkish to find his likeness on the stage would be its own brand of dramatic cuckoldry.  Asked if his appearance in a play would be any different than sitting for a portrait, and not good publicity with the ladies to boot, Sparkish responds with uncharacteristic conviction:  “A pox! Painters don’t draw the small pox or / pimples in one’s face.  Come, damn all your silly / authors whatever, all books and booksellers, by the / world, and all readers, courteous or uncourteous” (III.ii.145-8).

Lucy’s entrance ends the discussion, but not the meta-drama, for Margery insists on purchasing some reading material—including Covent Garden Drollery, which featured Wycherly’s work—no doubt of the same ilk as Sparkish’s damned songs.  Sparkish, meanwhile, does all he can to push his bride-to-be into Harcourt’s arms and thinks quite well of himself for it.  Lucy’s first lines—noted in the stage direction as spoken behind the principle actors, as though she is narrating—set her immediately against Sparkish:

Well, to see what easy husbands these women / of quality can meet with!  A poor chambermaid can / never have such ladylike luck.  Besides, he’s thrown / away upon her; she’ll make no use of her fortune, / her blessing.  None to a gentleman for a pure / cuckold, for it requires breeding to be a cuckold (III.ii.272-8).

Here set in motion are Lucy’s twin aims:   She will conspire to prevent Alithea’s planned marriage to Sparkish, and in doing so condemn the fool and his criticism of the theater, specifically his skewering of the modern playwright.  For the drama to reach an acceptable end, Sparkish must fail.  Lucy is author of both plot and commentary, but subtly so.  She lurks in the shadows and often speaks in asides, similar to her opening lines behind the action on stage.  Lucy is quietly a key player in the onstage, off-stage action with Horner and Margery-in-drag, and attempts to pacify Pinchwife as his terror of cuckcoldry escalates.  In the confusion, it seems only Lucy is able to fully apprehend the scene. 

            Act IV opens and, lest there be any ambiguity about Lucy’s opinion of her lady’s husband-to-be and writer’s rival, she proclaims Alithea’s dress and decoration “for / no other purpose but as people adorn and perfume / a corpse for a stinking second-hand grave, such or / as bad as I think Mr. Sparkish’s bed” (IV.i.4-6).  Lucy makes her case for Harcourt—a moderate counterpart to Sparkish in the dramatic discourse of the previous act—and the synergy of plot and subtext continues with Lucy attempting to reweave the web of relationships as she sees fit.  She also develops the primary commentary on marriage and love.  She would prefer a coffin to Sparkish’s bed, and excoriates the commodification of marriage—the bribery of the heart (IV.i.32)—common of the time.  Sparkish embodies this idea.  He is the eternal fool who would suck the life out of anything worthwhile, his wife and the theater included.  Even Alithea, with her misguided sense of loyalty and propriety, acknowledges Sparkish’s lack of that sought-after trait—wit—relative to Harcourt, but excuses it for his lack of jealousy.  In Lucy’s view, though, that “husbandly virtue” (IV.i.52) is lost on an honest woman like Alithea.   

Freedom—of life, love, expression—is very much at stake for Lucy.  “Liberty is a great pleasure, madam” (IV.i.65).  The current customs of marriage—as with the planned nuptials of Sparkish and Alithea—destroy freedom, particularly for the woman, suppressing her like Sparkish would have the theater stifled.  Lucy says in an aside:  “The country is as terrible / I find to our young English ladies as a monastery to those abroad” (IV.i.72-4).  Derailing Alithea’s marriage is imperative for the preservation of freedom.  Lucy therefore plays coy to the parson-in-disguise and enlists the trick for her own end, knowing the ceremony will be a sham.  She coaxes Alithea into the deception (IV.i.181-3) and excuses her lady’s reluctance in a sly bit of deference to her rival Sparkish, convincing him nothing is amiss:  “Yes, an’t please your worship, married women show all their modesty the first day, because / married men show all their love the first day” (IV.i.194-6).  The scene concludes and Lucy remains out of sight (and presumably out of the audience’s mind) until she returns in Act V, scene iii, where she begins to reap the fruits of her conspiratorial labor.  The sham parson has been revealed to Sparkish, and he believes he now sees the ruse—though he still mistakes Horner as Alithea’s true love.  Lucy sees the misdirection will work (V.iii.34) and delights with the audience in Sparkish’s idiocy: “He has been a great bubble by his similes, as they say” (V.iii.41).  She is vindicated in her arguments on marriage with Alithea—“You believe, then, a fool may be made jealous / now?” (V.iii.85-6)—and presses forward with her designs to pair her lady with Harcourt.

In the following scene, she claims authorship of the chaos of matchmaking and love at hand.  From a dramatic plot standpoint, Lucy is crucial to the conclusion.  Her admission and plea to Pinchwife allows for his satisfaction that Margery has not cuckolded him, and from there the pieces fall into place: Horner escapes unscathed, Alithea and Harcourt will marry, and Sparkish remains the unmarried fool.  Given the convention of plays ending with couples pairing off, either in bed or in marriage (for even Horner is surely off to another rakish conquest), Sparkish’s solitude speaks loudly—that he is so self-assured in his lack of a woman (V.iv.433-4) is his final, foolish dismissal.

Lucy’s authorship claim is also an aside from the real writer, Wycherly, who takes the opportunity to remind his audience who is really in control of the drama.  Sparkish’s fate at Lucy’s hands catalyzes the plot and serves as an admonishment.  In the writer-in-waiting’s penultimate words:  “And any wild thing grows but the more fierce and / hungry for being kept up and more dangerous to / the keeper” (V.iv.426-8).  A “doctrine for all husbands” (V.iv.429) and also for the theater.  Bottled up in silence for more than a decade, it has returned with a vengeance.

Works Cited

Wycherly, William.  “The Country Wife.”  The Broadview Anthology of Restoration &

Eighteenth-Century Drama.  Ed. J. Douglas Canfield.  Ontario, Canada:  Broadview

Press, 2001.  1038.

Dan Poindexter

ENG 579



“There’s No Sinner like a Young Saint:” The Metaphoric Subversion of Religion in Behn’s The Rover


            It was not an uncommon thing for English Restoration playwrights to vaguely satirize religion; however, the popular trend of the age was to tread lightly around the subject, for the obvious reason that England was, at least nominally, a Protestant nation.  Female playwright Aphra Behn breaks from this tradition of timidity in her libertine comedy The Rover, or The Banished Cavaliers, yet cleverly masks her intentionally sacrilegious commentary on the cultural view of Christianity with a veil of anti-Catholicism – a sentiment that would have seemed less blasphemous to her English audiences.  Under the guise of anti-Catholic sentiment, Behn strews throughout the play numerous clever juxtapositions of erotic love and Christianity that gradually form an elaborate metaphor of seemingly contradictory images.  This subversive strategy of using Christian rhetoric to define erotic love ultimately highlights the incompatibility of love and religion, and shows which of the two is a cultural priority.

            The first, and most obvious, juxtaposition of religion and eros in the play is presented in the form of a young Spanish maid and Catholic nun-in-training, Hellena.  The far from subtle or metaphoric irony presented by Hellena’s character is that she, a girl sentenced to a life of celibacy, is by far the most amorous female role of the play, more explicitly eager to experience the ways of romantic love than the other females.  Hellena’s paradoxical situation – that her heightened amorous desires, which are seemingly destined to remain unfulfilled, are professedly the result of her (thus far) sexual repression – is exhibited at the play’s outset in a conversation she has with her sister Florinda:


FLORINDA: “…I have told thee more than thou

understand’st [of love] already.”

HELLENA: “The more’s my grief.  I would fain know as much

as you, which makes me so inquisitive….” (591)


Behn prefaces the entire play with this obvious irony, which, relative to the plot, is rather marginal.  Though the idea of a lusty nun seems exceptionally sacrilegious, it is a situation that could only occur within the sphere of Catholicism.  Through this denominationally exclusive situation, Behn creates a defense within the confines of the Protestant English theatre, allowing herself due commentary on Christianity, while retaining an anti-Catholic safety net.  This blatant irony, laid bare at the play’s outset, is decidedly less subtle than the witty sacrilege soon to come from the play’s English characters, who have yet to make their way onstage.  Regardless of subtlety, however, what is established in the opening scene is a sense that the appeal of erotic love may trump that of religion for the play’s youth culture – a commonality, it will soon be seen, among characters of any denomination.

            Hellena, being also the play’s leading female wit, soon opens the floor for metaphoric sacrilege through her own utterance, saying, “I’ll have a saint of my own to pray to / shortly, if I like any that dares venture on me.” (594)  This metaphor, comparing potential male lovers to iconic religious figures contains only a small degree of blasphemy, and while still exclusively Catholic, provides a transition from the play’s initial boldfaced situational irony to more subversive metaphor, a trend that is continued and embellished by the play’s wily rake, the exiled English sea captain, Willmore.

            Indeed, Willmore picks up the sacrilege right where Hellena leaves off, telling her in their first encounter, “There’s no sinner like a young saint.” (598)  This witty irony strengthens the link between youth and the superior appeal of erotic love, while simultaneously introducing Willmore as the new mouthpiece for clever sacrilege.  Though this irreverent statement is still catholicized by a reference to sainthood, the denominational barrier seems to begin crumbling here, mainly because the speaker is an Englishman.  From this point forward, the religious rhetoric of the play becomes more intricate and subversive, while subtly moving to encompass a broader, more non-denominational sense of Christianity. 

            Willmore’s next metaphor springs forth as he attempts to seduce the courtesan Angelica, whose services he lacks the (monetary) currency to purchase.  When Angelica, on the brink of being persuaded by Willmore’s silver tongue, reminds him of her “price,”

He replies:


Oh, why dost thou draw me from an awful worship,

By showing thou art no divinity?

Conceal the fiend, and show me all the angel!

Keep me but ignorant, and I’ll be devout

And pay my vows forever at this shrine. (609)


With this jumble of generic Christian imagery, Willmore heightens the level of blasphemy present in the metaphor, likening the object of his amorous intent to a deity – or at the least something worthy of worship.  He also possibly suggests, in a very implicit manner, that worshipping anything, deity or otherwise, requires some level of ignorance.  Soon Angelica yields to him, and he continues the metaphor, this time incorporating a not-so-subtle sexual innuendo:


        …Come, let’s withdraw! Where I’ll renew my

vows – and breath ‘em with such ardor thou shalt

not doubt my zeal. (609)


At this point, the pattern of juxtaposition has developed into a metaphor that is less exclusive, more sophisticated, and more obviously sexual.  It is also much more subversive: Willmore utilizes the implicit purity of religious images to achieve a very carnal goal – a strategy which he will utilize again for similar, if not much darker, purposes.

            After a night of hard drinking, Willmore sets upon Hellena’s sister Florinda, whom he promptly attempts to rape.  Employing a rather dizzying logic, Willmore makes religion the crux of an argument to convince Florinda to allow him to rape her:


                                      …Indeed, should I make love to you, and to you vow fidelity – and swear

and lie till you believed and yielded – that were to make it willful fornication, the crying sin of the nation.  Thou art obliged in conscience to deny me nothing.  Now – come be kind without any more idle prating. (618)


This ridiculous bit of verbal trickery is the most subversive juxtaposition of Christianity and sex within the play.  This is Willmore in his element: base, yet still complex and witty, holding nothing sacred in his pursuit of sexual fulfillment.  The absurdity of his argument, however, reveals a fissure between religion and romantic love that before may not have been as obvious.

            Perhaps his most telling metaphor, however, is completely devoid of any Christian references.  In an odd inversion of the play’s established patterns, Willmore professes to his friends what seems to be a surprisingly genuine love for Hellena:


Dost not see the little wanton god there all gay and smiling?  Have I not an air about my face and eyes that distinguish me from the crowd of common lovers?  By Heaven, Cupid’s quiver has not half so many darts as her eyes! (611)


Here though, in his nobler (and less sexual) professions, his images are explicitly pagan, even referencing Cupid, the figurehead of erotic love.  This inverse metaphor serves to highlight by contrast the juxtapositions of love and religion in the play, simultaneously suggesting that romantic love and organized religion may simply not be compatible. 

            At the play’s close, Willmore and Helena have decided to marry one another.  Behn, having strayed from the shelter of her initial anti-Catholic safeguard, brings the focus back to Helena, the now very much lapsed nun-in-training, who asserts that her inheritance will be “better laid out in love than in religion, and turn / to as good an account.” (643) 

            Doubtless, Behn does not completely escape any associations with anti-Christian sentiment, but veils her true colors well, perhaps well enough to keep them hidden from those narrow-minded audience members who might take offense to her opinions – at least well enough to provide herself some kind of out.  At any rate, the starkly self-contradictory juxtapositions Behn places in the mouths of Hellena and Willmore, the play’s most theatrical (and deceptive) characters, serve to elucidate her views on the incompatibility of religion and love.  Ultimately, since religion and love are necessarily separate, there must be a choice made between the two.  When Helena, in the final scene, asks the cast of the play whether she should choose “Heaven [through Catholicism] or the captain,” the emphatic cry from all is “A captain! A captain!” (643)  The next generation speaks – they choose love.




Works Cited


Behn, Aphra.  “The Rover, or The Banished Cavaliers.”  The Broadview Anthology of Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century Drama.  Ed. J. Douglas Canfield.  Ontario: Broadview Press.  2002.  590-645.

Karla Heinen

ENG 579

Dr. Morillo

Sept. 19, 2008

Feigning Control and Maintaining Madness in Behn’s The Rover; Or, The Banished Cavaliers

            In Act III, scene i, of Aphra Behn’s The Rover; Or, The Banished Cavaliers, the prominent Restoration feature of disguise amidst a playful critique of serious problems in gender relations reveals the underlying themes of madness and desire for control within sexual relationships. In particular, Hellena struggles for control over her seemingly mad love for Willmore. Despite her willfulness and atypically strong language, Hellena physically hides from view and disguises her identity in her quest for a lover who defies all reasonable qualifications for a husband. At the same time, the men, Willmore, Belvile, and Frederick, struggle to understand one another, taking language for granted and misreading the visual cues of the women, confusing signs—the women’s disguises—with the actual identities of the women. In this scene, Behn continuously complicates traditional binaries of reason and madness, and language and image, as the characters seek sexual power and struggle with its elusiveness.

            Through language, Hellena discovers the inexplicable madness associated with falling in love. Hellena speaks with a newfound sense of experience in this scene, a departure from her exchange with Florinda and Pedro in the play’s first scene, in which she asserted that she would find love as a means of revenge against her brother (and father) for plans to send her to a nunnery. She explores her own shift from an understanding of love as “a very pretty, idle, sill kind of pleasure to pass one’s time with” (III.i.69-70) to the complicated emotions of jealousy, fear, and anger. Hellena’s intent had been love for sport, but she begins to change her perspective in this scene, ironically feeling trapped by feelings of love, instead of the real confinement of a forced religious life.

            Hellena’s female friends, along with the audience, must consider the sanity of their usually willful friend in her desire for Willmore. When Willmore does not arrive at their designated meeting, Hellena says, “he has not kept his word with me here—and may be taken up. That thought is not very pleasant to me. What the deuce should this be, now, that I feel?” (III.i.26). Hellena, despite the fact that she speaks a great deal in this play, and in this scene in particular, does not have the language to articulate the complexity of the jealousy she feels inside herself. Because she lacks the language of love, she relies on Valeria to fill in some of the gaps. Valeria, who has earlier teased Hellena for being in love prompts her to describe her feelings, and asks her, “What is’t like?” (III.i.28). Despite her teasing, Valeria listens and interprets Hellena’s feelings, helping her to classify and distinguish them.

            Hellena relies on her friend’s prompting as she tries to decipher her new, complex, emotions. She responds, “I cannot choose but be angry and afraid when I think that mad fellow should be in love with anybody but me” (III.i.29-32). Hellena on some level recognizes the folly of choosing Willmore, already referring to him as “mad,” yet she resigns herself to the uncontrollable feelings of love for him. Frequently, though, the audience must weigh Hellena’s genuine concerns in her discourse on trust with the knowledge of Willmore’s less appealing motives, an unabashed and unmitigated sexual desire. Here, Hellena struggles for the control over her own jealousy as well as control over the language to interpret those emotions. Her loquaciousness does not eliminate the need for inter-communication and reliance on her female supporters to discover her own emotions. For Hellena, control comes not in language or image alone, but in a community of female supporters; but ironically, not the female community of the nunnery to which she was destined.

            In addition to contemplating uncontrollable jealousy, Hellena cynically reflects on a woman’s path toward romantic and platonic relationships. She says to Willmore, “I am as inconstant as / you, for I have considered, Captain, that a / handsome woman has a great deal to do whilst her / face is good, for then is our harvest-time to gather / friends; and should I in these days of my youth / catch a fit of foolish constancy, I were undone...” (III.i.209-214). Hellena’s exchange with Willmore sounds like more than the simple flirting of an adventurous lady before she enters the confinement of the nunnery; instead, she appeals to larger questions about a woman’s role in society and her need to maneuver through societal double standards, which call for the women to marry young and remain faithful to a husband, despite his actions. Hellena reflects here on the necessity of female friendships, suggesting that those relationships are more reasonable and stable than sexual relationships, which she considers a “fit of foolish constancy.” Hellena equates constancy with foolishness and inconstancy with reason, further commenting on societal gender norms in which women, considered less rational than men, are inherently disposed toward constancy in love.

            While struggling for linguistic domination, the main female characters use physical disguise as means of feigning control in their respective sexual relationships. Hellena remains masked in this scene through much of her discussion with Willmore until she chooses to reveal her face, in order to affect him. She times that revelation to have the greatest possible impact and, as a result, Willmore is taken aback. He says, “By heaven, I never saw so much beauty!” (III.i.231). Behn complicates traditional notions of masculinity and femininity through Hellena’s use of feminine beauty, which is traditionally thought to bewitch men, but Hellena also uses wit (coded masculine) in order to decide when to reveal that beauty. In that way, Willmore appears spellbound by the visual overload of Hellena’s physical revelation. He says, “... those / soft round melting cherry lips! And small even / white teeth! Not to be expressed, but silently / adored! Oh, one look more! And strike me dumb...” (III.I.234-237). Attuned to every small detail of her features, Willmore focuses exclusively on visual signs controlled by the women (specifically, Hellena in this instance). He willingly sacrifices language for a fleeting, and sometimes inauthentic visual stimulus.

            Florinda conceals her identity in a conversation with Belvile in a way that is parallel to Hellena’s exchange with Willmore; however, Florinda uses reason and visual control in different ways than Hellena. After tempting Belvile with her love, while disguised as another woman, Florinda only reveals her true identity to him in the form of a picture after she leaves, as opposed to Hellena’s well-timed revelation of her beauty. Florinda reveals her identity in an image—a reflection of herself, but not her actual self, in the same way that Hellena shows her face and wit, but reveals nothing about her background. The woman have both disguised and revealed different parts of their identity; neither woman has revealed her entire self.

            Both men and women in this scene profess madness in the face of various linguistic and visual disguises, which hinder their ability to maintain control of relationships. At Hellena’s explanation of her erupting love, Florinda twice questions her sanity, “Art thou mad to talk so?” (III.i.45) and “What a mad creature’s this?” (III.i.82). Florinda should commiserate with her sister’s wish to assert independent choices about her love life, considering her own wish to marry Belvile instead of her brother’s choice for her, Vincentio. However, Florinda’s language reflects the same patriarchal control she herself wishes to avoid when she wonders to Hellena, “Who will like thee well enough to have thee that hears hat a mad wench thou art?” (III.i.45-47). Hellena responds to Florinda’s charge, “Like me! I don’t intend that every he that likes me shall / have me, but he that I like.” Florinda should relate to Hellena’s language of independent power and choice because she has expressed the same desire for control in the play’s opening scene, in which Hellena first connects the relationship between the nunnery and an arranged marriage. While Hellena constantly pauses over their like situations, Florinda does not see, or validate, the similarity.

            Florinda seemingly has made the sounder choice of husbands in Belvile, who is more faithful than the other men. However, instead of feelings of admiration, Belvile draws a kind of ambivalence from the other characters who focus on his weakness and inability to see through disguise. Frustrated by his missed opportunity with Florinda, Belvile seeks consolation in his friend. However, Willmore, always misinterpreting the events around him, responds, “Why, dost thou know her?” (III.i.330) assuming that Belvile is referring to Hellena when, actually, Florinda is the one on his mind. Belvile and Willmore are talking to each other about different women, desiring them for different reasons, and uninterested in each other’s success. Belvile’s response to Willmore’s question about “her” identity epitomizes the misunderstanding between them. He responds by saying, “I understand thee not. I’m mad” (III.i.335). These men have very little concern for each other’s ultimate well-being, similar to, but on a grander scale than Florinda’s lack of sympathy for Hellena. The men seek their own pleasures, often at each other’s expense. Frederick, too, in this scene, pushes Belvile toward the disguised Florinda to boost his own chances with Valeria, though he knows Belvile is only interested in Florinda. Frederick responds to Belvile’s rejection of the disguised Florinda, “Pox of’s modesty, it spoils his own markets and hinders mine” (III.i.261-62). Frederick cannot focus on Belvile’s frame of mind, because he is guided solely by his own sexual desires.

            This particular scene in The Rover highlights a struggle for control, not just control of sexual relationships but control over the language necessary to influence those relationships and the power to control one’s own identity in the battle of manipulation and disguise. Behn never allows the audience to settle on a consistent portrayal of what control looks like; it is often fueled by a (feminine) madness, more explosive and more entertaining than (masculine) reason. Near the end of the scene Belvile, refers to “our design,” (341) his plan for outmaneuvering Pedro to marry Florinda, a plan in which he enlisted the assistance of his inconstant friends. However, the scene repeatedly suggests that control is impossible without a mastery of linguistic and visual power, without some reliance on trustworthy friends, and without an acceptance of uncontrollable madness.

Michael Noschka

ENG 579

19 September 2008



Can’t Buy Me Love: Commodity and Courtship in Aphra Behn’s The Rover




In Aphra Behn’s The Rover, the language of courtship and commerce become conflated.  While feminist critics celebrate Behn’s assertive female characters and argue for Behn as a proto-feminist by citing her representation of the multiple attempted rapes in the text as an indictment of masculine sexual hegemony, Behn’s drama ultimately maintains a patriarchal paradigm of marriage.  In the end, patriarchy, like virginity, is preserved, and more importantly, traded.  Yet Behn’s female characters often have more agency than their female contemporaries, an agency derived from their awareness and appropriation of masculine commodifying language.  Although they themselves remain commodities to be traded, Behn’s female characters are fully aware of their status as objects and thereby empower themselves by usurping the proxy of their filial brokers and instead negotiate their own marriage contracts.  If they are to be bartered, then they would choose to whom they are to be traded.  Behn’s female characters are aware that they must negotiate an unstable economic market in which their marital value is often as equitable as a courtesan’s dowry.  By appropriating the masculine language of commerce and trade they negotiate their own marriage contracts in which they become the active executors.

The social language of marriage during the Restoration and throughout the Early Modern period is a language of commodity and trade.  In The Rover’s opening dialogue between Florinda and Hellena, Behn presents female characters who are not only aware of this rhetoric of commodification, but who also reverse the tropes by objectifying the man:


That blush betrays you.  I am sure ‘tis so—or is it

Don Antonio the viceroy’s son? or perhaps the rich

old Don Vincentio whom my father designs you

for a husband?  Why do you blush again?



With indignation, and how near soever my father

thinks I am to marrying that hated object.          (I.i.20-25)


Florinda is initially established in the traditional role of commodity, as noted by her father’s reported designs in procuring her a husband (ll. 22-23).  It is her virginity that is to be traded to Don Vincentio in order to flatter his aging pride while bolstering her family’s wealth and status (cf. I.i.129-35).  Yet, within the pause of a breath, Florinda usurps this linguistic model, recreating Don Vincentio as not only an object, but a “hated object” (ll. 25).

            Seemingly unbeknownst to himself, Pedro enters into this same usage of gender- inverted commodifying language when he speaks to Florinda regarding Don Vincentio and Belvile, who are commodified and weighed in terms of their comparative market value:


Yes, pay him what you will in honor, but you must

consider Don Vincentio’s fortune and the jointure

he’ll make for you.                                            (I.i.90-92)



‘Tis true, he’s not so young and fine a gentleman

as that Belvile, but what jewels will that cavalier

present you with?  those of his eyes and heart?



According to Pedro, the voice of paternal authority by proxy, Florinda is to value Don Vincentio based solely on his fortune.  Vincentio is thus recreated as object for both Florinda and Pedro; however, where Florinda sees an object worthy of hatred, Pedro envisions objects representing wealth and opportunity (cf. I.i.159-61), commodities capable of increasing his own fortune as well as his sister’s.  Pedro further reduces Belvile in his state as a commodity.  Belvile is effeminized through conventional petrarchan tropes; his “jewels,” the only wealth that he possesses, are his eyes and heart.  Such metaphorical language is typically reserved for the language of courtship, and is exchanged between the male lover and the female beloved wherein the female functions as the objectified jewel.  Thus, within the first one hundred lines of play text, Behn complicates the conventional gendered language of commodification by rendering men and women objectified equals.  More importantly, however, is the fact that Behn’s female characters are the ones who initiate this subversion of commodifying language by initially usurping its objectifying tropes.

            In the world of The Rover, and Restoration England alike, the language of marriage is often reported in the vocabulary of commerce, a language traditionally reserved for men.  Yet in Behn’s unique dramatic world women are able to negotiate their own marriage contracts for themselves by understanding and employing the same vocabulary.  To trade herself in such a market, however, the woman must first accept her role as a commodity:


[…] Prithee, tell me, what dost thou

see about me that is unfit for love?  Have I not a

world of youth?  a humor gay?  a beauty passable?  a

vigor desirable?  well shaped?  clean limbed?  sweet

breathed?  and sense enough to know how all these

ought to be employed to the best advantage?  Yes, I

do and will; therefore, lay aside your hopes of my

fortune by my being a devote…                        (I.i.48-55)


It is Hellena’s awareness of her commodified state that empowers her.  The extended auto-biographical list of her physical attributes (ll. 49-53) attests to Hellena’s awareness of her state as object and her value in the trade-market of marriage.  More important, however, is her assertion that she has “sense enough to know how all these / ought to be employed to the best advantage” (ll. 52-53).  This is the language of venture capitalism, which is explicitly rendered in Hellena’s final speech in act one, in which she affirms that she will not be bound to a nunnery—the marriage her father has designed for her—but will seek a husband at carnival among “any that dares venture on me” (I.i.75).

            This vocabulary of venture, interest, business and markets marks the language of marriage within The Rover as a language of trade and commerce.  As previously noted, Hellena’s choice of phrase for announcing her independent plan for marriage is that of a venture.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines venture as “an enterprise of a business nature in which there is considerable risk of loss as well as chance of gain; a commercial speculation.”  Belvile is complicit to negotiate marriage in a similar vocabulary of commerce when he speaks of Florinda: “I have int’rest enough in that / lovely virgin’s heart” (I.ii.25-26).  While Belvile’s interest in Florinda’s heart is literally his desire for her hand in marriage, a commercial connotation resonates as well.  As noted by Pedro in I.i.155-56, Belvile has no wealth to offer Florinda.  Thus, his marriage to a wealthy and well-endowered (i.e. well en-dower-ed) lady would prove a wise financial investment, one capable of generating lifelong interest, in fiscal and physical terms.  Willmore, perhaps, is the best voice for the use of the language of commerce and trade relating to amorous relationships and ultimately marriage:


[…] Love and

mirth  are my business in Naples, and if I mistake

not the place, here’s an excellent market for

chapmen of my humor.                                      (I.ii.85-88)


Willmore’s language also marks a distinctive linguistic trope that occurs throughout The Rover: the tenuous delineation marking women of quality, i.e. marriageable, virtuous women, and courtesans.  While love and mirth are his business while in Naples, a locale he labels an excellent market, at this moment in the play he is speaking about the city’s famous courtesans.  Willmore will ultimately be engaged to Hellena—and quite craftily by her design—but he is initially in the market for a whore. 

It is this delineation between the wife and the whore that is increasingly difficult to assess linguistically.  Note, for instance, Belvile’s response to Willmore’s lustful language of trade: “See, here be those kind merchants of love you look / for” (I.ii.89-90).  Here Belvile is referring to prostitutes wearing paper roses.  But this language can also be mapped onto Hellena, who is in the market of trading her heart out of the convent and into the marriage bed.  In this mode Hellena, too, becomes a merchant of love.

This issue is further complicated when one considers that the virginal Hellena is as savvy a businesswoman as an experienced courtesan.  Hellena and Lucetta use similar language to identify themselves within their respective markets.  Hellena’s first words to Willmore, spoken while dressed as a gypsy, are in the commercial language of venture capitalism:


Have a care how you venture with me, sir, lest I pick

your pocket, which will more vex your English

humor than an Italian fortune will please you.  (I.ii.152-54)


While her usage of venture reiterates her speech designating her entrance into the marital marketplace (I.i.174-75), Hellena’s talk of picking Willmore’s pockets and vexing his English humor parallels Lucetta’s own language regarding Blunt:


This is a stranger, I know by his gazing; if he be

brisk, he’ll venture to follow me, and then, if I

understand my trade, he’s mine.  He’s English too…



For Hellena and Lucetta, venture denotes financial risk; and like Lucetta, Hellena understands her trade well.  As Willmore repeatedly tries to convince Hellena to sleep with him, and she tries repeatedly to persuade him to marry her first, Hellena acknowledges the contractual, commercial nature of sex and marriage: “‘Tis but getting my consent, and the business is / soon done” (V.i.476-77).  Here the tenuous delineation between the wife and the whore is voiced by Behn’s central female character.  If Hellena yields to Willmore’s rhetoric and consents to have sex with him, then their business is sexual only, and therefore conducted in the sexualized marketplace of the courtesan.  If Willmore consents to Hellena’s argument, then their business culminates in a marriage contract, freeing her from her patriarchal-imposed life of celibacy, while maintaining patriarchal authority insofar as she is marrying within noble society (Willmore is a gentleman), like Florinda’s marriage to Belvile,  and not outside of her socioeconomic position.  It is on this note that Behn concludes her play:


Why, I have considered the matter, brother, and

find the three hundred thousand crowns my uncle

left me (and you cannot keep from me) will be

better laid out in love than in religion, and turn

to as good an account.  (V.i.572-76)

Thus, Hellena, by appropriating the masculine language of commerce and trade, negotiates her own marriage contract, becoming the active executor of her own social and sexual future.  Although patriarchal codes are maintained, they are done so at the will, and by the design, of the female characters.




Behn, Aphra.  “The Rover; or, The Banished Cavaliers.” The Broadview Anthology of Restoration & Early Eighteenth-Century Drama. Ed. J. Douglas Canfield. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2005. 591-644.


“Venture.” Def. 4a. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. <>.



Madison Natt

Dr. Morillo

Eng 579

Sept. 18, 2008


The Man of Mode and the Absence of Sir Fopling Flutter

                George Etherege’s The Man of Mode; or, Sir Fopling Flutter has an interesting anomaly in its title, namely that the character referenced therein makes very few appearances. His brief and scattered presence, moreover, is constructed of rather superficial dialogue, mostly pertaining to his views on style of dress and the superiority of French culture. These themes bear no relation to the overall plot. It is interesting, then, to consider why Etherege would call the work after this apparently insignificant personality. The answer can be found in the pivotal conversations of Act V scene I. It is at this point in the action when the play’s many deceptions come to a climax. The three principle characters in the main love triangle are present, and it seems Mrs Loveit will discover Bellinda is Dorimant’s other woman. Even Loveit’s insignificant attendant Pert is there, making the audience all the more aware that Fopling, who is now courting Loveit, is very noticeably absent from the pivotal moment. The scene begins with Pert trying to convince Loveit of Fopling’s worth, then shifts to Loveit defending Fopling to Dorimant as Bellinda listens. The content delves into what should be valued and attractive in a man versus what is, and calls into question the nature of genuine virtue and its worth.

                Before Dorimant arrives, it is clear that Loveit has no interest in Fopling. Pert is responding to something Loveit has said when she remarks, “Well! In my eyes, Sir Fopling is no such despicable/ person” (V.i. 1-2). Pert has never been fond of Dorimant and the way he treated her employer, and she wants better for Loveit. Loveit, however, is not interested in such sound advice. She is quickly distracted by the arrival of Bellinda in a chair that always stands near Dorimant’s house and her suspicions are aroused. She can not be bothered to think of Fopling at all until her mind has been settled on the matter of from whence Bellinda came. She knows Dorimant is cheating on her, that he does not love her, and that he has been trying to make a fool of her in public with Fopling, and yet her only concern still lies with him. Bellinda, for her part, must come up with a quick excuse. The first thing that comes to mind is a lie about entertaining “country gentlewomen/…They have the oddest diversions!/...They complain of the stinks of the Town” (V.i 30-1, 36). Loveit is satisfied by the explanation, one of many offhand examples in the play pitting country and town in opposition to one another, with the latter clearly implied as superior.  Town women bond over their particular breed of superiority instead of actually bettering  themselves, much as town men bond over their advanced wit at the expense of men like Fopling. That matter settled, Dorimant arrives to renew the action again.

                He had lost interest in Loveit a while ago, and to try to get rid of her practically forced her to Fopling, whom he viewed as insignificant and unthreatening, a mere “counterplot” (III.III 276). Seeing them together, though, incensed him and he can not resist coming to her again to insult Fopling in the hopes that she will end things with him. Dorimant does not want Loveit, but he does not want anyone else to have her, either. Though mere moments before Loveit had seen no redeeming characteristics in Fopling, Dorimant’s attack impels her to defend the man who actually cares about her against the one who has only been using her. She does so, however, only to deepen Dorimant’s jealousy because he is still the one she wants.

“Those noisy fools, however you despise ‘em, have

 good qualities which weigh more (or ought, at

least) with us women than all the pernicious wit

you have to boast of” (V.i.114-117).

            The parenthetical note she makes is not actually a subservient idea, but the main one. She recognizes that Fopling has qualities that should be valued higher than Dorimant’s intelligence and humor but also knows that they are not. Or, in terms of the play itself, that Fopling perhaps deserves a bigger role but will never get one. She is only able to see the good in Fopling when it can be used against Dorimant. So, even though she notes that Fopling actually admires her, instead of just using pretty words of false flattery; that he is consistent and attentive instead of unreliable; and that he has faith in her instead of being jealous, these truths do not actually give Fopling worth to her, Dorimant, or the play’s action. Dorimant offers a rebuttal of Loveit’s compliments.

   “You owe that to their excessive idleness. They know

not how to entertain themselves at home, and find

so little welcome abroad, they are fain to fly to you”(V.i 128-30).

            The audience, certainly, is meant to laugh at Fopling when in his brief interludes he speaks such ridiculous and pretentious prose. However, viewers are also meant to see themselves in him: well-meaning but sometimes foolish and mocked. He is a character who it is hard to like, but hard to defend not liking. His good characteristics should not be so easily dismissed or overlooked as consequences of his inadequacy in wit. He is a fool, yes, but a kind one. Dorimant suggests Fopling is as such useful only as property, but Loveit counters that just old fools must accept that fate; “young and handsome fools/ have met with kinder fortunes” (V.i 167-8).

Like the division of town and country, the juxtaposition of old and young has been present throughout the entire play. In order to win Harriet’s affection, Dorimant is willing to pretend to be an older gentleman named Courtage and woo Lady Woodvill with lamentations about how lewd young men have become. Also, Old and Young Bellair are in competition for Emilia’s heart. Old Bellair attempts to adopt a vigilant, youthful tactic, but his ideas are out of date. And Harriet and Young Bellair are able to put on a performance of love that they think Old Bellair and Lady Woodvill will be fooled by, thus showing what they know their elders want and expect to see instead of offering actual respect and compliance. The similarity between the feigned respect for age and the faked appreciation of genuine affection in courtship is hard to miss. Actual virtue is less importance than its appearance, and in the case of Fopling, valuable characteristics are worth nothing.

Mrs Loveit recognizes Dorimant’s visit for what it is, another attempt to control her actions “that the/ town may know the power you have over me” and laugh (V.i 181-2). Dorimant counters that being seen with Fopling makes her look even sillier. She tells him, in what may be the best vocalization of the play’s entire theme that

   “Were it sillier than you can make it, you must

allow ‘tis pleasanter to laugh at others than to be

laughed at ourselves, though never so wittily” (V.i 138-9).

            In other words, wit has its time, place, and limits. While an intelligent and humorous man is certainly entertaining and valuable, his treatment of a woman can make her the butt of jokes that no longer seem so funny. Dorimant recognizes this universal truth himself when he tells Loveit that he could never forget her being seen with Fopling, as the town would then laugh at Dorimant for taking her back. It is ironic but fitting to his character that he is only able to realize the cruelty of his behavior when he thinks of how it might affect himself.

            At this point, Bellinda reveals herself and Dorimant realizes that he’s in a very bad situation. He has no way of getting himself out at present without revealing too much, so he quickly takes off, leaving Bellinda to reflect.

“I knew him false and helped to make him so. Was

Not her ruin enough to fright me from the danger?

It should have been, but love can take no warning” (V.i 330-2).

            Pert had observed that every woman must hate Dorimant knowing what he had done to Loveit, and in this passage, Bellinda wishes that she could and knows that she should. However, her knowledge of his vice, which she had from beginning to end more than any other character, was not enough to deter her from pursuing him and letting him make her into another Mrs Loveit. It is hard not to conclude, then, that George Etherege’s The Man of Mode; or, Sir Fopling Flutter is not meant just to critique Flutter or even men like him, but the society that refuses to appreciate what kind fools have to offer that conniving wits simply do not. Flutter is not often present in this play, because he is not often present in general society. He is, however, still extremely important to the ensuing action. Without him, much of the drama could not have taken place. Genuine virtue is necessary to the world, but is not respected and appreciated. It is not what helps a man to get a woman, and if it were, perhaps all the characters might have ended up a lot happier. 

Works Cited

Etherege, George.  “The Man of Mode; or, Sir Fopling Flutter.”  The Broadview Anthology of Restoration & Early Eighteenth-Century Drama.  Ed. J. Douglas Canfield. Canada: Broadview Press, 2001.  574-580.




Mary Creech Gulledge

Dr. J. Morillo

English 579

September 19, 2008



Will the Real Fool Please Stand Up?

Dorimant as the Fool in George Etherege’s The Man of Mode 



In George Etherege’s Restoration comedy, The Man of Mode, the obvious fool of the play is Sir Fopling Flutter, an annoying man who is ridiculed for his shallow and ostentatious efforts to impress the English nobility with the latest French manners and trends.  Dorimant, on the other hand, is the noble, irresistible rake who, despite his callous treatment of women, is well-regarded by his peers.  In Act V, however, Dorimant’s own shallow concerns for appearance and reputation show him to be as much a fool as Sir Fopling.   The powerful and clever dialogue between Dorimant and Mrs. Loveit, a result of Dorimant’s need to confront Loveit for her public affection towards Sir Fopling, magnifies Dorimant’s fragile ego; it makes him appear more foolish, more unattractive in his disdain for women, and more unlikely to be a believable candidate for marriage—especially to the beautiful and intelligent Harriet, the woman he loves.

 Such exposed foolishness in this charming and enviable ladies’ man, complicates the plot, and more than suggests that Sir Fopling is the Epilogue’s “nauseous harlequin in farce,” while Dorimant, who is more human and less a caricature, is the real “substantial ass.”   Dorimant’s disregard for the feelings of women, however, does little to arouse disdain; after all, this kind of ass-like behavior is expected from such a man in such a comedy.  His foolishness, then, emerges only when he moves from behaving as the Restoration comedy’s stereotypical rake to a man with a disturbing, exaggerated fear that his reputation has been blemished.  In his exchange with Mrs. Loveit in Act V, Dorimant’s very human fear takes full possession of his ego, and causes him to behave so irrationally that, could he but only understand, he would see that his behavior is far more humiliating to his character than any damage Loveit has done him.  His bizarre behavior, coupled with Mrs. Loveit’s verbal response to such behavior, makes clear Etherege’s underlying message that those who are well-liked and successful are no more immune to being seen as desperate and clueless than anyone else.   There is no comfort, says Etherege, in thinking that people like Sir Fopling are the only fools.  Presenting Dorimant as his proof, Etherege refuses to let the soothing, conventional comic resolutions at the end of his play distract his audience from the Epilogue’s final social commentary that Sir Fopling “represents ye all.”  

If Dorimant, then, comes to be, in the course of the play, Etherege’s less obvious, but more substantial fool, Dorimant’s inability to refrain from going too far with his unreasonable and foolish behavior is, ironically, foreshadowed in Harriet’s response to his first profession of love for her.  She says, “When your love’s grown strong enough to make you bear being laughed at, I’ll give you leave to trouble me with it.  Till when, pray forbear, sir” (IV. i.186-88). Unfortunately for Harriet, Dorimant’s unyielding demands of Loveit, in Act V’s first scene, demonstrate that even under the best of circumstances, his ego cannot withstand ridicule.  Though he has experienced the love and adoration of many women at once and has just recently found a greater joy in loving and being loved by Harriet, his joy, surprisingly, does not weaken his intent to seek revenge against Loveit for showing favor to Sir Fopling.  At the very moment he rushes to Mrs. Loveit’s lodgings with a crazed insistence that she rectify the wrong she has done him, his easy confidence that he is revered by the ladies and admired by the men begins to unravel.  The more he converses with Mrs. Loveit, the more he reveals, bit by bit, that his forceful and unruly ego controls him, even when his heart has tasted the possibilities of true love.  Etherege is speaking of Dorimant, as much as Fopling, when he says in the Prologue, “But tickled once with praise, by her good will/The wanton fool would never more lie still”  (9-10). 

Mrs. Loveit, surprised that Dorimant has come to her lodgings after he has blatantly rejected her, asks what she has done to enrage him.   Dorimant, who is indifferent to the pain he has caused her, tells her that she has done “a thing that puts you below my scorn and makes my anger as ridiculous as you have made my love” (V.i.196-197).  When she readily admits that she did walk with Sir Fopling, Dorimant’s response is unstable; he sounds out of control and ridiculous in his seriousness about the matter: “You did, madam, and you talked and laughed aloud—Ha, ha, ha,--Oh, that laugh, that laugh becomes the confidence of a woman of quality” (V.i.199-201).  His irrationality becomes even more obvious as it accelerates alongside Loveit’s efforts to placate him with careful logic.  His voice is surely raised when he says to her, “…I shall daily be reminded of it.  ‘Twill be a commonplace for all the Town to laugh at me.”  Then, after her even reply, ‘Twill be believed a jealous sprite. Come, forget it,” he is not pacified in the least and is more determined than ever not to forget it ( ).  Unable to accept even the slightest chance that he might be laughed at, he cannot see, in his paranoid state, that Mrs. Loveit’s attentions to Fopling are much too insignificant to make someone of his position a target of ridicule.    

 A prey to his ego, he says, “Let me consult my reputation; you are too careless of it.  You shall meet Sir Fopling in the Mall again tonight  (V.i.2  -247).  Mrs. Loveit, however, cannot be intimidated into meeting Sir Fopling for the sole purpose of snubbing him.  For the first time since she has loved Dorimant, she stands her ground and will not agree to make herself look foolish for the sake of restoring his reputation.  Particularly because she still has feelings for Dorimant, Loveit’s strong and clever words of resistance to his narcissistic request show her awakened good sense and, in contrast, make Dorimant’s pleas look increasingly absurd. She says, “Public satisfaction for the wrong I have done you?  This is some new device to make me more ridiculous!” (V.i.253-55).

 Dorimant looks even more pathetic when he continues to say, “You will be persuaded,” “Are you so obstinate?” and “You will not satisfy my love,” and Mrs. Loveit’s firm and final reply, “I would die to satisfy [your love]…, but I will not, to save you from a thousand racks, do a shameless thing to please your vanity,” forces Dorimant to leave with his insatiable ego unsatisfied (V.i.263-65).  Clearly, Dorimant’s erratic behavior shows that he is not strong enough to bear being laughed at, and that he cares just as much about appearances as Sir Fopling Flutter.   Having played the fool, Dorimant’s demand that Loveit go to unreasonable lengths to repair his status, and thus free him from possible ridicule, is as much reason to diminish his plausibility as a potential husband as is his constant philandering and lack of concern for the feelings of his mistresses. 

Similarly in Act V, Dorimant and Loveit’s lively dialogue about the characteristics of the “senseless mimic” and “noisy fools” serves to promulgate Dorimant’s inappropriate behavior towards women and liken his behavior to the ridiculous folk he detests.  He and Loveit speak hastily back and forth:  each time she gives a reason to value the fool, she discredits Dorimant’s bad treatment of her;  each time Dorimant responds with reasons why the fool is insufferable, he, unknowingly, describes himself.   Surely Etherege is having great fun with a man like Dorimant who is twice the fool in this witty exchange.

First of all, Loveit devalues Dorimant’s shallow admiration of women when she defends the company of doting fools, “You’ll despise ‘em as the dull effects of ignorance and / vanity, yet I care not if I mention some.  First, they / really admire us, while you at best but flatter us well” (V.i.120-122).  Dorimant’s immediate response, “Take heed, fools can dissemble, too—,” not only says the obvious, that blatant fawns can hide the truth as much as anyone, but it is a perfect reiteration of Dorimant’s own role as a foolish master of frequent, shallow declarations of love. 

 In their next give and take, when Loveit says about fools, “…there is no fear they should deceive us…They are ever offering us their service and always waiting on our will,” she is letting Dorimant know that he never was unselfish enough to wait on her will, even when he was making love to her  (V.i.124-127). Dorimant’s immediate retort is, again, a perfect echo of Dorimant’s own ego-driven behavior.

He says of the fool’s willingness to serve women, “You owe that to their excessive idleness. They know not how to entertain themselves at home, and find so little welcome abroad, they are fain to fly to you / who countenance ‘em as a refuge against the / solitude they would be otherwise condemned to” (V.ii. 128-132). Thinking he is merely criticizing a Fopling-type fool who must always have company, Dorimant is simultaneously disclosing his own shaky ego that cannot bear being alone.  As his history with many lovers attests, Dorimant must always find an adoring woman to be with him.  He must either be in the company of a woman he cares for, like Belinda, and later Harriet, or he must be in the company of a woman who still loves him—a large part, obviously, of why he must take issue with Mrs. Loveit regarding her interest in Sir Fopling.

 When Dorimant attempts to convince Loveit that fools “believe too well of / themselves and always better of you than you deserve,” and then chides her for mistaking the use of fools, that “they are designed for properties and not for friends,” his words are particularly laden with double meaning (V.ii.144;160-161). In these instances, Dorimant is describing his own egocentric character and unfeeling treatment of women even more accurately than he is describing  behavior exhibited by Sir Fopling or any other fool in the play.  Not only is Dorimant the most obvious character who thinks too much of himself, and most often believes his detestable treatment of women is still better than they deserve, he is also no friend to women, and can actually be seen as an egotistical piece of property that the women in his life can rent.  However, when a woman he is with can no longer pay his required price of beauty, charm, wit, sexual availability, and non-interference in his affairs, he moves on to a new, more interesting woman who can “pay” him more.  As a desirable piece of property, which serves as an interesting twist of identity for the usual patriarchal prototype of the time, he can remain detached and, likewise, demand that the accountability from any woman always be on his terms. 

Though the clever Harriet may have possibly won his heart more than any other, Dorimant’s self-centered attitudes and behaviors—as particularly revealed through his dialogue scene with Mrs. Loveit, do not leave much room for hope that he will be transformed into a man wise enough and rational enough to enjoy the structure of marriage.  When Dorimant adamantly declares that he is ready to make Harriet his wife, the audience must hope beyond reason that Harriet can continue to meet Dorimant’s property rental requirements.  Alas, Dorimant’s words and actions during his last visit to Mrs. Loveit’s home offer more probability than not that Dorimant, the fool, will never be a fool for love.  Dorimant might have grown to be more self-reflective had he taken Sir Fopling’s advice in Act IV to hang a mirror in his lodging.  Fopling says, “A room is the dullest thing without one” (IV.ii.88-89).  If Dorimant had carefully looked at himself and seen his foolishness reflected, he might have become a more reformed rake and a more believable husband-to-be.  Then, Sir Fopling, though not especially substantial,  would have been the greater ass, hands down. 



<>Etherege, George.  The Man of Mode. The Broadview Anthology of Restoration and Early Eighteenth-Century Drama.  Ed. Douglas Canfield.  Ontario,             Canada: Broadview Press Ltd, 2002.  526-588

Three Excllent Short Essays on  Aphra Behn's  The Rover


Desexualized and Penniless: The Fall of Blunt in Aphra Behn’s The Rover





Eric R. Gerson



ENG 579

MW 3:00 – 4:15 p.m.

Dr. John Morillo

Sept. 23 2005



            The male characters in Aphra Behn’s The Rover demonstrate three dominate personality traits of male sexual desire. Unfortunately, these characteristics desexualize the men, causing them to become the subject of female dominance. In Act III scene ii, Blunt is presented as innocent, inexperienced, naïve, and anxious, thereby conforming to the concept of a virgin. As such, Blunt is easily fooled by Lucetta, and loses not only his economic status over the other characters, but his innocent perception that women are perfect (III.ii.129). Upon falling into the sewer drain, Blunt undergoes an anti-baptism, forcing him to realize the truth that some women are as underhanded as men. Additionally, rather than becoming pure, Blunt becomes sullied and dirty, leading to sin rather than redemption, as seen in his attempted rape of Florinda. Belvile and Willmore also adhere to the women’s desires and advances, while exhibiting the two additional sexual traits, with Belvile the sensitive, caring male, and Willmore the insensitive, aggressive member of the trio. Since the women seek their desires regardless of the patriarchal or societal influences that attempt to sway them otherwise, they are granted the dominate personalities of the story. Though the play concludes by adhering to the Renaissance romantic comedy’s formula of multiple marriages, the matrimonies are only conducted once the men adhere to what the women desire of them; the men must change and mature to conform to the female standard of what a mate should be. Since Blunt is incapable of conforming, he remains the only major character left alone at the play’s conclusion.

            Blunt’s fall begins in Act III scene ii where he is anxiously awaiting sex with Lucetta. The dialogue between the characters is such that Blunt speaks with multiple asides to convey his emotions. The asides are his manner of expressing how enticed he is by Lucetta’s charms: “I am transported … Kind Heart! How prettily she talks” (III.ii.6, 17). Blunt’s “virginity” is made apparent in his statement, “this one Nights enjoy- / ment with her, will be worth all the days I ever past in Essex” (III.ii.31-2). In referring to his life in Essex as days that were past, and since one night with Lucetta will make up for all his lost time seems to infer that his nights were lonely while his days were spent working rather than having sex. As a virgin, it is not surprising that Blunt is easily hoodwinked by Lucetta, especially since his financial greed leads him to hastily attempt to sleep with her without stopping to logically access the situation. Blunt is the only character with money in the play, “you / have been kept so poor with Parliaments and / Protectors … but I thank my Stars, I had / more Grace than to forfeit my estate by Cava- / liering” (I.ii.62-4, 65-7), and as such, he relates his greed with his desire to have sex, assuming that since he is financially secure, he can possess a married woman. He is so arrogant about his stature in society that he believes Lucetta is willing to betray her husband to have sex with a man she just met, “Now we are safe and free; no fears of the / coming home of my Old Jealous Husband … at first sight of that sweet Face / and Shape, it made me your absolute Captive” (III.ii.1-2, 16-7). His arrogance is further noted in thinking that, though he is a virgin and therefore inexperienced at sex, he is still such a man that he will force Lucetta to forget her husband, move to England with him, and ignore her right to his settlement; or living will, as seen in Blunt’s aside beginning at line 17:

Egad I’ll / shew her Husband a Spanish trick; send him / out of the World and Marry her: she’s damnably in Love with me, and will ne’re mind / Settlements, and so there’s that sav’d.


The combination of his arrogant greed and annoying innocence yields little to no sympathy for him as Lucetta performs her coup. Additionally, the irony of Blunt’s character is that he believes he is a caring, giving, sensitive man, when he is actually the stingiest character of the play. Blunt separates himself from the idea of someone cruel and money-hungry, like Jews were considered at the time, in his proclamation, “what dost thou take me / for? A Jew? An insensible heathen” (III.ii.53-4). He tries to convince himself, and Lucetta, that he is different from such people, when in fact, the entire situation, along with his later attempt to rape Florinda, do nothing more than further elaborate upon his childishness.

            Blunt’s monologue as the bed descends into the sewers is a testament to his naivety. When he is unable to find Lucetta in the sheets, he thinks she is playing a humorous trick on him that they will later laugh at, “a pretty Love-trick this — how / she’l laugh at me anon” (III.ii.69-70). The realization that he is being truly tricked never occurs to Blunt because of the arrogance and overconfidence he has for his manhood. However, the scene itself desexualizes him, observed not only by Lucetta tricking him, but by the very act of the bed descending into the sewers. The bed is supposed to be the means of confirming Blunt’s stature in male pride, but rather than experiencing an orgasm that will allow Blunt to touch the sky, he experiences a ruse that throws him into the sewers. When Blunt finally understands what has happened, he calls out for his heroes of male promiscuity, the “Dogs! / Rogues! Pimps” (III.ii.78-9), that he previously tried to distance himself from by stating that he would not be false or cruel (III.ii.53-57). Additionally, the notion of Blunt’s greed and need for social approval is apparent when Lucetta and her men rummage through Blunt’s belongings. The amount of wealth that he carries on his person is far too much for a normal man to have if not trying to seek social, and even sexual, approval of those he encounters:

A rich Coat! … a / Gold watch!—a Purse … Gold!—at least / Two Hundred Pistols!—a bunch of Diamond / Rings! And one with the family Arms!—a Gold / Box!—with a Medal of his king! … the Wasteband of his / Breeches have a Mine of Gold! (III.ii.90-98).


Upon losing all his wealth, and thus his only means of pretending to be a man, Blunt rises from the sewers. Having now experienced a type of anti-baptism, he realizes the truth that his inexperience has thus far shrouded; the reality that “what a Dog [he] was …  / to believe in Woman” (III.ii.128-9). He further comes to understand that he has perceived the world with the eyes of a naïve child when he refers to himself as a “cursed Puppy” (III.ii.132), rather than a dog as he initially did when coming to understand his ignorance. Blunt’s only folly in this situation is that regardless of the epiphany that he undergoes, rather than attempt to redeem his person, he seeks revenge on an innocent woman, thus becoming even more despicable than before.

            In his attempted rape of Florinda, Blunt has developed into a cruel-minded and spiteful individual, now referring to women as “a she Creature” (IV.iv.34) rather than adoring names like “sheartlikens” (III.ii.11) or “sweetest” (IV.ii.68) as he had during his courting of Lucetta. The only reason that he does not condemn Florinda to his vengeance is due to his fear of the repercussions of raping a “Maid of quality … [rather than] a Harlot” (IV.iv.171-2). In this way, Blunt is still in the same state of mind, and has not matured or grown as a man, but rather sunk lower than he had previously. The same attributes can be attached to Willmore for attempting to rape Florinda, but even in the act, Willmore is drunk, and thus not of a sound mind. Additionally, though Willmore is such a disgraceful man to try to rape Florinda, and spend his nights trying to bed a whore without paying the fee, as seen in his courting of Angelica in act II, scene ii, he does change his manners to win the heart of Hellena. At first, Willmore desires only to bed Hellena, without the prospect of a long-term relationship. However, in the end, to appease her desires and express his true affection, Willmore exhibits how much he has matured, and agrees to wed Hellena, “I adore thy Humour and will marry thee” (V.i.581). Willmore’s metamorphosis is also shown in his realization that he has loved Hellena even when thinking her only a gypsy, “since I lov’d her before I either / knew her Birth or Name, I must pursue my / resolution, and marry her” (V.i.640-2). This same type of sacrifice for the heart of a woman, regardless of what benefits one would have for courting her, cannot be performed by Blunt. It is for this reason that though everyone else is coming to find their life-partner in the end, with Belville and Florinda, Willmore and Hellena, and Antonio and Angellica, Blunt remains alone. His is a notion entirely built from the idea that a true man is only that which has acquired great wealth, sexual experience, and the approval of society. Since all of these things are taken from him by women in the play, the story concludes with Blunt desexualized, penniless, and emotionally broken, testifying to one of the play’s morals: a true man is one who is willing to sacrifice everything they are and have for the love of a woman, regardless of what that women is capable of providing him.

            Blunt’s fall is his own fault as he is incapable of seeing the realities of his situation. With Lucetta, his overwhelming anxiety to finally lose his virginity leads to a horrible ordeal that, for another more experienced, less greedy man, would have been an easily predictable ruse. The trick on his promiscuity only led to more trouble with his metaphoric anti-baptism. Having been thrown into the sewers, and learning the truth that some women in the world are as corrupt as he, he develops into a rapist that will accost the first woman who happens along his path. Even when he is in the midst of vengeance, the only saving grace for Florinda is Blunt’s fear of what the other men would think of him should he hurt a fine woman, rather than the whore he thought her to be. Ultimately, Blunt is incapable of growing or conforming to the standard of a descent man, and therefore remains isolated from the true love that his peers are capable of finding.


Works Cited



Behn, Aphra. “The Rover” Restoration Drama: An Anthology. Ed. David Womersley.

Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2000. 337.


Nicole Ackermann

Dr. Morillo

English 579

Paper #1

23 September 2005



Exchangeable and Interchangeable:

Representations of “Property” in Aphra Behn’s The Rover



If nineteenth century England can be characterized as the age of encroaching, demoralizing industrialization, the period known as the Restoration (1660-1722) christened a new consumer-oriented era of exciting colonialism and technical innovation that laid its foundation.   The feudalist, subsistence-based society of the past began to give way in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to one of capitalism.  And as English society embraced the opportunity to benefit financially from expanding markets, their values simultaneously shifted from those “stabilizing ethic[s] of rational benevolence, community, and common sense” to “faulty [ones] that drive commerce – self-interest, novelty and impermanence, profit and loss” (Mackie 31).  This emerging shift in values can be interpreted in Restoration Theater; especially in Aphra Behn’s The Rover, which explores the issue of “property” symbolically or (arguably) inadvertently as a result of changing priorities.  The Rover not only portrays budding excitement over increased wealth and therefore, property during the Restoration, but also English society’s inexperience with these things as they encroach upon many facets of everyday life.

Aphra Behn’s The Rover seems to interrogate the increasing distinction between male-public and female-domestic spheres which were created by a growing awareness of the corruptibility and/or imposition of capitalism, beginning in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  English society during this time became culturally conscious of gender differences which we see explored from the opening scene of The Rover as its characters constantly engage in discourse concerning “male” versus “female” roles.  Therefore, by analyzing the play’s three main female characters, Florinda, Hellena and Angellica, it is possible to interpret a sense of exchangeability and interchangeability about them – perhaps consciously incorporated by Behn to represent the changing ideal of what constitutes “property” for the play’s male characters, specifically Don Pedro, Belvile and Willmore.  

One particular issue of property is raised immediately in the love story plot considering that the play opens with the betrothal of Florinda and banishment of Hellena to nunnery by their father (who is never present in the play itself) and their brother, Don Pedro, who is charged to look after them.  Though it was traditional for a male family member to make arrangements for his sister or daughter’s “well-being” in life, Behn turns this ideal radically upside-down for her time by equating marriage and nunnery with a kind of imprisonment because it is imposed.  An explicit example of this occurs as an aside made by Hellena towards Don Pedro in Act I, Scene I: “I’st not enough you make a Nun of me, but you/ must cast my Sister away too? Exposing her to a/ worse confinement than a Religious life” (123-125).  According to Hellena, marriage without love is a fate worse than being desexualized by nunnery.  This picture of figurative imprisonment by arranged-marriage or literal imprisonment by nunnery, keeps in line with the evolving values of the Restoration by highlighting the issue of ownership not just in terms of gender relations but also capitalism.  The wife, or sister is Hellena’s case, becomes an object to barter, to gain, to exploit in an unequal male-dominated relationship.  Don Pedro “commodifies” Florinda very specifically in this way in Act II, Scene I when he challenges Antonio to a duel:

            PEDRO.  We are prevented; dare you meet me to

               Morrow on the Molo?

               For I’ve a Title to a better quarrel,

               That of Florinda in whose credulous heart

               Thou’st made an Int’rest, and destroyed my hopes.

            ANTONIO.  Dare! (254-259)

This so-called “better quarrel” between Don Pedro and Antonio – realistically only a display of manhood – highly representative of the issue of ownership in terms of property and the objectification of women when one considers that their disagreement originally began over another objectified woman, Angellica – the literal embodiment of “commodification” as a prostitute.   

The “true love” that Florinda and Hellena find at the end of The Rover with Belvile and Willmore is largely untraditional for the Restoration period and would have seemed somewhat fantastical in reality considering that they both “disobey” their brother: Florinda marries whom she pleases and Hellena abandons religious service to marry a man of her choosing also.  It can be argued that Aphra Behn is largely radical by presenting sexually empowered female characters like Florinda and Hellena; she finds novelty in projecting and exploring the questions of objectivity.  However, in considering the overwhelming social norms of the time as before-mentioned as male-public, female-domestic along with the rising shift in values away from community and towards consumerism, the ending of Behn’s play reaffirms the certainty of traditionalism while also displaying the unavoidable intrusion of new ideals.  For example, the matches made by Florinda and Hellena are ultimately confirmed by their brother, and overseer, Don Pedro – projecting a traditional, familiar “blessing” despite the girls’ undutiful behavior.  Outwardly he validates their marriages joyously, but inwardly he sees their marriages as a sort of trade, a deal man-to-man in which responsibility (in effect ownership) has to be passed: “(Aside) -Come – there’s one motive induces me-/ take her [Hellena] – I shall now be free from fears of her/ Honour, guard it you now, if you can, I have/ been a slave to’t long enough/” (5.1.656-659).  Again, there is the idea of imprisonment elicited, but in Don Pedro’s case, as a man, his confinement is defined by another dominating force – the valuation of honor and sexuality as negotiable or tradable, alongside an awareness of status or reputation.     

More abundant opportunities for self-improvement, created by expanding markets and technological advancements during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, essentially carved out a space for ambition, and alternatively jealousy, in English society.  The importance of one’s “status” became dependent upon personal wealth instead of personal charity or lineage.  Therefore, Aphra Behn not only cautiously explores a relatively new idea of property defining male and female roles in The Rover, but she also considers how real, literal property can be representative of other, more abstract ideas such as love or reputation.  An example of the way in which Behn takes issue with this concept is apparent in the significance of mere stage props – a ring and a picture.  In Act IV, Scene IV Florinda finds herself under the unusual and accidental control of Blunt, (who has sworn to take advantage of her to punish all woman-kind with the aid of Frederick) after she mistakenly took refuge in his lodging from what she thought was her brother’s pursuit.  To stop her “attackers” Florinda produces the diamond ring that Belvile had given her as a token of his love:

            FLORINDA.  Sir, if you find me not worth Belvile’s

               care, use me as you please, and that you may

               thank I merit better treatment than you threa-

               ten – pray take this present –

                                                            Gives him a Ring; he looks on it

            BLUNT.  Hum – a Diamond!  why ‘tis a wonderful

               Virtue now that lies in this Ring, a mollifying

               Virtue; adsheartlikins there’s more perswasive [sic]

               Rhetorick in’t, than all her Sex can utter.

            FREDERICK.  I begin to suspect something; and

               ‘twould anger us vilely to be trussed up for a

               rape upon a Maid of quality, when we only

               believe we ruffle a Harlot (4.4.161-172).

The ring’s presentation in this scene is meant to elicit two very different kinds of ownership.  Florinda uses the ring to identify herself as Belivile’s in order to convince Blunt and Frederick that she is spoken for by another man – their friend no less.  In this sense Florinda confirms herself as property, suggesting to Blunt and Frederick that abusing her would be to directly steal her owner, her fiancé.  In this case the ring signifies her heart, her love, her trust, and essentially her chastity as well as Belivile’s acceptance of those responsibilities and agreement to protect them.  Florinda’s desperate presentation of the ring also suggests a plea of status though. Frederick notes that abusing a “Maid of quality” would be quite different than abusing the common “Harlot” that they immediately assume Florinda to be.    And in this sense, she effectively appeals to Blunt and Frederick’s appreciation for wealth and respect for reputation on the part of herself and themselves. 

The picture of Angellica is yet another example of Aphra Behn’s incorporation of property as a kind of signifier of her increasingly capitalistic Restoration world.  Angellica’s picture takes on the quality of advertising her profession and simultaneously the fact that she is, quite literally, “for sale.”  As a prostitute her heart is negotiable until purchased, and even then it is impermanently bound.  When Willmore steals Angellica’s picture he effectively steals her heart for his own, taking her “off the market” literally and figuratively – especially since she comes to truly admire him.  And in Act V, Scene I when Angellica pulls a gun on Willmore, not only does she reverse gender roles by controlling the situation with her arguably phallic weapon, but she argues that loving him forced her to relinquish her prized reputation: “-But when Love held the Mirror, the undeceiving Glass/ Reflected all the weakness of my Soul, and made me know/ My richest treasure being lost, my Honour,/” (5.1.356-368).  In love, she began to value herself as more than just an object for exploitation; she began to assume a status above her own.  However, because Willmore was not equally in love with her, another man, Antonio, must overtake her newfound power – again, literally by snatching her pistol and figuratively by reaffirming her as a commodity.

Symbols like Florinda’s diamond ring or Angellica’s picture represent the exchangeability or interchangeability of women when reduced to nothing more than their status.   Like these objects, the social traditions of Restoration England such as honor or gender roles represent the objectification of women within a property-owning and property-defined society.   What is unique and intriguing about Aphra Behn’s The Rover is that it explores these emerging ideas in such a way that aspects of them remain familiar while the role of commerce upon social institutions like that of love and marriage is highlighted.  The changing values of the period are reflected in the play’s character interactions as they attempt to find self-interested purpose appropriate to the gender and station.  New, uncertain values are interrogated within the context of the play’s plot along with symbols of the period’s foundation for capitalist culture.






Behn, Aphra.  “The Rover.”  Restoration Drama: An Anthology.  Ed. David Womersley. 

            Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.  337-384.

Mackie, Erin.  “Cultural and Historical Background.”  Introduction.  The Commerce of Everyday

Life: Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator.  By Mackie.  Boston: Bedford/St.

            Martin’s, 1998.  1-46.



Leigh Youngs

Dr. J. Morillo

English 579

23 September 2005

Could I have that in Writing?

Love as a Contract in Behn’s The Rover

            Act I of Aphra Behn’s Restoration Comedy The Rover begins with an unmistakable benchmark of a tragedy, as there is an interaction between the characters that translates to the audience as “not quite right.”  Unhappiness and dissatisfaction are, literally, the first emotions expressed by both Florinda and Hellena, who are clearly subjects in their father’s kingdom.  At first perusal, it appears as if the patriarch is pulling strings from afar as he maintains absolute authority in the destinies of his daughters and is negotiating their futures without their input.  However, in teaching his daughters literacy he has essentially created two women in Florinda and Hellena who are capable of entering into their own contracts, without the interference of their father.  In manipulating their own futures and participating in their own acquisitions, the ladies of The Rover are dismissing the societal charge that they leave this business to a male agent, and in doing so, they enter into contractual love, and agree to marriages that more resemble mercantilism than sacred unions.  Just as the prostitute in the play, Angellica, trades her flesh for profit, Hellena and Florinda barter their bodies in acts of pure rebellion in an effort to maintain absolute control over their own destinies.  In their marriage choices, however, they both exhibit an obvious lack of good negotiating skills, which ironically will leave them both morally and physically bankrupt as they vend their futures to men with no “fortune.”

            Although the women undoubtedly have the most to lose by tackling powerful negotiations in which they are not adept, it is clear that the men in the play also are not exactly brilliant rhetoricians.  The absent patriarch sends his son, and the women’s brothers, to negotiate on his behalf, transforming him into a parody of a Christ-figure [‘Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works’ (John 1.14)].  Although Don Pedro is attempting to ensure Hellena’s matriculation into the nunnery, he is not in agreement with his father when it comes to the future of Florinda; he believes she should marry one of his friends:

“As for you, Florinda, I’ve only try’d you all this

   while and urg’d my Father’s will; but mine is,

  that you wou’d love Antonio, he is Brave and

  young, and all that compleat the happiness

  of a Gallant Maid” (I.i.198-202).

Not only is Don Pedro neglecting to carry out the “good works” of his father, he is changing his father’s wishes completely.  He is not the best negotiator for his father to employ, and this creates a discord from the beginning and calls into question the right thing.  In the same scene, Callis, the governess of the women, also is unwittingly entered into a contract by Don Pedro:  “Callis, make it your business to watch this Wild Cat” (I.i.196-7).  She takes her new employment about as seriously as does Don Pedro—she neglects to fulfill her end of the bargain when she allows the young women to go carousing at the carnival:  “I have a Youthful itch of going myself” (I.i.242).   At this point in the play, the audience cannot be sure whom to trust, because everyone appears to have their own ends in mind; perhaps this is the reason the two women must negotiate on their own behalf.  No one else in the play seems to have the character to fulfill his or her obligations, and as a future trophy-wife and nun, they will be better served to manipulate their own bartering then putting their lives in the hands of those of such weak character. 

            After the realization that they must choose their own fates, the sisters begin to interject on their own behalf.  Enter Hellena, the first of the sisters to take up the business of negotiation, and while gypsy-clad.  In her first interaction with Wilmore, the arrangement they discuss has all of the markings of an entrepreneurial exchange:  “The First I guess by a certain forward

Impu- / dence, which does not displease me at this time, / and the loss of you Money will vex you, because / I hope you have but very little to lose" (I.ii.180-4).  Hellena, rather than speaking the high discourse of chivalric love, is using language commonly reserved for commodities trade.  She employs words like “money”(I.ii.182), “bus’ness” (I.ii.189), “prevail” (I.ii.213), and “Purse” (I.ii.193).   She is not using the Aristotelian language of a noblewoman; she instead resembles an attorney arranging a financial deal.  Wilmore responds with the candid truth:  “Nay, then thou dost deal with the Devil, / that’s certain” (II.ii.194-5).  This impending marriage is nothing more than an arrangement to be discussed by persons with a vested interest in their own outcomes, although the merger at stake is a wedding, rather than a conglomerate.  This “loving” exchange is at best, a discourse on high finance, and at worst, a job interview.  Hellena is outlining for Wilmore some ideal qualifications for an employee:  “Can you Storm?” (II.ii.222).  “What think you of a Nunnery Wall?  For he / that wins me, must gain that first” (II.ii.224-5).  In lieu of the language of the courtly lover, both Hellena and Wilmore are speaking the language of the law—an absolute parody of Petrarchan love, and an example of how the Chain of Being has been demolished, beginning with the failures of the “Only Begotten Son” in Act One.  The aspects of love are enumerated and laid out as if part of a legal document where love is nothing more than a barter arrangement with actual flesh being the acquisition, and declarations of courtly love are clauses in a contract.  Although the intended language is that of love, it is disguised (as is the ‘gyspsy’ speaking it, as the O.E.D. defines ‘gypsy’ as ‘a cunning or deceitful woman’), the goal is to get to the bottom line—and that bottom line is, “credit for a Heart” (I.ii.251).  

            While Hellena is busy negotiating her way out of a lifetime of abstinence, Florinda is looking for an adequate substitution for Don Vincentio’s aged marital bed.  She has a particular fellow in mind, who is young and handsome; however, in her contractual discussions, she overlooks a fundamental element of mercantilism—money.  For although Belvile is attractive and enamored of her, he is regrettably also, “without fortune.”  The contract between Florinda and Belvile has, in a manner, been prearranged.  They are aware of one another through a previous meeting, and the stage is already set to continue negotiations, rather than to start them.  Florinda and Belvile clearly have an existing agreement of some sort, and this is evinced in Belvile’s language:  “Oh charming Sybil stay, complete that joy / which as it is will turn into distraction” (I.ii.297-8).  Belvile is not interested in renegotiating; he simply is desirous that Florinda fulfill a contract that has previously been formulated.  Unlike her sister, who seems to settle relatively quickly on a mate, Florinda tends a bit more towards the selective.  She knows what she wants, and as an agent of free will, she pursues it until it is hers.  However, she still ends up married to a man of few resources, calling her judgment into question—she has bartered her flesh in exchange for escape from another man.  It is clear that Florinda does love Belvile, but one may question her motives upon rushing into marriage within two revolutions of the sun, and whether it is love, rebellion, or escape that motivates her urgency:

 “With indignation, and how near soever

 my Father thinks I am to Marrying that hated

 Object, I shall let him see, I understand better,

 what’s due my Beauty, Birth and Fortune,

 and more to my Soul, than to obey those

 unjust Commands” (I.i.25-9). 

By marrying Belvile, Florinda’s accomplishments are three-fold.  She is escaping an unhappy marriage to a wealthy, but much older, man, she is denouncing the interference of a controlling patriarch, and she is blatantly dismissing one disloyal and meddling sibling.  Both young women are, in effect, escaping what they perceive to be prisons in the forms of undesired institutions—Hellena, the institution of a Nunnery, and Florinda, the institution of a loveless marriage.  However, in a time when women needed the financial backing of men in this institution, Florinda needs to be somewhat more selective in her pursuits, rendering her a pretty poor negotiator, just as are her sister and brother. 

            There are even more unsuccessful negotiations made by Angellica, the prostitute.  Although she is the only player who acts as an agent of passion, she is ultimately the biggest loser in the play.  A dabbler in the flesh trade and a self-supporting entity, Angellica should be an expert negotiator.  She has managed to support herself with her body of work for quite some time, she is a woman of ample means, and she is certainly not devoid of business.  Her mistakes, however, are quite different from those of Hellena and Florinda, for Angellica is not searching for an quick escape from an unpleasant situation.  Her dealings with Wilmore begin with a simple financial transaction:  “And will you pay me then the price I ask?” (II.ii.166).  These dealings end, however, with a barter of a different sort:  “The pay, I mean, is but thy Love for / mine” (II.ii.173-4).  Ironically, the only character in the play that is honestly and passionately speaking the language of chivalric love is Angellica, whose entire life is represented as one large commodities trade.  To her detriment, however, she finds that Wilmore “cannot credit [her]” (II.ii.140), which accomplishes two things: primarily, it enlightens the audience, if they did not know already, to Wilmore’s financial status, and secondly, it implies that he will only love his way out of a debt. Angellica is directly opposed to Wilmore in that Wilmore wants Hellena to “give [him] credit for a Heart” (I.i.251), while Angellica is more than willing to take a heart for credit.  In their own way, Angellica and Wilmore have entered into their own contract, and one that on the surface appears quite clear cut.  Likewise, the language of this contract is clear, and when these negotiations end in Act V with the appearance of a pistol, the assumption can be made that the clauses of this contract were violated—and by the person on the wrong side of the gun.  Angellica emerges as the enforcer of the contract.  She is the only character who holds others accountable for their words.  Furthermore, she is the only person who equates herself with any real value:  “—Love, that has rob’d it of its unconcern, / Of all that Pride that taught me how to value it” (V.i.314-5).  Angellica may barter her body daily in exchange for financial independence, but she makes a clear distinction between her body and her heart, and as the voice of passion, condemns those whose words are material rather than genuine:  “Oh that thou wert in ernest!” (V.i.378).  Not only has Angellica’s profession made her wise to the ways of the world, but she is also wise in the ways of the heart, which expands upon the common theme of the “charitable prostitute.”  In this mercantilist society, the one who ends up without a mate is also the one who devalues materialism, making her the character that although heartbroken and deceived at the end of the play will be much better off in the long run than her disguise-donning associates. 

            What is the moral of this Restoration Comedy that bares great resemblance to a Tragedy?  Passion has no place in the business of mercantilism, and in the long run, everyone gets what they pay for.  Florinda marries the poor Belvile in Act V, and Hellena’s marriage at the end of the play hangs in the balance upon the word of a man with really bad credit.  Although each of the women have the ability to make decisions for themselves, these decisions do not necessarily contribute to happy endings.  Free will, although an inalienable right, does not ensure good “fortune.”  The characters in the play who are motivated by controlling their own negotiations are inept at doing so, while the cast members who are capable send someone else to do the dirty work.  The entire fiasco could probably have been avoided had one absent father not employed an unreliable messenger, whose only goal was to manipulate one sister while taunting the other.  There are three choice words for this family of freel-willding, incapable individuals---Bankrupt, Bankrupt, Bankrupt!                  



Return to ENG  579 Syllabus