The Rover, published and first produced in 1677, was Aphra Behn's most successful play. The original full title, The Rover, or The Banish 'd Cavaliers, indicates that the play was a tribute to the formerly exiled cavalier and newly reinstated king, Charles II. The Rover is a dark comedy that mixes themes of prostitution and rape with comic buffoonery. The play expresses its author's objections to the vulnerability of women in Restoration society. Perhaps ironically, it also appeals to the prurient interests of the audience by putting women in morally compromising situations. Based loosely on her contemporary Thomas Killigrew's 1564 Thomaso, or The Wanderer (1664), Behn's play is leaner, less lewd, and more profound. The plot follows the fortunes of opposing lovers, one a woman of quality masquerading as a courtesan and one a wandering rake whose philandering days end when he falls in love with her. Several near-rapes and the tragic case of a jilted courtesan, another character in the play, balance the comic treatment of sexual politics in the seventeenth century. The rover of the title is either Willmore, an exiled English sea captain on shore leave to enjoy the carnival, or Hellena, a young woman hoping to experience life and love before being committed to a convent by her brother. These two rovers meet and fall in love amid witty debates and sexual maneuvering. Willmore has many parallels to Charles II, whose exploits during his twenty-year banishment from England were well known. Charles II enjoyed the play so much that he commissioned a private viewing of it.
Did this raise a question for you?