Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Willmore, the Rover, arrives in Naples where he meets his fellow exiles Blunt, Frederick, and Belvile. They begin rather aimless adventures in quest of pleasure. Although Willmore is an example of the appealing, energetic Restoration hero of wit, it is the women characters who, indirectly, control the action. Hellena, destined by her father for a convent, wishes another kind of life and is willing to venture into the carnival setting to seek it. Once she has seen Willmore, she decides to make him her husband, even if she must pursue him in disguise. In order to thwart his affair with Angellica, an aged former mistress of a Spanish general, she disguises herself as a page. Her sister Florinda has been promised, against her will, to Antonio. Florinda has been in love with Belvile since he saved her life and that of her brother Don Pedro during a battle. Despite numerous mishaps and mistakes that endanger her, she manages to win Belvile in the end. Both women achieve marriages that will assure financial independence and compatibility and will not require excessive emotional commitment.
Not all pleasure seeking, however, achieves its ends. Behn implies that the persons must possess some attractive qualities and panache. Blunt, crudely direct in his hedonism, finds himself deceived and robbed by a courtesan. He represents the naïve country squire of Restoration comedy, who becomes the butt of farcical humor. On the other hand, Willmore’s excesses—drunkenness, brawling, and promiscuity—are redeemed by his wit, savoir faire, and overall good nature.
The drama possesses an abundance of humor, sprightly wit, and farcical adventures. Although the celebration of loyalty may have been its greatest appeal for the Restoration audience, the drama is also noteworthy for its portrayal of strong-willed heroines who choose their own future and act to bring it about. The sequel, The Rovers: Or, The Banished Cavaliers, Part II (pr., pb. 1681) is generally regarded as inferior to the first part, although it is noteworthy for its use of two figures from commedia dell’arte: Harlequin and Scaramouche.
Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis: Prologue and Act I, scenes i – ii
Author: The anonymous author of the work, presumably a man.
Florinda: A good noblewoman who is supposed to marry a rich, old fool (Don Vincentio) but is in love with a young gallant (Belvile).
Hellena: Florinda's sister, who resists the decree that she should go to a nunnery.
Don Vincentio: The wealthy young man Florinda is supposed to marry.
Don Belvile: A young English colonel who is in love with Florinda but has no money.
Don Pedro: A young man who is friends with Florinda and Hellena's father, who would like to thwart Florinda's intended marriage.
Stephano: Servant to Don Pedro.
Callis: Governess of Florinda and Hellena.
Antonio: Don Pedro's friend, a gallant young man and son of the Viceroy, who would like to marry Florinda.
Frederick: A friend and traveling companion of Belvile and Blunt.
Blunt: An Englishman and gentleman buffoon traveling with Belvile and Blunt.
Angelica: The widow of a Spanish general, now turned whore.
Lucetta: A girl hoping to profit through rich men.
Sancho: Lucetta's seeming pimp.
Aphra Behn's Restoration comedy The Rover begins with a prologue defending the writer. The byline declares that the Prologue has been written by a "person of quality," and the Prologue goes on to say that everyone has different tastes, and that while the theater's "in-group" will probably hate the play, that does not mean that it's a bad play. The Prologue reads as if its writer has received bad reviews and now chastises reviewers and audiences alike for not judging a play based on its own merits. It concludes by declaring that playwrights labor over every line of their work in order to create truly realistic dialogue and situations, so a successful play is one in which the characters' reactions and the plot are familiar to all. The writer further tells the audience that they are present not because they seek refined works of high quality, but because they prefer plays stuffed with jokes and dissipation, and that that is what the anonymous author of the play—a "he," according to the Prologue—has attempted to provide.
The action opens with Florinda chastising Hellena for her endless questions about love and lovers. Florinda reminds Hellena she is nunnery-bound and should not consider such questions, and Hellena responds even more impertinently that she aims to find a lover and free herself from the yoke of religious life during the Carnival. In Naples, Carnival time provides an outlet for repressed upper classes to wear masks and wander the streets flirting (and more) with other masked people. Social strata fade away, and nearly everyone can be found on the streets drinking and cavorting. Hellena intends to use this opportunity to avoid being recognized on the streets as the young noblewoman who intended for a religious life, and to find someone to help her explore her desires and hopefully aid her in escaping the nunnery entirely. The conversation reveals that Florinda is in love with a young English colonel, Don Belvile. Florinda declares that she hates her rich fiancée and will not marry him, and Hellena cheers this disobedient attitude.
Don Pedro, his servant Callis, and Stephano enter while readying themselves in masks for the streets. Don Pedro flirts with Florinda even as he conveys her father's wishes that she respect Vincentio and his fortune. Florinda blushes at the mention of Belvile and then must defend her honor, saying that she has a fondness for him but nothing more. Hellena fiercely criticizes the decreed confinement of herself and Florinda, despite Pedro's quiet recriminations. When Don Pedro points out that Florinda will still obediently wed whom she is told, Hellena explodes with wrath at the idea of marrying such a beautiful, spirited woman to a cripple for the sake of money, security and reputation.
Don Pedro orders Callis to lock Hellena up until she's sent to the convent, as he is tired of her wayward behavior. Don Pedro's reminder of her fate causes Hellena to make an aside to the audience saying she's still intending to find a fellow this Carnival, thereby escaping her fate. Before leaving for the celebrations, Don Pedro urges Florinda to marry his good friend Antonio, and he suggests the wedding date for the very next day. Don Pedro reveals that he hates Don Vincentio as much as he loves Antonio, and that is why he urges such disobedient behavior. Florinda seems to acquiesce as Don Pedro and Stephano (who has been silent throughout this conversation) leave for the party.
Hellena turns upon Florinda for denying her true love, Belvile, but Florinda points out that she has no argument against a young, rich, handsome man. Shifting gears, Hellena begs Callis to allow the sisters a last gasp of freedom by letting them attend the Carnival. Hellena points out that no one would know because of the masks. Hellena persuades...
(The entire section is 2058 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act II, scenes i – ii
Moretta: Angelica's servant.
Diego: Antonio's page.
Musicians: Traveling with the Vice Roy's son, they are intended to impress Angelica with Antonio and his money.
Belvile and Frederick, both masked, stand by a garden gate. Willmore enters without a disguise. He dismisses their fears of being recognized for their felonious activity by saying that the Gypsy he flirted with would be unable to recognize him. He says that the woman has activated his heart. Blunt enters and declares that he is in love with the young woman he had been flirting with, and that he will sell his property in England to live beside her. Upon further...
(The entire section is 1568 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act III, scenes i – iv Summary and Analysis
Valeria: Hellena and Florinda's cousin, a lady.
Sebastian: One of Angelica's servants.
Philippo: Lucetta's true love.
The three ladies, Florinda, Hellena and Valeria, enter in new gowns and masks, dressed as Gypsies, followed by Callis. Valeria and Florinda tease Hellena about being in love with the handsome British man she flirted with earlier, and Hellena admits she cannot get him out of her mind. Willmore is not at the assigned meeting place, and Hellena realizes she is jealous of whatever woman he is with. Resolved to be someone's lover, Hellena questions whether she can succeed without the inconstant Willmore.
(The entire section is 2005 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act IV, scenes i – iii Summary and Analysis
Alone, in the dark, Belvile opens the Act by railing against his fate, which he assumes is to die without honor. Antonio enters with a light, a sword, and his arm in a sling. Antonio asks why Belvile keeps attacking him. Belvile explains that Willmore provoked both incidents, and Belvile merely came to his friend's aid. Antonio reveals that he is the Vice-Roy's son and gives Belvile the sword. Overwhelmed with gratitude at having escaped a life sentence or death for fighting such an eminent person, Belvile promises to do anything for Antonio.
Antonio asks Belvile to fight "a Rival" (Pedro, from Act II, scene i) for the hand of a woman, since Antonio has been injured and cannot. Furthermore,...
(The entire section is 2388 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act V
Belvile calls Blunt from outside the locked door, but Blunt does not answer. Belvile has a servant batter the door with a chair, and Blunt calls out that he is "a little busy." First pretending to be engaged in business, then prayer, Blunt finally announces he has a girl inside. Belvile calls out to open the door and share the fun, and he has the servants break down the door.
Belvile, Willmore, Frederick, Pedro and a servant enter and begin to laugh at Blunt and his strange attire. They mock Blunt for not knowing that the woman was a thief and a whore and for coming to her defense. Blunt threatens to fight them. Pedro apologizes on behalf of his country. Regaining his composure, Blunt...
(The entire section is 2113 words.)