How has the institution of prostitution been portrayed in The Rover? How is it significant to the time period?

In The Rover , the institution of prostitution is examined through the lens of a single character, who is a courtesan. Angellica Bianca is distinguished from the other female characters by being supported by men outside of the institution of marriage. Her way of life is accepted in some social circles but reviled in others. Author Aphra Behn portrays Angellica as an active agent who manipulates patriarchal society but is nearly undone when she falls in love.

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One of The Rovers main character is a courtesan, which is a single woman supported by men to whom she is not married. Although most of the play’s characters behave as though marriage is a desired outcome for most women, playwright Aphra Behn does not present the courtesan, Angellica Bianca, as a victim. Her connections to wealthy, powerful men enable her to live comfortably and even luxuriously. Behn does not explore the lives of lower-class women who work as prostitutes. Behn does show that women who are not protected by the legalities of marriage encounter certain hardships, but she suggests that these are practical more than moral issues.

Overall, Behn’s portrayal of Angellica is both empowering and romantic. The proud woman exercises considerable independence in making her own decisions—at least as long as she remains clear-headed and businesslike. When she loses her head and falls in love with the wrong man, she is severely disadvantaged because he is unreliable.

At the same time, the married women are also shown as being dependent on their husbands. Behn does not seem to censure Angellica for her way of life. Male characters freely engage in extramarital relations and apparently expect their wives to tolerate their behavior. An illegal sex trade would not exist, Behn implies, without both individual male participation and overall social support.

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