How does Aphra Behn's The Rover compare with George Etherege's The Man of Mode in relation to gender roles?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Both The Rover and The Man of Mode are perfect examples of English Restoration comedy, also called comedy of manners. Restoration comedy was especially known for being sexually explicit and satirized issues of social classes, using scandals to drive the plot forward. Restoration comedy also made use of stock characters and satirized gender roles, as we can see in both plays. While both certainly portray some aspects of gender roles as the same, there are also some differences.

One difference can be seen with respect to which gender is given the more dominant role in either play. In The Rover, despite the play's title, it's actually the women who drive the plot forward and have the more dominant role, giving them a gender role even commonly seen in Shakespeare. As even seen in Shakespeare, women have the gender role of manipulating situations to their advantage and of even being the controlling force to solve conflicts. Examples of women in The Rover dominating the action can be seen with respect to the actions of Hellena and Florinda. Hellena refuses to join a convent, as her father wishes, and is instead determined to find a husband. She decides to pursue Willmore as her husband and wins him, despite the fact that he is a philandering drunk. Likewise, despite the fact that Florinda's father wants her to marry Antonia, she is in love with Belvile and also pursues him until she wins him, showing how both women are capable of controlling and manipulating the action to their advantage. We particularly see their strong characters and gender roles in the opening scene in which they discuss their wishes to disobey their father. In particular, Hellena says to Florintia:

Now hang me, if I don't love thee for that dear disobedience. I love mischief strangely, as most of our sex do, who are come to love nothing else. (I.i.)

In contrast, The Man of Mode presents women as having the gender role of being the weaker vessel--women are objectified and even exploited. For example, both Lady Loveit and Bellinda are exploited by being treated by Dorimant as mere sex objects who he can cast away when he is tired of them.

Similarities and differences can also be seen with respect to the gender roles given to the men in both plays. In contrast to The Rover, the play The Man of Mode gives the male characters the more dominant role, making them the ones that control situations. For example, Dorimant manipulates the situation so that he is able to cast off both Lady Loveit and Bellinda and even manipulate Harriet's mother into consenting to his marrying Harriet. However, both plays characterize the men as having the same gender role with respect to their behavior. In both plays, the men are heavy drinkers, promiscuous, vain, witty, and some are even foolish, showing us that, according to the plays, a man's gender role is to be those things.

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