Aphra Behn Biography

Aphra Behn Biography

Aphra Behn is often incorrectly celebrated as the “first female playwright.” Nuns Hrosvitha and Hildegarde wrote religious closet dramas centuries before her, though their plays were not performed during their lifetimes. As a result, Behn’s career was far more influential, and she is credited with being one of the first women to earn a living writing for the theater. Her best-known play, The Rover, is a quintessential Restoration comedy of intrigue. Complete with masks, mistaken identities, and multiple, intersecting love stories, the play was the kind of raucous, bawdy entertainment that Restoration audiences loved. In fact, the play became so popular that Behn penned a sequel, but it was the original that made her a pioneer in theater history.

Facts and Trivia

  • Like Christopher Marlowe before her, Aphra Behn has often been suspected of being a spy for the Crown. Ostensibly working under Charles II, her code name was Astrea.
  • Critics still argue whether or not Behn was a “feminist” writer. The Rover contains several attempted rapes—all played for laughs.
  • Behn’s writing was not solely limited to drama. One of her most famous and successful works was Oroonoko, a novel about an African prince who becomes enslaved.
  • Little is known about her husband, the mysterious Mr. Behn. Some believe that Aphra invented him and then “killed” him off because the social status of a widow was better than that of an unmarried woman.
  • Renewed interest in Behn’s work has drawn greater attention to The Female Wits, a group of women writers contemporary to Behn.
Additional Content
  • Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)
  • Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)
  • Biography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)
  • Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
  • Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
  • Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)
  • Biography
  • Biography

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