The Forc'd Marriage

by Aphra Behn
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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3010

The Forc’d Marriage begins with a prologue spoken by an actor and then an actress directly to the audience. It identifies the playwright as a woman and appeals to the audience to give the play a good reception.

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Act 1, Scene 1
The warrior Alcippus has just returned from a battle in which he distinguished himself in the command of twenty thousand men. The king has to decide whether to honor Alcippus or his own son, Philander, who has also shown valor. He decides to promote Alcippus to the rank of general, pointing out that the former general, Orgulius, had asked to be relieved of his post, since he is getting old. The grateful but surprised Alcippus requests the hand of Orgulius’s daughter Erminia in marriage. With Orgulius’s approval, the king grants him his wish, to the consternation of Philander, who is also in love with Erminia.

Everyone exits, except for Alcander, Pisaro, and Falatius. Alcander is annoyed to see Alcippus promoted above him. He thinks that he himself fought in the battle with equal valor. He is also unhappy that his friend Philander, the prince, has lost his chance to wed Erminia. Pisaro, a friend of Alcippus, tries to mollify Alcander by saying that Alcippus did not know Philander was in love with Erminia. Pisaro also reveals that Erminia does not return Alcippus’s love. Talk then turns to Aminta, Pisaro’s sister, who is being courted, without, he believes, much success, by Alcander. After Alcander and Pisaro exit, Falatius reveals that he is also romantically interested in Aminta. He sends Labree to tell Aminta about the wounds he received in battle. In truth, he received none, but he plans to wear patches on his face so the ladies will think he has been wounded.

Act 1, Scene 2
Galatea, the king’s daughter, talks with Olinda, her maid, and Aminta. She learns that Erminia is horrified at the thought of marrying Alcippus. Aminta confesses that she herself has been in love many times and is currently in love with Alcander. Erminia enters and speaks of her sorrow, since she is in love with Philander. Her grief is matched by that of Galatea, who is in love with Alcippus. Erminia vows not to let Alcippus into her bed. The two women attempt to console each other.

Act 1, Scene 3
A weeping Erminia protests to her father, saying that she loves Alcippus as a brother but no more. She confesses that she is in love with Philander, who returns her affections. Orgulius rebukes her, saying that the king would never agree to her marrying the prince and that she should accept Alcippus instead. He wants to bring forward the time of the wedding to that night. Erminia reluctantly agrees, saying she will do her duty, but after her father exits, she rails at her situation, saying that only death will set her free.

Act 1, Scene 4
Philander tells Alcander that he wants Erminia, whom he loves, to defy her father. He claims that Orgulius cannot claim that he was ignorant of their feelings for each other, since everyone knew about their love. He plans to go to the king to win his sympathy, and if that does not work, he will settle matters with his sword.

Act 2, Scene 1
After the wedding is represented on stage, Philander and his sister Galatea enter. They are both angry. Philander feels that he has suffered a humiliation, having to watch the woman he loves being married to someone else against her will. He vows to kill Alcippus, which horrifies Galatea, who is in love with Alcippus. She tries to dissuade him, but succeeds only in getting him to temporarily postpone his vengeance. She responds by saying that if he kills Alcippus, she will kill Erminia. Knowing that neither of these events is likely to happen, she suggests that at the wedding banquet, Philander should make Alcippus a little jealous, and she will do the rest. It appears that she has a plan.

Act 2, Scene 2
Olinda, Alcander’s sister, tells Aminta about how deeply her brother is in love with her. Aminta at first pretends she is not interested in Alcander, but she soon admits that she is in love with him, but she wants to keep it a secret. Falatius enters, with patches on his face and tries to convince Aminta of his heroism. Alcander enters and is annoyed to see Aminta with Falatius. He tells Aminta about his love for her. After Alcander exits, Aminta shows her pleasure at his words, which disappoints Falatius, who realizes that Alcander is his rival.

Act 2, Scene 3
In the bedroom at night, Alcippus realizes that Erminia does not wish to sleep in his bed. She confesses what Alcippus seems already to know, that she is in love with Philander. Her heart belonged to the prince before Alcippus asked for it. She says she married Alcippus only to please the king and her father. Angry, he seizes her by the arm and shows her a dagger. She manages to pacify him by speaking about the power of love, and he says that in time he hopes to win her love. He tries once more to persuade her to share his bed, but she is firm in her resolve.

Act 2, Scene 4
At midnight, the sleepless Philander confesses to Alcander his grief at losing Erminia. He accuses her of breaking her vow to him. Alcander urges him not to give up but to possess Erminia and not worry about the sin of taking another man’s wife. He tries to convince the prince that this is what Erminia is expecting him to do. Philander decides that he and Alcander should serenade the bride that very night.

Act 2, Scene 5
Pisaro reveals that he has been watching the wedding feast closely. He has observed the looks of love given by Galatea to Alcippus and also the obvious love between Philander and Erminia. He has also noticed the growing hostility between Philander and Alcippus. Pisaro is disturbed by the situation because he also wants to win Galatea’s love. He is conflicted because Alcippus is his friend.

Act 2, Scene 6
At the door of Erminia’s chamber, while Philander and Alcander look on, a page sings a song about the cruelties of love. Pisaro enters, and he and Philander quarrel. Alcander intervenes, and he and Pisaro fight. Pisaro falls. Alcander and Philander exit, and Alcippus, aroused by the commotion, enters. He helps Pisaro, who says he is not wounded.

Act 2, Scene 7
Philander and Alcander return and encounter Erminia in her nightgown. Erminia demands to know where Alcippus is, since she is concerned for his safety. Philander speaks scornfully to her, but she tells him that she has kept her vow to him. He rejoices at hearing this report. Alcippus enters, sees Philander and Erminia together, and suspects the worse. Alcippus and Philander draw their swords and fight. Alcippus is wounded. Erminia and Alcippus exit together, and Philander wants to chase after them. Alcander convinces him that justice is on his side and that his time to possess Erminia will come.

Act 3, Scene 1
Pisaro explains to Alcippus why he quarreled with Philander. Alcippus hints to his friend of his fear of Erminia’s unfaithfulness to him, but Pisaro says he knows nothing about Alcippus being wronged. Pisaro confesses that he is in love with Galatea and that Galatea is in love with Alcippus. Alcippus is amazed at this information, which he had not suspected. He does not know what to do and asks Pisaro for his advice. Pisaro tells him that he should choose Galatea, since he will then inherit half a kingdom, rather than wasting his time on Erminia who does not love him. He offers to act as a spy for Alcippus, who has to go away to a military camp that day.

Act 3, Scene 2
Falatius encounters Cleontius, Philander’s servant. They quarrel over Issilia, Cleontius’s sister, and agree to fight a duel. Aminta enters and Falatius protests that she loves Alcander, even though she disguises it, more than she loves him. Alcander enters, offers Aminta his sword and asks her to kill him. He says he thinks he has killed her brother Pisaro. Aminta collapses in the arms of Olinda, Alcander’s sister, and then tells Falatius to take revenge against Alcander. After Aminta exits, Alcander tells Falatius to kill him to fulfill Aminta’s wish, but he is too cowardly to do so. Alcander exits, and Aminta returns with Pisaro. She asks Falatius if he has killed Alcander yet. Falatius is overjoyed to see that Pisaro is alive, which means he does not have to choose between disobeying the woman he loves and committing murder. Aminta directs him not to tell Alcander that Pisaro is alive. After Pisaro exits, Alcander enters. Aminta informs him that Pisaro is not dead, and she returns his sword. She and Alcander continue their verbal sparring. He admits he loves her but says he will leave her to Falatius. She replies that she can do without both of them.

Act 3, Scene 3
Thinking that Erminia is too puffed up with pride, Galatea reminds her of her humble origins. Erminia seems to say that she has a duty to return Alcippus’s love, which produces an angry outburst from Galatea. Erminia weeps and confesses that, in truth, she hates Alcippus. Galatea tells her to remember that Philander loves her and that she should yield herself to his desire. When Erminia asks her how she may conceal such an act from Alcippus, Galatea tells her to trust her; she will arrange it. Alcippus, who is about to go to camp, and Pisaro enter. Alcippus talks about his grief and accuses Galatea of having taught Erminia how to be cruel. Galatea denies it, and Alcippus apologizes. He turns to Erminia and pleads with her to give him some hope. In an aside to Erminia, Galatea tells her to soften her attitude toward Alcippus. After Galatea exits, Erminia speaks more kindly to Alcippus and weeps. Alcippus is touched and encouraged by what he thinks is her new attitude toward him. But as the scene ends, she insists that when they meet again, it must be as friends, not lovers.

Act 4, Scene 1
Galatea and Aminta are met by Philander and Alcander. Philander is planning to see Erminia while Alcippus is away, and Aminta encourages him. Philander asks Galatea to use her charm to get the king on her side, and, by implication, on his. After Galatea and Philander exit, Alcander once again tells Aminta he is in love with her, but she continues to resist him, reminding him of all the women he has loved in the past. But when he decides to leave, she is more forthcoming, and Alcander realizes her true feelings. After he leaves, Aminta regrets she has let her passion for him be known and thinks she has lost her power as a result.

Act 4, Scene 2
Alcippus tells Pisaro he is distressed and jealous because he knows Erminia does not really love him, in spite of the gentle words she spoke to him. He decides that he will not go to the camp. Instead, he will return to visit Erminia, even though Pisaro tells him that if he finds Philander there he may fly into a rage and do something that will ruin his life. Pisaro makes him promise to remain calm.

Act 4, Scene 3
When it is dark, Philander and Alcander call at the lodgings of Erminia. Isillia, Erminia’s maid, lets them in.

Act 4, Scene 4
Philander kneels at the feet of a surprised Erminia and tells her how much he loves her. But he breaks off suddenly, telling her he is unwell. Erminia takes him into an inner room where he can rest.

Act 4, Scene 5
Alcippus knocks at the door, and Alcander realizes to his horror who it is. Alcander steps outside, and there is an argument that leads to a fight. Alcander manages to grab Alcippus’s sword, but Alcippus succeeds in getting inside the building. Alcander, who is wounded, follows him in.

Act 4, Scene 6
Isillia informs Erminia that Alcippus is approaching the bed chamber, and Erminia tells Philander to hide. He hides behind the bed but leaves his sword and hat on the table. Alcippus does not take long to notice them. Erminia pretends they belong to her father, but Alcippus knows this is untrue, and he accuses her of treachery. Philander emerges from his hiding place and confronts Alcippus. A violent encounter seems imminent, but Erminia steps between the two men, preventing Alcippus from attacking the unarmed Philander. Philander agrees to leave. Left alone with Erminia, Alcippus accuses her of adultery and strangles her. He throws her on the bed, thinking she may be dead. Pisaro enters, sees Erminia, and, thinking she is dead, rebukes Alcippus. Alcippus says she deserved her fate. Pisaro speaks of some messages that Galatea had sent to him through Philander. At the mention of the names of Galatea and Philander, Alcippus feels conflicting emotions and gives way to a longing for death.

Act 4, Scene 7
Falatius informs Galatea that Erminia is dead. Stunned at this news, Philander falls into the arms of Alcander. The king and Orgulius enter. Orgulius calls for revenge against Alcippus. Galatea says that if Alcippus dies, she will, too. She has that night already explained to the king that she loves Alcippus. She tries to defend Alcippus, saying that the murder would not have happened had Erminia not been forced to marry a man she did not love. The king says that had he known Philander was in love with Erminia, he would have allowed them to marry. The king inquires about Philander, and Galatea thinks he could not bear to live once he found out about Erminia’s death. The king says that if Philander is dead, Alcippus too shall die.

Act 4, Scene 8
Falatius and Labree enter. As they speak, a veiled Erminia enters. The men think she is a ghost and fall shaking to the ground.

Act 4, Scene 9
Philander plans to take vengeance on Alcippus by killing him, after which he plans to kill himself. Erminia enters, calling his name, saying she is a soul from Elysium come to visit him. Philander is amazed and frightened. Alcander enters, and Erminia glides away. Philander insists that his vision of her was not a dream. Alcander does not believe him, but then Erminia returns. They are both frightened, not knowing whether she is a ghost, but she soon reveals that she is the living, flesh-and-blood Erminia. Erminia worries that the whole court is alarmed since both Aminta and Falatius have seen her and thought they were seeing a ghost. Aminta and Galatea enter. They have heard the rumors, but Philander leads Erminia out to them. Philander has a plan that involves keeping secret the fact that Erminia is alive. He speaks some tender words to Erminia.

Act 5, Scene 1
Pisaro reports to Galatea that he has seen Alcippus, full of remorse, sitting by a fountain. Galatea asks if Alcippus has mentioned her, and Pisaro replies that he has spoken about her with shame and passion. Pisaro did his best to cheer him up and left him sleeping on a couch.

Act 5, Scene 2
Alcippus awakes and weeps, still full of grief and remorse over his actions. Pisaro and Erminia enter, the latter dressed like an angel with wings. Alcippus, who is looking into a mirror, sees Erminia, who has stolen up behind him, in the mirror. He is frightened, and as he turns around Erminia speaks to him like a disembodied spirit, saying that she is living in a blessed place and is as happy as a god. She hopes this will end his woe. Galatea enters as a spirit, bows to Alcippus, and exits. Erminia tells him it is she whom he must possess. She continues to instruct him as various figures, representing Glory, Honor, Mars, Pallas, Fortune, and Cupid, cross the stage, bow, and exit. Then they return and dance, making an offering to the figure in the middle, that represents love. Erminia exists, leaving Alcippus speechless. When Pisaro enters, Alcippus tells him he just had a fine dream in which he saw Erminia’s spirit in glorious form. Pisaro tells him that Philander has persuaded the king to pardon him.

Act 5, Scene 3
The king meets with Philander and tacitly agrees that his son should marry the one he loves. Philander expresses his gratitude.

Act 5, Scene 4
Alcander pleads with Aminta to show him some love, while Aminta asks him to prove that he really does love her. Alcander is disappointed that she should question his commitment to her, and they exit without having reached an agreement.

Act 5, Scene 5
In a black-draped room, Alcippus weeps before the coffin that supposedly contains the dead Erminia. Philander enters, and there is a tense exchange between the two men. They draw their swords and begin to fight, until Pisaro gets between them. Alcander enters, followed shortly by Galatea and Aminta. Galatea reproaches both men for their quarreling. The king enters and speaks harshly to Alcippus for threatening the prince. Philander and Alcippus then both try to accept the blame for their quarrel, and the king agrees to forgive Alcippus. After the king exits, Philander speaks warmly to Alcippus and bestows on him Galatea as his wife. Alcippus is amazed at the prince’s generosity. Philander goes out and returns with Erminia. Alcippus, after he has recovered from the shock, kneels and asks her forgiveness, which she grants. The king enters, with Orgulius, who bestows his daughter Erminia on Philander. The king then gives Galatea to Alcippus. Two more betrothals follow: Falatius to Isillia and Aminta to Alcander. The king makes a final speech in which he wishes the new couples long and happy lives.

The short epilogue is given by a woman, who speaks self-deprecatingly on behalf of her sex, admitting the superiority of men as far as wit is concerned and saying that women can conquer only through their beauty.

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