Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Forced Marriage: Or, the Jealous Bridegroom, although seemingly conventional in structure and subject matter, offers a perspective that is different from that of other plays of the period. In contrast to the usual pairing off of young couples according to the dictates of their parents, this play explores the freedom of choice that the two heroines have dared to demand. Princess Galatea wants the young General Alcippus, who is not her social equal, for her husband; Prince Philander hopes to make Erminia, who is also not of his class, his bride. Both women believe that they have the right to pick their mates—just as much right as men have. Thus, while the play uses mistaken identities, misinterpretations of motives, misreadings of situations, and all the devices dear to such plots, Aphra Behn succeeds in putting a novel idea before her audience. Furthermore, in her prologue she alerts everyone in the theater to the fact that they are witnesses to a rare event: A woman has dared to write a play.

At the opening, the King announces his gratitude both to his son, Philander, and to his favorite, Alcippus, for their bravery in battle. To show how devoted the two young men are, they deliver speeches in which each praises the other for being more responsible for the victory. When the King offers to make Alcippus his new general, the young man first declines the honor, feeling embarrassed because he is in the presence of the old general, Orgilius. The latter cedes his position willingly, however, and so the audience is introduced to a group of well-intentioned, heroic, and reasonable men who respect one another and, while appreciating their own worth, are not conceited. This pleasant atmosphere is soon dissipated when the King inquires of Alcippus how he may reward him further, and his new general asks for the hand of the old general’s daughter, Erminia, a request that...

(The entire section is 772 words.)