Summary and Analysis: Prologue and Act I, scenes i – ii

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New Characters
Author: The anonymous author of the work, presumably a man.

Florinda: A good noblewoman who is supposed to marry a rich, old fool (Don Vincentio) but is in love with a young gallant (Belvile).

Hellena: Florinda's sister, who resists the decree that she should go to a nunnery.

Don Vincentio: The wealthy young man Florinda is supposed to marry.

Don Belvile: A young English colonel who is in love with Florinda but has no money.

Don Pedro: A young man who is friends with Florinda and Hellena's father, who would like to thwart Florinda's intended marriage.

Stephano: Servant to Don Pedro.

Callis: Governess of Florinda and Hellena.

Antonio: Don Pedro's friend, a gallant young man and son of the Viceroy, who would like to marry Florinda.

Frederick: A friend and traveling companion of Belvile and Blunt.

Blunt: An Englishman and gentleman buffoon traveling with Belvile and Blunt.

Angelica: The widow of a Spanish general, now turned whore.

Lucetta: A girl hoping to profit through rich men.

Sancho: Lucetta's seeming pimp.

Aphra Behn's Restoration comedy The Rover begins with a prologue defending the writer. The byline declares that the Prologue has been written by a "person of quality," and the Prologue goes on to say that everyone has different tastes, and that while the theater's "in-group" will probably hate the play, that does not mean that it's a bad play. The Prologue reads as if its writer has received bad reviews and now chastises reviewers and audiences alike for not judging a play based on its own merits. It concludes by declaring that playwrights labor over every line of their work in order to create truly realistic dialogue and situations, so a successful play is one in which the characters' reactions and the plot are familiar to all. The writer further tells the audience that they are present not because they seek refined works of high quality, but because they prefer plays stuffed with jokes and dissipation, and that that is what the anonymous author of the play—a "he," according to the Prologue—has attempted to provide.

The action opens with Florinda chastising Hellena for her endless questions about love and lovers. Florinda reminds Hellena she is nunnery-bound and should not consider such questions, and Hellena responds even more impertinently that she aims to find a lover and free herself from the yoke of religious life during the Carnival. In Naples, Carnival time provides an outlet for repressed upper classes to wear masks and wander the streets flirting (and more) with other masked people. Social strata fade away, and nearly everyone can be found on the streets drinking and cavorting. Hellena intends to use this opportunity to avoid being recognized on the streets as the young noblewoman who intended for a religious life, and to find someone to help her explore her desires and hopefully aid her in escaping the nunnery entirely. The conversation reveals that Florinda is in love with a young English colonel, Don Belvile. Florinda declares that she hates her rich fiancée and will not marry him, and Hellena cheers this disobedient attitude.

Don Pedro, his servant Callis, and Stephano enter while readying themselves in masks for the streets. Don Pedro flirts with Florinda even as he conveys her father's wishes that she respect Vincentio and his fortune. Florinda blushes at the mention of Belvile and then must defend her honor, saying that she has a fondness for him but nothing more. Hellena fiercely criticizes the decreed confinement of herself and Florinda, despite Pedro's quiet recriminations. When Don Pedro points out that Florinda will still obediently wed whom she is told, Hellena explodes with wrath at the idea of marrying such a beautiful, spirited woman to a cripple for the sake of money, security and reputation.

Don Pedro orders Callis to lock Hellena up until she's sent to the convent, as he is tired of her wayward behavior. Don Pedro's reminder of her fate causes Hellena to make an aside to the audience saying she's still intending to find a fellow this Carnival, thereby escaping her fate. Before leaving for the celebrations, Don Pedro urges Florinda to marry his good friend Antonio, and he suggests the wedding date for the very next day. Don Pedro reveals that he hates Don Vincentio as much as he loves Antonio, and that is why he urges such disobedient behavior. Florinda seems to acquiesce as Don Pedro and Stephano (who has been silent throughout this conversation) leave for the party.

Hellena turns upon Florinda for denying her true love, Belvile, but Florinda points out that she has no argument against a young, rich, handsome man. Shifting gears, Hellena begs Callis to allow the sisters a last gasp of freedom by letting them attend the Carnival. Hellena points out that no one would know because of the masks. Hellena persuades Florinda as well with the words. "We'll out-wit twenty Brothers, if you'll be ruled by me," she says. The girls dress in costumes with masks, and Callis accompanies them to the streets.

Scene two opens in the street with Frederick teasing Belvile about his wench, whom the audience knows to be Florinda. Frederick reminds Blunt that Belvile met Florinda at the siege of Pampelona, when he protected Florinda and fell desperately in love with her. That feeling has been renewed since he made her acquaintance again in Naples. Blunt jokes that gentlewomen make the best whores, as they demand no money, unlike his present company to whom he must loan money all the time. Belvile and Frederick are saved from demands for money by the entrance of Willmore the Rover. As they discuss wine and women, a bevy of young courtesans dressed as roses tempt them, but then quickly disappear. The men announce that only long voyages at sea and nunneries evoke quite such heights of lust in men and women, and Willmore displays himself to be even more roguish than his companions. Willmore praises the open, authorized sexuality of Carnival.

Hellena, Florinda, Callis, Stephano, Lucetta and Sancho enter. Hellena points Belvile out to Florinda and then approaches his English friend, Willmore. Willmore compliments her Gypsy costume, and Hellena threatens to pick his pocket and accuses him of having a fickle heart. Willmore declares that the sea has given him love to spare and offers Hellena his heart, as his purse is too small to be pleasing. Demurely, Hellena tells Willmore she has sworn to die a virgin and that there are dangers that accompany anyone who seeks her heart. Enticed by the challenge and adventure, Willmore declares his undying adoration for her and then likens virginity to ignorance, which must of course be sinful and wrong. Hellena enjoys this witty response and brave attitude, but she also reiterates her accusation that he has a fickle heart.

Meanwhile, Lucetta reveals in conversation with Sancho that she seeks a man with money and gazes longingly at Blunt in hopes that he will be flattered into pursuing her.

At the same time the masked Florinda speaks to Belvile quietly and mentions her own name to see the effect it has upon him. He becomes dreamy with adoration. Florinda boldly requests that Belvile appear at a particular garden gate in order to meet her. As Don Pedro enters and Callis warns Florinda, Florinda presses a letter upon Belvile and then turns and runs away from her brother.

The perspective shifts back to Willmore, who is promising that his heart belongs to this masked woman, and that he will not bestow his heart upon anyone else before they meet again. All of the women except Lucetta leave the street, and all that can be heard is Belvile's rhapsody over the chance to save his dear Florinda from her mercenary brother. Blunt sneaks away with Lucetta while Frederick continues to defend Florinda and Belvile from Willmore's lusty, immoral comments. Willmore questions whether any wenches without the need for marriage have caught their eye while in town, and Frederick and Belvile tell him about Angelica, the widow of a Spanish general and the most beautiful whore in Naples. She has posters of her portrait all over town advertising her 1,000 crown price tag.

The Rover was Aphra Behn's most popular work, although she leaned heavily upon an older, male playwright's work for its inspiration. Thomas Killigrew (1612 - 1683) wrote a play called Thomaso which Behn based her work upon. She condensed the plotline, turned it into a comedy, and focused on the female characters during Carnival season in Naples. These choices allow her female characters great liberties and strength that were denied them in Killigrew's play. This was not plagiarism, for at the time, many playwrights borrowed from and improved upon older plays, including Shakespeare.

By opening with two women discussing love and sex, Behn sets the tone: women have desires and intend to act on them despite patriarchal intent to have them do otherwise. Hellena's open lust also reflects the bawdy, lewd era in which the plays were written and produced. The Restoration era ended the Puritanical rule of Oliver Cromwell by reinstating a monarch, Charles II, who ruled in conjunction with a Parliament from 1660. Charles II had been banished for decades while Cromwell ruled, and his sexual exploits during that time were well known. In fact, those who supported Charles I (who lost the monarchy due to stubbornness and was beheaded under Cromwell's rule) were called Cavaliers. While in exile, Charles II and his attendants were also called cavaliers. The Rover's alternate title is The Banish'd Cavaliers, and the saucy exploits of Willmore were modeled on Charles II's well-known behavior. The play's lusty themes were so much appreciated by the king that he even asked for a private audience.

However, the opening lines by Hellena also suggest an unusual gender-crossing. Her lines could be said by a young fellow who liked to get about town and flirt for sport as well as search for love, but coming from a female character they are shocking. Hellena's open declaration that she is out to bed someone would have sounded commonplace coming from a male actor, but when contrasted with Florinda's good, chaste behavior, it seems particularly evident that Hellena transcends the boundaries her society would have placed upon her.

From the first Act onwards, Behn writes with an assured comic grasp that is balanced by dark themes. The convent hangs as a dark cloud above Hellena, while Pedro looms in the background, threatening to lock the women up. Hellena's brave attitude and suggestion that they will outthink the men who seek to confine them suggests a happy resolution for these characters, but the future looks bleak for both women. These constraints on two strong, female characters are only the first of the play's condemnation of those who seek to limit the rights of women. Since Behn is considered by many to be the first professional woman writer in the English language, the play and the author's life suggest that the power of the imagination can free women. The Restoration also provided new avenues for women to express themselves, as it was during the Restoration that women were first encouraged to act onstage, largely because of Charles II's endorsement.

The setting of the play in Naples, which was largely inhabited and run by Spanish gentry, allowed the English men in the play to be seduced by the uninhibited Carnival as well as by foreign women. Behn's choice of setting gives the characters the ability to use imagination in their attire, attitude and conversation, and ere thus able to re-imagine themselves in whatever way they desired. When Hellena, dressed as a Gypsy, meets Willmore, she is able to pretend to be a thief with wit, a smart woman down on her luck like so many other women in the city. Her upper-class standing is hidden from Willmore, even though she knows right away that he is a poor Rover with badly patched clothing but known for his sharp wit. Because Hellena's mask interferes with Willmore's ability to court her specifically, their conversation highlights an intellectual attraction. They must both use words to win the other – Hellena because she cannot give up her body without losing her honor, and Willmore because he cannot pretend to be in love with a woman whose face he has never seen.

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Summary and Analysis: Act II, scenes i – ii