Does The Rover reflect the social treatment of women at the time of its writing?

Quick answer:

The manner in which women are treated in the play reflects the social situation in 1677, the year The Rover was performed. Women's futures were largely decided by men, their options were limited, and those who could not marry were often forced into prostitution, all which is depicted in the play.

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Behn's 1677 The Rover reflects the social situation at the time for British women. While some in England hoped the restoration of the monarchy after the death of Cromwell would liberate women from the repressive hold of Puritan ideology, strict models of female purity stayed in place, while, as the play shows, women were at the same time more endangered than before by the newly loosed libertinism of the period.

The play's action is set in Naples, a Roman Catholic area, but nevertheless it is a clear critique of British social norms regarding women and makes more than one nod to Shakespeare's similar critiques in the earlier part of the century.

Women in the play fight back against a repressive patriarchy that allows men, primarily fathers and brothers, to determine their life path. Hellena, for example, is destined by her father for the convent, a place she does not want to end up, but she has little control over her future. She decides, with her sister Florinda, to use what agency she has to have a last night of freedom on the town.

The pure and innocent Florinda is caught between the ambitions of her father and her brother, neither of whom consult her wishes but simply expect her to bend to their wills. Her father wants her to marry a decrepit old man she is not in love with, while her brother wants to marry her off to his friend Don Antonio. Florinda, however, desires neither man, as she is love with Captain Belvile. Florinda thus joins her sister in a last night of freedom. During the sisters' "girls' night out," she is, however, almost raped twice.

Women's lives are thus shown to be filled with the constraints imposed by men, both patriarchs and others, for women who transgress the boundaries, as Florinda and Hellena do for one night, are faced with the generalized threat of male violence. Hellena eventually bends her brother to her will on marrying only because he is tired of fearing she will be deflowered and lose her value as a commodity to be bartered, not because he is interested in her personal fulfillment. Women who are not marriageable are shown living by their wits as prostitutes.

Behn, albeit in a lively, comic guise, illustrates that life was not easy for women in this period.

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