Themes and Meanings
Typical of comedies written after the Restoration, The Rover explores issues of love, courtship, and marriage. Like her contemporaries, Aphra Behn treats these issues with a certain degree of bawdy, detached cynicism. Her characters are predominantly self-serving, and her plays never melt into the kind of sentimentality that distinguishes the drama of the later eighteenth century. Similar to other Restoration gallants, Willmore is an attractive, witty, free-spirited protagonist, who falls in love capriciously and desires sex without marriage. He does not, however, treat women as disdainfully as other gallants, such as Horner, the protagonist in William Wycherley’s The Country Wife (pr., pb. 1675). More important, Behn avoids her contemporaries’ practice of reducing women either to virginal commodities or to corrupt whores. The female characters in The Rover are complex, intelligent women whose value is not compromised by the sexual desire they share with the male characters. Behn’s satire is not directed toward women but rather toward hypocritical social conventions that reduce romance to competition and women to possessions.
This theme is introduced in the first scene of Part I. Destined for a convent and an arranged marriage, Hellena and Florinda have no sexual autonomy and are trapped in roles that have been assigned to them by their male relatives. The carnival represents an opportunity for the women to escape these roles. Once they are disguised, Florinda can actively seek Belvile, and Hellena can search...
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