Willmore, the Rover, arrives in Naples where he meets his fellow exiles Blunt, Frederick, and Belvile. They begin rather aimless adventures in quest of pleasure. Although Willmore is an example of the appealing, energetic Restoration hero of wit, it is the women characters who, indirectly, control the action. Hellena, destined by her father for a convent, wishes another kind of life and is willing to venture into the carnival setting to seek it. Once she has seen Willmore, she decides to make him her husband, even if she must pursue him in disguise. In order to thwart his affair with Angellica, an aged former mistress of a Spanish general, she disguises herself as a page. Her sister Florinda has been promised, against her will, to Antonio. Florinda has been in love with Belvile since he saved her life and that of her brother Don Pedro during a battle. Despite numerous mishaps and mistakes that endanger her, she manages to win Belvile in the end. Both women achieve marriages that will assure financial independence and compatibility and will not require excessive emotional commitment.
Not all pleasure seeking, however, achieves its ends. Behn implies that the persons must possess some attractive qualities and panache. Blunt, crudely direct in his hedonism, finds himself deceived and robbed by a courtesan. He represents the naïve country squire of Restoration comedy, who becomes the butt of farcical humor. On the other hand, Willmore’s excesses—drunkenness, brawling, and promiscuity—are redeemed by his wit, savoir faire, and overall good nature.
The drama possesses an abundance of humor, sprightly wit, and farcical adventures. Although the celebration of loyalty may have been its greatest appeal for the Restoration audience, the drama is also noteworthy for its portrayal of strong-willed heroines who choose their own future and act to bring it about. The sequel, The Rovers: Or, The Banished Cavaliers, Part II (pr., pb. 1681) is generally regarded as inferior to the first part, although it is noteworthy for its use of two figures from commedia dell’arte: Harlequin and Scaramouche.
The prologue in rhyming couplets portends a play that is not just ‘‘good conversation’’, as conventional plays present, but is full of "wit" and "deboches" [debauches], as is life.
The scene untraditionally opens on two women. Sisters Hellena and Florinda are discussing love, which the younger sister Hellena wants to experience before her brother sends her to a nunnery, and Florinda coyly tells about her beau, an English colonel. They are interrupted by their brother, Don Pedro, who announces that, to prevent Florinda from having to marry her father's choice for her, an old man, she must marry Don Pedro's friend, Don Antonio, the next day. The girls decide to go to the carnival that night in masks and costumed as gypsy whores to exploit their independence before it is stifled by their prearranged futures, and Florinda hopes to encounter Belvile to tell him that she loves him. Their cousin, Valeria, and their governess, Callis, accompany them. Very soon they meet four English gentlemen who are also heading to the carnival.
Hellena meets and sets a date with an English sailor, Captain Willmore, who shares her goal of enjoying as many fleeting encounters with the opposite sex as he can during his two-day leave. Florinda is also successful, for she meets Colonel Belvile, the man she had fallen in love with when he protected her and her brother during the siege of Pamploma. Behind her mask, she pretends to tell Belvile his fortune, hands him a letter, and whispers to him to meet Florinda at the garden gate that night. Valeria flirts with Frederick, and the fourth Englishman, a simple country squire named Ned Blunt, wanders off with a real harlot, Lucetta. The other three joke that she will probably rob him, as they happily head off for dinner, anticipating an evening of physical pleasure.
Blunt comes back from setting a date with...
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