by Aphra Behn
"All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she -- shady and amorous as she was -- who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits."
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
Carnival is the background for one of Aphra Behn's best known plays. Behn was a British playwright, poet, translator and fiction writer from the Restoration era. She was one of the first English women to earn her living by her writing, breaking cultural barriers and serving as a literary role model for later generations of women authors. Charles II employed her as a spy in Antwerp, but she returned to London and after a brief stay in debtors' prison, she began writing for the stage. She belonged to a coterie of poets that included John Wilmot, Lord Rochester. She wrote under the pastoral pseudonym Astrea.
Based on Thomas Killigrew's play Thomaso, or The Wanderer (1664), The Rover features multiple plot lines, dealing with the amorous adventures of a group of Englishmen in Naples at Carnival time. The titular "rover" of the is Willmore, a rakish naval captain, who falls in love with a young woman named Hellena, who has set out to experience love before her brother sends her to a convent. Complications arise when Angellica Bianca, a famous courtesan, falls in love with Willmore and swears revenge on him for his betrayal.
Meanwhile, Hellena's sister Florinda attempts to marry her true love, Colonel Belvile, rather than the man her brother has selected. The third major plot of the play deals with the provincial Blunt, who becomes convinced that a girl has fallen in love with him but is humiliated when she turns out to be a prostitute and a thief. The play, while entertaining, is more interesting both as an exemplar of authorial Feminism and as an model of the state of drama as it was recovering during the Restoration era.
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