Précis Critiques of Aphra Behn’s The Rover
Anita Pacheco’s 1998 article “Rape and the Female Subject in Aphra Behn’s The Rover” uses “the central role which rape plays in… struggles to escape patriarchal devaluation” by female characters in The Rover as its thesis. (Pacheco 323)Pacheco holds that rape psychology was endemic in the dramatic conventions of the Restoration, and the objectified status of women made rape acutely likely absent the protection of a male protector. (323) Though during this period in history the legal definition of rape was in transition from a property crime against men to a personal crime against a woman, studies show that prosecutions were infrequent and usually against lower class men who violated young upper class girls. (Pacheco 324)
The biggest weakness in Pacheco’s supporting argument is that there was no actual rape in The Rover. A more precise thesis would have been that the nebulous, but ever-present threat of rape buttressed patriarchal dominance: it was from this threat that fathers and brothers achieved the authority to protect, and gallants achieved the authority to protect upper class women from violations from members of the lower class. Of course, the actual possibility of rape was a necessary component of this power, and, as we see in The Rover when Don Pedro is willing to participate in a gang rape of masked Florinda, patriarchal society meant that a man could be both protector and predator. (This is one reason Hellena is not concerned by Willmore’s attempted rape of her sister on multiple occasions.) Class lines and possession by a suitably high-ranking male is what afforded a woman protection from this threat, though, as Pacheco pointedly observes, “none of the male characters, Belvile included, can invariably tell ladies from whores.” (Pacheco 333) To this writer, most of the characters in the play are cartoonishly infantile, something that Pacheco doesn’t mention in her analysis.
Pacheco goes into great detail documenting how female bodies were in this time period objects for and against which male competitive struggles took place. She implies that the ideal male prerogative of this time was to live governed by unrestrained id, and that frustration ensues when this is impeded, such as it was for Willmore by Angellica’s high price and his inability to pay. The violence breaks out, however, when another man does have the means to get what Willmore cannot. It could be further argued that Blunt’s rage was occasioned less by his being duped by a prostitute than by a male pimp’s complicity in the scheme and his subsequent humiliation in front of other men.
“Ethics, Politics, and Heterosexual Desire in Aphra Behn’s The Rover”, written by Elizabeth Kraft and published in 2001, interprets Hellena and Willmore’s relationship from an ethical perspective. Taking the Biblical Song of Songs as the model of ethical sexuality, Kraft asserts that Hellena and Willmore engage in, “a chiasmus of double desire, an erotic union founded not on possession but on respect for Otherness… .” (Kraft 2) Kraft believes that the two characters’ banter and discovery of common traits indicates a mutuality of desire in which both parties remain subjects, and sees a similar dynamic between Harriet and Dorimant in The Man of Mode. The conflict of the play, says Kraft, is the characters’ grappling with the, “sociopolitical impediments to the ethical ideal,” which is a substantial and rather contradictory addition to Pacheco’s earlier interpretation.
It seems there is much in the play that doesn’t support Kraft’s argument, but those elements—Willmore’s interactions with other women, the repeated rape attempts against Florinda—are minimized to a surprising degree. Kraft characterizes the attempted gang rape of Florinda by a group of men that includes her brother as, “reminiscent of a Marx Brothers routine,” and opines that the rape scenes have, “less to do with male predatory violence than masculine animality, baseness, buffoonery.” (Kraft 10) More astonishingly, Kraft interprets the scenes as, “argu(ing) for the need for female wit, self-direction, and focused desire but they do not establish the woman as victim.” (Kraft 10) Florinda’s desire seems pretty focused on Belvile throughout the play, and Kraft doesn’t elaborate on how she thinks a wittier Florinda might have more successfully deterred her would-be rapists. While her interpretation of Willmore’s exchanges with Angellica as being verbal power struggles is self-evident, her implication that Willmore’s banter with Hellena is completely without such vying for control are not convincing.
Kraft deserves praise for finding in The Rover both elements that are of the time in which it was produced and that transcend the mores and circumstances of the era. Her conception of Willmore and Hellena’s relationship is idealistic, but for one who disparages those who, “appropriate texts to shore up (their) own notions and political concerns,” Kraft certainly seems to stretch the characters in The Rover more than slightly. Her contention that ethics do not necessarily equate with morality and calls for modern readers to uncouple their modern values from their consciousness while reading the play do not entirely shore up her interesting, but insufficient interpretation. Nonetheless, the piece is a valuable evolution in consciousness about Behn’s work.
- Quote paper
- Mark Schauer (Author), 2012, Precis Critique of Aphra Behn's "The Rover", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/230267