Aphra Behn, The Rover


  • Intro

    '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.' (Virginia Woolf)


    Aphra Behn, the first English woman to make her living as a professional writer, was employed as a spy by Charles II before embarking on her career as a dramatist, poet and novelist.


    It is fitting, then, that her most famous play The Rover (1677) features powerful female characters who argue wittily for their rights. In the play, two women battle for the affections of the cavalier Willmore. One is the sparky Hellena, who declares that she would rather become a nun than be forced into marriage with a man she does not love; the other is the prostitute Angellica Bianca. In their struggle, Hellena and Angellica must also fight against the limitations of sex and social class. The play, which is set in Naples amidst a licentious society of exiled libertines and Spanish noblemen, is strikingly modern in its frank discussion of gender roles and pleas for sexual freedom.

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