First edition of Aphra Behn's The Rover, with 18th-century prompt-book notes


Aphra Behn’s raucous comedy The Rover, was first published in 1677 at the height of King Charles II’s reign, in the heyday of libertinism. The play itself is a frank, witty commentary on the highly sexualised elements of Restoration society.

This copy is of particular interest because it was used as a prompt-book for a mid 18th-century revival of the play at Covent Garden Theatre. Prompt-books are drawn on during performance to remind actors of their entrances and lines. Here, the printed text is interspersed with manuscript notes, alterations and deletions, all made during the rehearsal period. Most of these alterations are cuts which demonstrate that Behn’s comedy was too racy for a respectable Georgian audience.

What was cut?

The Covent Garden Theatre censored dialogue it deemed to be crude, salacious, political or blasphemous. It also excluded lines which were considered inappropriate for a woman to speak.

Digitised here are sections which have been drastically cut or edited, and which in many ways change the overall impact of the play.

  • pp. 1–5, the opening scene: many of Hellena's and Florinda’s lines are cut because they have been deemed too daring or indecent, including Hellena’s spirited argument with Pedro about Florinda’s betrothed: 
  • Marry Don Vincentio! Hang me such a Wedlock would be worse than Adultery with another Man. I had rather see her in the Hotel de Dieu, to wast her Youth there in Vowes, and be a hand-Maid to Lazers and Cripples, than to lose it in such a Marriage. (p. 4)
  • pp. 37–41, Act 3, Scene 2: cuts include Blunt’s comments on adultery (p. 38) and the entire end of the scene which was set in the sewers. 
  • pp. 41–42, Act 3, Scene 3: Willmore’s attempted rape of Florinda is heavily cut and edited. Willmore’s wily rationalisation of the situation and his attempts to persuade Florinda are deleted. 
  • p. 60, Act 4, Scene 2: Angellica Bianca’s heartfelt soliloquy at the close of the scene is cut, making her character (a beautiful courtesan) less sympathetic. 
  • pp. 64–66, Act 4, Scene 40: Blunt and Frederick threaten to rape Florinda. The scene is sanitised by the removal of Blunt’s most aggressive and sinister lines: 
  • Cruel, yes, I will kiss and beat thee all over, kiss, and see thee all over; thou shalt lye with me too, not that I care for the injoyment, but to let thee see I have tame deliberated Malice to thee, and will be reveng’d on one whore for the sins of another.
  • p. 80, Act 5, Scene 5: Willmore’s eloquent denunciation of marriage is cut: ‘Marriage is as certain a bane to Love, as lending Money is to Friendship: I’ll neither ask nor give a vow’.

Full title:
First edition of Aphra Behn's The Rover, with 18th-century prompt-book notes
1677, London
Book / Octavo
Aphra Behn
© Senate House Library
Usage terms

Courtesy of Senate House Library, University of London. [D.-L.L.] (XVII) Bc [Behn]

Held by
Senate House Library
[D.-L.L.] (XVII) Bc [Behn].

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