Eighteenth-Century Women Writers
Relationship between Gender and Space in “The Rover”
In Aphra Behn’s “The Rover”, the story is set in Naples during the “Carnival” season. A crude and scandalous story, common scenarios of rape, fighting, and prostitution seem to pose as thematic conflicts throughout the play. This presents the question, is there a relationship between gender and the physical setting of a carnivalesque environment? Upon analyzing several key components (liminality, the purpose of breeches/masking, homosocial environments) it would appear that this physical setting and the role of each gender conjure together throughout the play.
One of the most common incidents that Behn unfolds in the play is the “rape” scene. Being a comedy, it’s undeniably questionable as to why this scenario appears as commonly as it does. What exactly is the point of rape in a play during this time period? Its paradoxical outcomes help to prove Behn’s purpose for this. Firstly, rape proves moral value. In Act IV scene IV Blunt is about to rape Florinda. At this point Frederick intervenes and says to him “Faith, damsel, you had e’en confessed the plain truth for we are fellows not to be caught twice in the same trap; look on that wreck, a tight vessel when he set out of haven, well-trimmed and leaden, and see how a female picaroon of this island of rogues has shattered him, and canst thou hope for any mercy”. However, already having been trapped by one woman and stolen from he is absolutely determined to accomplish his mission. At this point, he even invites Frederick to join him. However, Florinda rises to defend herself and argues “Sir, if you find me not worth Belvile’s care, use me as you please, and that you may think I merit better treatment than you threaten – pray take this present” with this she gives him a diamond ring. Blunt at last eases his punishment against her and says “there’s more persuasive rhetoric in’t than all her sex can utter.” This scenario makes a bold claim at the little worth of women’s moral rights without the aid of either another man or money; even a virgin such as Florinda. In this situation, it is also important to note the space in which this situation takes place and how that can come into effect. Though Florinda enters Belvile’s house in what she thinks to be a safe premise, it’s clear that any area that any of these men occupy, is a free for all. Where then, can the lines be drawn between private and public space? It’s apparent that anywhere outside of a female’s own property is to be considered a “public” space, although in technical terms it may not quite be considered “public” per se. The liminality restriction that the women are placed under in this play can be proven by which to the extent women have to go to conceal themselves from the exploitation of men. In Act III scene 1 the Florinda, Valeria, and Hellena enter in different attire previous to what they were wearing and Valeria exclaims “Well, methinks we have learnt this trade of gipsies as readily as if we had been bred upon the Loretto:” In this time, Loretto was a shrine in Italy that gipsies resided in. Obviously by this claim, Valeria makes clear that it is something they have mastered and have done time and time again. Notably, the women are not always safe to just roam about freely, but must be disguised in some way or another. Behn appears to almost have a need for the “Carnival” setting, for these masqueraded scenes to take place. It is this risqué surrounding that allows the women to play the roles that they do. The purpose of breeches is used as an important component of the play. However, not only do the women dress up and disguise themselves as women, but they do the same also to mask themselves as men. At the end of Act IV scene II Hellena is dressed as a man and enters in to interrupt Wilmore and Angellica. Although this is not necessarily for the sake of keeping men at bay, Hellena uses this as