The Rover

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Deceit and Disguise Theme Analysis

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Gender Roles Theme Icon
Love vs. Lust Theme Icon
Deceit and Disguise Theme Icon
Class and Money Theme Icon
Wit and Language Theme Icon
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Deceit and Disguise Theme Icon

The Rover takes place at Carnival time, and brims with masks and disguises, from the gypsy costumes that Hellena, Florinda, and Valeria wear to Don Antonio’s and Don Pedro’s comedy of mistaken identities to Lucetta’s robbery of Blunt. Fascinatingly, however, the play does not take a moral stance on disguise, since it is used by moral and immoral characters alike. The play does, however, create a strong connection between disguise and love, the prevalence of masks and lies implying that while deceit may often be harmful, some measure of deceit may be necessary in order to help love flourish.

Of course, deceit, disguise, and the confusion they cause also illuminate interesting issues surrounding identity. While some characters (such as the honorable Florinda and Belvile) are terrible at dissembling, others (Hellena and Willmore) excel at it. Identity is fluid for these figures; they can try on many different roles until they find one that fits. Other characters may engage in amusing mishaps involving mistaken identity, but for the true masters of deceit, identity is something that can be shaped and formed at will. The smartest characters—Hellena and Willmore—are also the best actors. The prevalence of deceit and disguise is therefore also meta-theatrical, exists on a plane outside the plot of the play, because it reminds the audience that they are watching a play, that all of these “people” on stage are in fact wearing “disguises” as they act their roles.

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Deceit and Disguise ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Deceit and Disguise appears in each scene of The Rover. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Deceit and Disguise Quotes in The Rover

Below you will find the important quotes in The Rover related to the theme of Deceit and Disguise.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

I am resolv’d to provide myself this Carnival, if there be e’er a handsom Fellow of my Humour above Ground, tho I ask first.

Related Characters: Hellena (speaker), Florinda
Related Symbols: Carnival
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play opens, Hellena is immediately established as brave, impertinent, and un-traditional. Her stereotypically unfeminine attitude contrasts with that of Florinda, who is gentle, modest, and demure. Thus playwright Aphra Behn has immediately introduced a complication to her play's presentation of gender roles. Florinda may be the "ideal" woman, but it is Hellena for whom the audience will root and with whom we will identify.

Hellena's statement in this passage is particularly transgressive, as she vows to "provide" for herself, and to find herself a handsome man during Carnival season. During this period in England, women were supposed to be passive objects of men's advances; the idea of a woman seeking out a man would have been shocking to those viewing the play.

It is significant, too, that Hellena has picked Carnival time to begin this mission. During Carnival in The Rover the world turns upside down, and untraditional behavior such as Hellena's becomes far more possible than it would be at any other time during the year. This theme of the topsy-turvy nature of Carnival will continue to expand throughout the play. 


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Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Hellena: If you should prevail with my tender Heart (as I begin to fear you will, for you have horrible loving Eyes) there will be difficulty in’t that you’ll hardly undergo for my sake.
Willmore: Faith, Child, I have been bred in Dangers, and wear a Sword that has been employ’d in a worse Cause, than for a handsom kind Woman—Name the Danger—let it be any thing but a long Siege, and I’ll undertake it.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Hellena (speaker)
Related Symbols: Swords
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon after Willmore is introduced, he meets his match in the disguised Hellena, who has escaped her chambers dressed as a "gypsy." It is immediately obvious to the audience that Hellena and Willmore are meant for each other. The two wittiest characters in the play, as they banter they fill their conversation with puns and double entendres. Thus their immediate physical attraction to each other is made clear through language. 

It is also vital to note that both Willmore and Hellena participate in a sexually charged way of speaking. While this would be expected of the rakish Willmore, it is surprising in the well-bred Hellena. Yet again we see this character's non-traditional nature, as she tempts Willmore with her "tender Heart" and notes his "loving Eyes." 

Wilmore, for his part, rises to the occasion as he sees that Hellena can match his wit. Chivalrously--so it seems--he swears to wield his sword for her, but then adds that he will not undergo "a long Siege." What he means, of course, is that he hopes Hellena will quickly give up his virtue to him and let him sleep with her.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Willmore: But why thus disguis’d and muzzl’d?
Belvile: Because whatever Extravagances we commit in these Faces, our own may not be oblig’d to answer ‘em.
Willmore: I should have changed my Eternal Buff too: but no matter, my little Gypsy wou’d not have found me out then: for if she should change hers, it is impossible I should know her, unless I should hear her prattle—A Pox on’t, I cannot get her out of my Head: Pray Heaven, if ever I do see her again, she prove damnably ugly, that I may fortify my self against her Tongue.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Belvile (speaker), Hellena
Related Symbols: Carnival, Masks
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

The cavaliers here discuss the subject of masks, as Belvile explains how a mask can allow for bad behavior, since they keep one's true face hidden. The concept of mistaken identity and deception is a common one in The Rover. The characters constantly lie to and manipulate each other, as they fight for dominance while also trying to keep their reputations (outside of the Carnival atmosphere) intact.

Willmore, meanwhile, is baffled by his sudden strong feelings towards the disguised Hellena. He feels that he is at a disadvantage, since she has seen his true face and he has not seen hers. In fact, he even hopes that she might be ugly, because he is so entranced by her wit. Willmore's emotion towards Hellena underscores the importance of banter and language within the play. Although he is extremely superficial in terms of appearance and lust, Willmore here finds himself falling in love with a woman whose face he has never actually seen, merely because of her intelligence and wit. 

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

But Madam, I have been so often cheated
By perjur’d, soft, deluding Hypocrites,
That I’ve no Faith left for the cozening Sex,
Especially for Women of your trade.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Angelica
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

As Willmore continues to wrestle with his feelings for Angelica, he also reveals his own hypocrisy. As a poor cavalier with expensive tastes, Willmore must marry a rich woman (like Hellena) if he is to continue leading his extravagant life. Yet despite his need to exchange love for money, he condemns Angelica for doing the same, telling her that he cannot trust "Women of your trade"--prostitutes--because they are "deluding Hypocrites" who deceive him.

The calculating and aggressive Willmore here plays the victim, acting as if he has been wronged by mercenary women who use and abuse him. In fact, however, Willmore is often on the deceptive end himself, using whatever tactics necessary in order to persuade women to sleep with him. He seems to have conveniently forgotten this fact, however, in his strange but effective seduction of Angelica. 

Act 3, Scene 4 Quotes

Belvile: Damn your debaucht Opinion: tell me, Sot, hadst thou so much sense and light about thee to distinguish her to be a Woman, and could’st not see something about her Face and Person, to strike an awful Reverence into thy Soul?
Willmore: Faith no, I consider’d her as mere a Woman as I could wish.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Belvile (speaker), Florinda
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

Enraged by his friend's attempt to violate his beloved, Belvile confronts Willmore, demanding to know why he attempted to rape Florinda. He asserts that Florinda's goodness and virtue must have shown in her "Face and Person," and that Willmore should have shown "Reverence" to such a chaste and noble (and wealthy) woman. 

Willmore, however, responds that he did not see any such signs about her; and that, instead, he "consider'd her as mere a Woman" as he could want. What he means, essentially, is that in his drunken and sexually aggressive state, women become interchangeable to him. He did not care what Florinda looked like or who she was; he cared only that she was a female, and therefore an object for him to conquer and possess. Once again, we see the darkness and the misogyny that underly Willmore's supposedly amusing antics. 

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

Angelica: Thou, false as Hell, what canst thou say to this?
Willmore: By Heaven—
Angelica: Hold, do not damn thy self—
Hellena: Nor hope to be believ’d.
Angelica: Oh perjur’d Man!
Is’t thus you pay my generous Passion back?
Hellena: Why wou’d you, Sir, abuse my Lady’s Faith?
Angelica: And use me so inhumanly?
Hellena: A Maid so young, so innocent—
Willmore: Ah, young Devil!
Angelica: Dost thou not know thy Life is in my power?
Hellena: Or think my Lady cannot be reveng’d?
Willmore: So, so, the Storm comes finely on.
Angelica: Now thou art silent, Guilt has struck thee dumb.
Oh hadst thou still been so, I’d liv’d in safety.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Hellena (speaker), Angelica (speaker)
Related Symbols: Masks
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

A furious Angelica and a disguised Hellena both turn on Willmore, ripping him apart for his faithlessness and deceit. This is a highly comic scene, as both women are able to verbally abuse their disloyal lover. At the same time, it gives the audience a chance to see how truly hurt both Angelica and Hellena are by Willmore's actions--and how utterly unrepentant the rakish cavalier continues to be. 

This scene is also notable for Hellena's skillful manipulation of the circumstances. A master of disguise, the highborn lady is here dressed up as a servant boy, able to fool her lover into revealing his true, sinful nature, and to chide him without revealing to him who she is. She also manages to turn Angelica against him, thus potentially ridding herself of a romantic rival. 

He’s gone, and in this Ague of My Soul
The shivering Fit returns;
Oh with what willing haste he took his leave,
As if the long’d for Minute were arriv’d,
Of some blest Assignation.
In vain I have consulted all my Charms,
In vain this Beauty priz’d, in vain believ’d
My eyes cou’d kindle any lasting Fires.
I had forgot my Name, my Infamy,
And the Reproach that Honour lays on those
That dare pretend a sober passion here.
Nice Reputation, tho it leave behind
More Virtues than inhabit where that dwells,
Yet that once gone, those virtues shine no more.
—Then since I am not fit to belov’d,
I am resolv’d to think on a Revenge
On him that sooth’d me thus to my undoing.

Related Characters: Angelica (speaker), Willmore
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

Realizing that Willmore has abandoned her for good, Angelica realizes that she has ruined herself for the faithless cavalier. While her beauty and seductive charms are famed around the city, there is nothing that she can do to bring her lover back. As Angelica grieves, she looks back to when she fell in love with Willmore, realizing that she has forgotten that she is a courtesan, and therefore is not worthy of loving or being loved.

In this mindset, Angelica vows--since she cannot be beloved, she will be revenged. Humiliated and heartbroken, it makes sense that Angelica takes this dark turn. She has met Willmore's passion with generosity, sincerity, and love. He has undoubtedly sinned in deceiving her (whatever her profession) and, in the eyes of both Angelica and the audience, he deserves to pay. Once more, we see the ruin that our supposed hero's lust and dishonesty can cause. 

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

A fine Lady-like Whore to cheat me thus, without affording me a Kindness for my Money, a Pox light on her, I shall never be reconciled to the Sex more, she has made me as faithless as a Physician, as uncharitable as a Churchman, and as ill-natur’d as a Poet. O how I’ll use all Women-kind hereafter! what wou’d I give to have one of ’em within my reach now! Any Mortal thing in Petticoats, kind Fortune, send me; and I’ll forgive thy last Night’s Malice

Related Characters: Ned Blunt (speaker), Lucetta
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

Having been deceived by a woman who turned out to be a prostitute--and who stole all his money and his clothes--Ned Blunt is furious. A stupid but violent man, he decides that since his lover, Lucetta, was dishonest, all women are therefore so. In fact, he goes even beyond mistrust, vowing to "use" them violently and abusively from henceforth.

This misogynistic and deeply disturbing attitude is characteristic of the men in The Rover. Despite going to great lengths to seduce and possess women, the men also deeply distrust and even despise the opposite sex, believing that women are deceitful creatures out for all they can steal. Although this mindset may explain Blunt's hateful, violent treatment of women for the rest of the play, it by no means excuses his behavior. Instead, playwright Aphra Behn is offering her audience yet another example of how quickly a seemingly humorous objectification of women can turn into a misogynistic, violent worldview. 

Cruel, adsheartlikins as a Gally-slave, or a Spanish Whore: Cruel, yes, I will kiss and beat thee all over; kiss, and see thee all over; thou shalt lie with me too, not that I care for the Injoyment, but to let you see I have ta’en deliberated Malice to thee, and will be revenged on one Whore for the Sins of another; I will smile and deceive thee, flatter thee, and beat thee, kiss and swear, and lye to thee, imbrace thee and rob thee, as she did me, fawn on thee, and strip thee stark naked, then hang thee out at my Window by the Heels, with a Paper of scurvey Verses fasten’d to thy Breast, in praise of damnable Women—Come, come along.

Related Characters: Ned Blunt (speaker), Florinda
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

The virtuous (and luckless) Florinda stumbles into Ned Blunt's rooms, looking for Belvile. Blunt believes that he has found the answer to his prayers: a woman for him to rape and abuse. Here we find the most naked and disturbing instance of misogyny yet within the play. Blunt tells Florinda that he will force her to lie with him solely so that she can experience his "Malice." He will do so, he explains, in order "to be revenged on one Whore for the Sins of another." In other words, since one woman has wronged him, he has turned against the whole sex.

This marks the second time in the play that the chaste Florinda is mistaken for a "whore." Playwright Aphra Behn does this deliberately, showing how men, with their violent and misogynistic mindsets, can believe even the most virtuous of women to be promiscuous and worthy of abuse. In truth, the men who act in this manner don't care what type of woman they abuse. Believing all females to be essentially the same--passive objects to be seduced or abused--they may claim to value virtue, but in truth, they value violence and domination more. 

I begin to suspect something; and ’twou’d anger us vilely to be truss’d up for a Rape upon a Maid of Quality, when we only believe we ruffle a Harlot.

Related Characters: Frederick (speaker), Florinda, Ned Blunt
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

About to help Blunt to rape the helpless Florinda, Frederick pauses when Florinda desperately speaks Belvile's name. Although Blunt wishes to continue, convinced that Florinda is lying, Frederick orders him to stop. If they rape a virtuous (and wealthy) maiden, he explains, they will get in far more trouble than if they merely "ruffle[d] a Harlot."

Although it is this mindset that saves Florinda, we can also clearly see the deep immorality and misogyny that underlies it. The moment that Frederick believes that Florinda might have some value to another man--Belvile--he no longer wishes to violate her. To harm a highborn maiden in that manner would be a violation of both her betrothed (Belvile), as well as her noble father. In contrast, were Florinda a "harlot"--a lowborn woman or a prostitute--it would have been completely excusable, in Frederick's eyes, to rape her. 

This belief that women are only valuable in relation to men underlies much of the action of The Rover. Women must be protected by their fathers, brothers, and lovers, who vouch for their virtue and their nobility. Women who have no value to such men, or who sell their sexuality (as prostitutes do), are worthy of contempt at best, and sexual violence at worst.