The Rover

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Gender Roles Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Love vs. Lust Theme Icon
Deceit and Disguise Theme Icon
Class and Money Theme Icon
Wit and Language Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Rover, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender Roles Theme Icon

In many ways, the characters of The Rover conform to the traditional gender roles found in comedies of the Restoration period: the dishonorable men, like Willmore, seek pleasure; the honorable men, like Belvile, seek to protect women; the honorable women, like Florinda, seek matrimony; and the dishonorable women, like Angelica and Lucetta, seek to ensnare men. Men bear swords and seek out violence; women are peaceful and are threatened by violence.

Within her somewhat clichéd structure of her play, however, Aphra Behn is able to explore the nuances and consequences of such prescribed and exaggerated roles. An obvious example of this exploration is Hellena, who desires marriage, as all honorable women Restoration Comedies do. She does so, however, in a thoroughly nontraditional and unfeminine way, and is rewarded for her behavior. The character of Willmore, too, reveals problems with traditional gender roles. The audience finds his lustful antics charming and hilarious when they are directed towards Hellena, but threatening when he accosts Florinda; reconciling these two sides of our supposed hero is difficult and disturbing. Florinda’s vulnerability, too, reveals flaws with traditional femininity. She may be a perfect lady, but she is completely unprotected from men with bad intentions. Angelica, too, a traditionally “wicked” woman, ultimately inspires pity within the audience, making clear the problematic nature of her role as well.

By pushing gender roles to such extremes, Behn uses her drama to reveal their disturbing and even destructive nature. The Rover is a comedy, but it depicts a troubling reality: that rigid adherence to gender roles may lead to serious and far-reaching consequences.

Gender Roles ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Rover related to the theme of Gender Roles.
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

I dare swear I have had a hundred as young, kind and handsom as this Florinda; and Dogs eat me, if they were not as troublesom to me i’th’ Morning as they were welcome o’er night.

Related Characters: Frederick (speaker), Belvile, Ned Blunt
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

The vulgar Frederick makes fun of his chivalrous friend, Belvile, for being in love with the virtuous and beautiful Florinda. In so doing, he reveals an important truth about the play: the elegant and proper facade of The Rover actually masks a highly sexual and misogynistic undertone.

Here, Frederick refers to the act of sexually pursuing women, saying that while females are "welcome" during the night, they become "troublesome" during the morning (when, presumably, he wants them to leave). Essentially, Frederick thinks of all women as the same; they are fit to be objects of lust, but should not be regarded as anything more than that.

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

Oh! Fear me not, shall I not venture where a Beauty calls? A lovely charming Beauty? For fear of danger! When by Heaven there’s none so great as to long for her, whilst I want Money to purchase her.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Angelica
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

As he incites a fight outside of Angelica's home, Willmore here articulates what is essentially his life's philosophy: that he will do anything for "Beauty," and that if he cannot "purchase" Angelica's attentions, there is nothing "so great as to long for her." This obsession with female beauty in fact governs most of his actions in the play.

By now, the fickle Willmore seems to have utterly forgotten Hellena. He is entranced by Angelica's beauty and her price, and enjoys the idea of fighting other men for her. All of his worst impulses have come together in his quest to win Angelica at any cost, and he returns to his stereotypical role as the charming but immoral libertine.

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Yes, I am poor—but I’m a Gentleman,
And one that scorns this Baseness which you practise.
Poor as I am, I would not sell my self,
No, not to gain your charming high-priz’d Person.
Tho I admire you strangely for your Beauty,
Yet I contemn your Mind.
—And yet I wou’d at any rate enjoy you;
At your own rate—but cannot—See here
The only Sum I can command on Earth;
I know not where to eat when this is gone:
Yet such a Slave I am to Love and Beauty,
This last reserve I’ll sacrifice to enjoy you.
—Nay, do not frown, I know you are to be bought,
And wou’d be bought by me, by me,
For a mean trifling Sum, if I could pay it down.
Which happy knowledge I will still repeat,
And lay it to my Heart, it has a Virtue in’t,
And soon will cure those Wounds your Eyes have made.
—And yet—there’s something so divinely powerful there—
Nay, I will gaze—to let you see my Strength.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Angelica
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

In this long speech, Willmore gathers all of his rhetorical powers of persuasion in order to convince Angelica of his sudden love for her. This passage exemplifies both the good and the bad of Willmore. On one hand, he is obsessed with money and with the idea of "conquering" women. Superficially, he thinks that lust and love (and, in a way, business) are one and the same, and he prizes beauty above all else. 

On the other hand, Willmore is not simply a passionate man, but a deeply eloquent one. He explains to Angelica that he would "sacrifice" everything for her, chiding her for wounding him with her eyes, even as he praises her "divinely powerful" gaze.

Given Willmore's skillful command over language, combined with his physical bravery and his sincere passion for living, it makes sense that both Hellena and Angelica would fall in love with him. While he may be an immoral rake, he does not pretend to be anything but what he is: a poor yet dashing man who lives by his wits, and who will stop at nothing to possess the various objects of his affections. 

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 1 Quotes

O’ my Conscience, that will be our Destiny, because we are both of one humour; I am as inconstant as you, for I have considered, Captain, that a handsom Woman has a great deal to do whilst her Face is good, for then is our Harvest-time to gather Friends; and should I in these days of my Youth, catch a fitch of foolish Constancy, I were undone; ‘tis loitering by da-light in our great Journey: therefore declare, I’ll allow but one year for Love, one year for Indifference, and one year for Hate—and then—go hang yourself—for I profess myself the gay, the kind, and the inconstant—the Devil’s in’t if this won’t please you.

Related Characters: Hellena (speaker), Willmore
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Hellena, in her gypsy disguise, has discovered Willmore leaving Angelica's house. Although she first reacts with anger, she quickly slips back into her flirtatious banter with him. In this section, Willmore has just jokingly threatened to marry Hellena. In response, she says that they are equally "inconstant," because young, beautiful women like herself must also take advantage of their youth. She says that even if she fell in love with him, she would then quickly move on to "Indifference"and then "Hate" so as not to waste time. 

Once again, Hellena and Willmore have proved themselves the wittiest characters in the play. In the midst of their conversation, Hellena has once more reversed traditional gender roles. Of the pair of them, Willmore is the only truly inconstant one, attempting to seduce Angelica and Hellena almost simultaneously, while Hellena (secretly) wants only him. Here, however, she plays hard-to-get, telling Willmore that she would never be faithful to him because to do so would mean wasting her youth. This is a stereotypically masculine mindset, and not one that the audience--or Willmore--would expect from a highborn young lady. The cavalier, though, is delighted by Hellena's attitude towards love, lust, and romance. He is entranced by the very aspects that make her seem "un-feminine," and believes that he has truly met his match, in female form. 

Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

Florinda: I’ll cry Murder, Rape, or any thing, if you do not instantly let me go.
Willmore: A Rape! Come, come, you lie, you Baggage, you lie: What, I’ll warrant you would fain have the World believe now that you are not so forward as I. No, not you—why at this time of Night was your Cobweb-door set open, dear Spider—but to catch Flies?—Hah come—or I shall be damnably angry…

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Florinda (speaker)
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

As a drunken and aggressive Willmore attacks the helpless Florinda, audiences and readers alike must confront the darkest side of the world of The Rover: the threat of sexual violence.

In a world in which men are encouraged to be violent, dominant, and sex-obsessed, while women are forced to be meek and submissive (while also guarding their virtues), sexual violence is a real and present danger. What makes this instance so upsetting, however, is that it is our hero, Willmore, who is attempting to rape the virtuous Florinda. His charming wit has transformed into misogynistic violence, as he asserts that Florinda left the gate of her home open in order to "catch" men like him. 

The truth, of course, is that Florinda has done nothing wrong, while Willmore has crossed the line from amusing rake into aggressive predator. In making her hero attempt to engage in a truly evil act, Aphra Behn is displaying how blurry that line truly is, and how quickly the men of this society can transform into violent and brutal aggressors. 

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. 

If it were possible I should ever be inclin’d to marry, it should be some kind young Sinner, one that has Generosity enough to give a favour handsomely to one that can ask it discreetly, one that has Wit enough to manage an Intrigue of Love—oh how civil such a Wench is, to a Man that does her the Honour to marry her.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Hellena
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

The jealous Angelica here attempts to force Willmore to promise that he will never marry another woman. In response, Willmore paints a verbal picture of a woman whom Angelica believes does not exist: a "young Sinner" who is generous, beautiful, discreet, and as witty as he himself. 

What Angelica does not understand, of course, is that Willmore has described Hellena, using both his wit and his sincere admiration for the slippery noblewoman to fool Angelica. Once again, we see both Willmore's good and bad intermingled. On one hand, he continues to use and deceive Angelica; on the other, he is clearly entranced by Hellena, and seems to recognize her as his true match. While his treatment of Angelica is contemptible, it is up for readers to decide whether or not Willmore redeems himself with his genuine love and admiration for Hellena. 

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. 

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Angelica: All this thou’st made me know, for which I hate thee.
Had I remain’d in innocent Security,
I shou’d have thought all Men were born my Slaves;
And worn my Pow’r like Lightning in my Eyes,
To have destroy’d at Pleasure when offended.
—But when Love held the Mirror, the undeceiving Glass
Reflected all the Weakness of my Soul, and made me know,
My richest Treasure being lost, my Honour,
All the remaining Spoil cou’d not be worth
The Conqueror’s Care or Value.
—Oh how I fell like a long worship’d Idol,
Discovering all the Cheat!
Wou’d not the Incense and rich Sacrifice,
Which blind Devotion offer’d at my Altars,
Have fall’n to thee?
Why woud’st thou then destroy my fancy’d Power?
Willmore: By Heaven thou art brave, and I admire thee strangely.
I wish I were that dull, that constant thing,
Which thou woud’st have, and Nature never meant me:
I must, like chearful Birds, sing in all Groves,
And perch on every Bough,
Billing the next kind She that flies to meet me;
Yet after all cou’d build my Nest with thee,
Thither repairing when I’d lov’d my round,
And still reserve a tributary Flame.

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Angelica (speaker), Willmore
Page Number: 237-238
Explanation and Analysis:

The heartbroken and vengeful Angelica confronts Willmore, attempting to get him to admit wrongdoing. As the cavalier continually refuses, saying that he only treated her the way she would have treated him, Angelica protests that this is not true. She explains that falling in love made her realize that her power over men (her clients) was worthless, because she had sacrificed her honor. She has now lost both her self esteem and her power, since she knows that as a prostitute, she has no real value. Essentially, Angelica has internalized the misogynistic worldview of the men around her. Because she is a woman who has sold her virtue, she believes she has no real worth in the world, and no real power. 

Hearing Angelica's deep grief, Willmore seems to display remorse. Despite his regret, however, he explains that he can never be "constant," as Angelica wants him to be. Instead, he must constantly chase after women, like a bird going from bough to bough. This is as close as Willmore ever comes to acknowledging the immorality of his behavior. He still genuinely admires Angelica (and here even considers returning to her after loving his "round"), but having won her, he feels compelled to move on to the next conquest.