The Rover

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Wit and Language 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.
Wit and Language Theme Icon

In the largely immoral world of The Rover, wit and facility with language are the most highly prized virtues that a person can possess. The characters constantly reference wit, and the audience is invited to judge the inhabitants of the play based on how clever they are. Blunt, for instance, is instantly a figure of fun as soon as the audience hears his dull, plodding speech; he becomes even more so when he foolishly allows himself to be taken in by the clever Lucetta. Willmore, in contrast, can act immorally, yet will always be forgiven because of his eloquence and charm. When he meets Hellena, the two are attracted not to each other’s looks, but to their perfectly matched wits. Despite the problems with their union, their meeting of two like minds is presented in an incredibly positive and romantic light. There is an implication that because the two have matching wits, they are also fundamentally compatible.

This obsession with wit and language reflects the atmosphere of seventeenth-century England. Plays were judged based solely by their facility with language rather than the inventiveness of their plots or the morality of their lessons. Aristocrats, too, assessed each other based on wit, each striving to be the quickest and the cleverest. The importance of wit within The Rover may be exaggerated compared to the real social world of that time, but it is undoubtedly true to the values of the time period.

Wit and Language ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Rover related to the theme of Wit and Language.
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 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. 

Ah Rogue! Such black Eyes, such a Face, such a Mouth, such Teeth—and so much Wit!

Related Characters: Willmore (speaker), Hellena
Related Symbols: Masks
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

Near the end of their banter, Hellena finally shows Willmore her face, before exiting. The cavalier is spellbound by her beauty, and is glad that it matches her linguistic abilities. 

Here the usually eloquent Willmore is reduced to listing Hellena's admirable features, ending with the most important one of all: her "Wit." His lovestruck attitude here contrasts with his usually witty words, showing the audience that he may have sincere feelings of love for Hellena. 

This passage also shows how closely Willmore relates beauty and wit. For him, they are essentially two sides of the same coin; beauty is the physical side of an attractive person, while wit is the linguistic side. Willmore's ideal woman--Hellena--possesses both. 

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.