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
Gender Roles Quotes in The Rover
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.