Rover as a Restoration Comedy

 

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The Restoration Comedy is an English comedy performed in the Restoration Period (1660-1710). It started developing after the public stage was banned for 18 years. When King Charles II became the king of England, he brought the ideas of the French with him. He allowed two patents for theatres: The Kings' Company and The Duke's Company.


What is Restoration Comedy?


The Restoration Comedy is also called the Comedy of Manners. It depicts the lives, manners, and habits of upper-class society with their vices, intrigues, and behaviour. It reflects the very spirit of the age. It deals with the behaviour of men and women living under special social codes. Rover shows relationships, along with the intrigues of men and women belonging to a sophisticated society. 


The Restoration Comedy shows the violations of social conventions and decorum by the characters by:

  • Witty dialogues
  • Wordplay
  • Interesting plot lines
  • Sexual references
  • Objectification
  • Rake figure
  • Deception and disguise
  • Social pressure on love and marriage

In short, the Restoration Comedy is a mirror of the manners of the society in which it's written.


The Rover


Aphra Behn was the only obscure and improved woman "to write for the breed". She was the first British woman to write to earn a living from writing. Her most celebrated play, "The Rover," is a classical Restoration comedy. Based on earlier work Thomaso by Thomas Killigrew, written in 1654 but was not published until ten years later. The rover was an instant success. 


"The Rover'' deals with the romantic intrigues of English men and Spanish women in Naples over a carnival weekend. It is set during the Interregnum. Willmore is a rakish libertine who spends months travelling across the seas. He falls in love with every woman he sees, including Hellena, a young noblewoman, and Angellica, a courtesan. Hellena's sister Florinda is in love with the English colonel Belvile. Her brother Don Pedro wants her to marry his friend Don Antonio, the Viceroy's son. 


Plot


The plot consists of various bed-tricks, unrequited love, and cases of mistaken identity. Written in verse and prose, it references English society even though it's in Naples. The tone is cynical while the language and actions are sexually oriented, which Charles II encouraged. The characters in the play drive through lust, greed, and revenge. Their goals are limited to fraud or courtship. 


Witty Dialogues


"The Rover" has various features of a Restoration Comedy. Witty dialogues are one of the important features of the comedy of manners. The play is full of witty dialogue, especially by Hellena. In Act 1, Scene II, we find Hellena and Willmore flirting with each other. The characters have sharp tongues. They are good at clever comebacks, and the language is full of double meaning. 


Rake


The rake was an invention of the Restoration period. In "The Rover," Willmore is the rakish figure. With his cavalier libertine reputation, he is irresistible to women. He is a seductive, and arrogant character, representing the male prowess in the play. 


Objectification


Objectification is another feature of the Restoration Comedy. Willmore is the object of desire for both Hellena and Angellica in the play. We can observe his witty humour in the final lines of the play he uttered: 

"No other dangers can be dreaded."

Who ventures in the storms of the marriage bed? " 


Cross-dressing


Women could act at the time of the Restoration period. Cross-dressing was in high demand at that time. Aphra Behn was the first person to pay attention to the life and mind of a courtesan in her portrayal of Angellica in "The Rover." 


In Rover, we see Hellena disguising herself as a young boy so she can keep tabs on Willmore, whom she has fallen for. She warns Angellica of Willmore wooing another woman and then "paid his broken vows to you". Hellena's cross-dressing proves that male dress allows freedom to women. 


Disguise and deception


Seeking revenge later in the play, Angellica threatens Willmore with a pistol. Her choice of weapon, a gun, used in those times only by men, is symbolic of her attempt to take control of her sexual desires. She masculinizes herself instead of feminising her lust. Both Hellena and Angellica masquerade themselves as men.


This demonstrates how women can take ownership of rights associated only with men: romance, justice, and sexuality. Deception shown in the play by women was a huge part of the Restoration period. 


How Restoration women were different from Puritans?


Following the collapse of Puritan protection in 1660, the Restoration period began. The lifestyle of party sex and extravagant spending was followed by King Charles II. Yet, the social and sexual freedom of this libertinism was not extended to the female gender. Florinda is destined to marry, Hellena to a convent, and Angellica to pay for prostitution. 


As the carnival ends, they all abandon their fates and go after their freedom. Aphra Behn speaks of this double standard that limits her female peers' sexual desire to home or brothel. She wanted women to escape the restrictions that define them. The women in the play are nothing like the Puritans. They have strong personalities consisting of wit, humour, competence, and the ability to feel and act confident. They desire to pursue their sexual desires just like men.


Both Florinda and Hellena, attempts to challenge their brother's arrangement are successful in the end. This shows the violation of social convention and decorum at the time of the Restoration era. Marriage for money rather than love was the hallmark of the Restoration era in the late 17th century. Florinda finally gets married to Belvile while Hellena escapes her future as a “handmaid to lazars and cripples”, in the nunnery. 


Conclusion


The play has almost all the characteristics of a Restoration comedy. It is one of the best Restoration comedies ever written. The play demonstrates various aspects of life: from the narrow social limitations to the treatment of women in society. The use of witty dialogues and sex as a bartering chip to women violates social convention. 


Even though the play asks probing questions underpinning the family and society, the ending is reassuring to the audience.  As Charles Lamb concluded, "Restoration Comedies are a world of themselves, almost as much as fairy land."


Written by Garima Jain


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