The Mask of Marriage: Virtue, Honor, Reputation and Female Identity in the Sexual Economy of The Rover
In The Rover, Aphra Behn illustrates a world in which sex and economic exchange unite under the mandates of the patriarchy. In such a society, sexuality is commodified, and a woman is either sold into the marriage market (by her family, in an effort to secure wealth and class status), or she sells her own marketable wares to the highest bidder. Female identity, then, is also bound up in matters of sexuality. Who one is as a woman is linked to the (constructed) role or station she occupies in society -- a role or station, that is, which is itself defined by a particular kind of sexual activity or expression. All of these markers are, of course, ultimately subject to the determining male gaze: a woman is who or what she is perceived to be. The Rover, therefore, suggests that “female identity” is quite a fluid concept, varying along the spectrum of sexually-based perception and economic function. In a society where the line between “kept woman” and “woman of quality” is so potentially ambiguous, so thinly drawn (since both “types” are implicated and active in the sexual market economy), virtue, honor and reputation play a significant role in making this distinction. For the plays three main female characters, Angellica, Florinda...
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