That which all the world does, as I am told: be as mad as
the rest and take all innocent freedoms. Sister, you'll go too,
will you not? Come, prithee be not sad. We'll outwit twenty
brothers if you'll be ruled by me. Come, put off this dull
humor with your clothes, and assume one as gay and as
fantastic as the dress my cousin Valeria and I have provided,
and let's ramble.
Hellena is responding here to Callis, who has asked her what she will do if she is allowed to participate in the Carnival celebrations. Her response reveals much about her character, and also about some larger themes at play in "The Rover." Hellena's strong desire to be free from the rule of her father and brother is manifest in her resolution to disobey Pedro's orders to have her locked up. She yearns to be free to experience that which she has thus far in life only heard and seen. Her whole life she has been told what she is and is not allowed to do; others have decided for her what her destiny will be. But Hellena is a woman that cannot be held back, and her desire to "be as mad as the rest and take all innocent freedoms" is indicative of things to come.
Additionally, this quote introduces a woman who is not only taking charge of her life, but also establishing herself as a leader. Consider that Hellena is not only designing her own future here, but is also encouraging her sister to follow her in her adventures. When she addresses Florinda, declaring that they will "outwit twenty brothers if [Florinda] will be ruled by [her]," it becomes clear that Hellena is a leader. In this sense, she might be understood-- in her capacity as a leader-- as a female analog to Willmore, who also assumes a leadership role on a daily basis as the captain of his ship. Furthermore, Hellena's address to Florinda raises questions of female vs. male agency in the play. Hellena explicitly notes that, should her sister join her, together they will rule "twenty brothers." The implication here might be that if they put their minds to the task and commit to taking charge of their lives, they will rule the men that have for so long oppressed their agency.
Pray tell me,
sir, are not you guilty of the same mercenary crime? When
a lady is proposed to you for a wife, you never ask how fair,
discreet, or virtuous she is, but what's her fortune; which,
if but small, you cry "She will not do my business," and
basely leave her, though she languish for you. Say, is not
this as poor?
This excerpt is taken from a lengthy exchange between Angellica and Willmore; the two characters have been discussing the nature of her profession, and Willmore has just finished deriding Angellica for selling herself to the highest bidder. But here Angellica raises a good point: what is the difference, she asks Willmore, between a woman selling love and a man considering the financial holdings of a woman's family before agreeing to marry her? Both arrangements are contingent upon economic gain, and it seems unfair to criticize one and not the other. This quote touches on the double standards that exist for men and women in the world as depicted in "The Rover."
'Tis very hard, the whole cargo or nothing. Faith, madam,
my stock will not reach it; I cannot be your chapman. Yet
I have countrymen in town, merchants of love like me; I'll
see if they'll put in for a share. We cannot lose much by it,
and what we have no use for, we'll sell upon the Friday's
mart at "Who gives more"-- I am studying, madam, how
to purchase you, though at present I am unprovided of
Willmore is speaking to Angellica here, after she has invited him into her home. He is discussing with her the prospect of purchasing a share of her, for he cannot afford her full monthly fee of 1000 crowns. This haggling of sorts draws attention to the arbitrariness of the established rental period for the courtesan. Why is Angellica to be sold at a monthly rate? Does this arrangement somehow elevate her status as a prostitute? We are being asked here to consider the degree of power and independence that Angellica yields by virtue of her freedom to choose her price and conditions for sale. To suggest that her time and services may be cut up and shared is an insult of sorts, for it reduces her to a dehumanized commodity.
When Willmore insists, “We cannot lose much by it,/ and what we have no use for, we’ll sell upon the Friday’s/ mart at “Who gives more”,” he appropriates Angellica, and there is an accompanying shift of power. The notion of selling oneself in time-shares to multiple different men effectively reduces Angellica’s value, and leads one to consider the way in which human flesh, just like any other material commodity, depreciates with use and time.
Like me? I don’t intend every he that like me shall have
me, but he that I like. I should have stayed in the nunnery
still if I had liked my lady abbess as well as she liked me. No,
I cam thence not, as my wise brother imagines, to take an
eternal farewell of the world, but to love and to be beloved;
and I will be beloved, or I’ll get one of your men, so I will.
Hellena is exerting here her independence, as well as reasserting her resolute commitment to reclaiming her life. Initially commanded by her father to lead a life of chastity and religious devotion as a nun, Hellena is intent on taking charge of her life and dictating for herself what she will do with her years. In this instance, she is reasserting her agency to her sister Florinda, who has just implied that no man will “have her” if she continues to act mad. Hellena strongly objects to the notion of a man “having her,” for it is she who will “have a man.” Hellena carefully addresses semantics here to make a point—she is not out to find a man that will accept her, but rather find a man that she wants. Thus, the task of finding a man is entirely in Hellena’s hands; she makes the rules.
Well said. –You hear, little one, how you are condemned
by public vote to the bed within; there’s no resisting your
Blunt is holding Florinda against her will, preparing to beat and rape her with Frederick. Frederick has just agreed to join Blunt in the brutal attack, and it is this affirmation that has prompted the above quote. It is interesting to note that Blunt proclaims Florinda “condemned by public vote” to an undesired “destiny”; her predicament is strangely reminiscent of that in which she found herself at the beginning of the play, when her father and brother deemed her destined to marry Don Vincentio. The quote speaks to the larger theme of female agency and restrictive customs at play in “The Rover.” Behn prompts us with this quote to acknowledge the way in which women were dealt with in her time: others often decided their futures for them.
What an impertinent thing is a young girl bred in a nun-
nery! How full of questions! Prithee no more, Hellena; I
have told thee more than thou understand'st already.
As the opening lines of the play, these warrant particular attention, as they work to set the tone for the ensuing scenes. Florinda is speaking to her sister, Hellena, who we are led to believe has been asking her many questions. Pay close attention to the term "impertinent," as well as the reference here to Hellena having been "bred in a nunnery." As Behn presents Hellena via Florinda's lines as an atypical product of a nunnery, she forces the reader to question exactly what sorts of characteristics are valued in the religious community. What might be imagined as a criticism of the overly inquisitive character Hellena can in fact be interpreted rather as a criticism of the nunnery and the religion that promotes it. How is "impertinent" being used here? One may be inclined to understand the word as a synonym for "rude" or "not showing proper respect," in which case Hellena becomes the focus of Florinda's scorn. But what if one understands the term "impertinent" rather as "unconnected, unrelated; inconsonant"? (OED.) In this sense, Hellena may be understood as a character that has been isolated from the outside world as a result of her confinement at the nunnery; in this case, her unknowing state and inquisitiveness are not a fault of character, but rather a product of restriction and confinement. It seems, in this case, that Behn is drawing attention to the limiting nature of the nunnery and religion, as well as the conflict that pious observation presents to the natural inquisitiveness of the unhindered human mind.
I have command from my father here to tell you you ought
not to despise him, a man of so vast a fortune, and such a
passion for you.
Pedro speaks here to his sister, Florinda, when he enters the room in which she and their sister Hellena have been speaking for some time. Pedro has come to check on Florinda, and brings a message from their father: she must learn to love and accept Don Antonio, a proposed husband, for his fortune and supposed desire for her. Florinda does not love Don Vincentio and is in fact-- as she reveals in the ensuing discussion with her brother and sister--repulsed by the old suitor. But the way in which Pedro speaks to his sister here says volumes about the hierarchical structure of power and obedience that existed when Aphra Behn penned this play. Pedro's use of the term "command," for example, is quite telling; the massage from their father is not a suggestion or a plea, but rather a decree that his daughter accept Don Vincentio as a lover. The power in this relationship rests clearly in the hands of the father and man. Pedro's comment also reveals much about the motives behind marriage during the time in which Behn wrote this play. As Pedro tells his sister that she "ought not despise...a man of so vast a fortune," the reader gets a sense that women were positioned to marry men not for love, but rather for financial gain.
Is't not enough you make
a nun of me, but you must cast my sister away too, exposing
her to a worse confinement than a religious life?
Here Hellena addresses her brother, Pedro, as he attempts to impose upon Florinda the importance of and value in marrying Don Vincentio. In the dialogue leading up to this quote, Florinda has made clear that she despises Don Vincentio, the old wealthy man whom her father has decided she will like and eventually marry. Pedro has arrived as a messenger for his father, and his goal throughout the scene is to convince Florinda that Don Vincentio's wealth makes him attractive enough to marry. Hellena argues the contrary, as she asserts that Don Vincentio's money does not make him a more attractive man. With the selected quote, Hellena describes a potential matrimony between her sister and Don Vincentio as "confinement"--a restrictive and unjust imposition on her sister. This quote reveals much about the way in which Hellena (and by extension, Behn) views both arranged or forced marriage and religion: she considers them both as limiting and unfavorable for women. The quote is a criticism directed not only at the institutions of marriage and religion, but also directed at the man imposing these unwanted shackles on the women; Pedro is just as much to blame as his father for his role in the attempt to decided for the women involved how they will spend their lives.
It is interesting to note here that Hellena considers marriage to the old Don Vincentio a worse fate than her own, as a woman confined to a covenant. As we come to learn throughout the play, Hellena is a woman who highly values her freedom, and accordingly eventually abandons her life of religious confinement. But she ultimately seeks out marriage, designing to enter into a binding contract with Willmore at the end of the play. Of course, it is presumed that she is marrying for love and under her own free will. Nevertheless, the action seems out of character for an individual who scenes early disparaged the institution of marriage as a "confinement worse than religious life."
The Rover Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Rover is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.