The Rover

The Rover Summary and Analysis of Act I, Scene ii


In this scene, which takes place in a “long street,” we are introduced to colonel Belvile and two of his friends—an English gentleman named Frederick and an English countryman named Blunt. Belvile’s friends have noticed his melancholic air and ask him what is bothering him. Frederick divines that the source of Belvile’s melancholy is Florinda—a Spanish woman that he met in Pamplona (and who also happens to be a noblewoman from Naples). Belvile reveals that Frederick has guessed correctly; it is his dismal chances at winning her over that have him so upset. Belvile tells his friends that Florinda’s brother (Pedro) is determined to marry her to Don Antonio. Belvile himself can hardly compete with Antonio, he says, because the potential suitor is wealthy, Spanish, and a friend of Florinda’s brother.

Willmore, a rover (“The Rover”) and friend of Belvile’s, arrives and all greet him joyously. Willmore has been at sea for an indeterminate amount of time with “the Prince” (i.e. Prince Charles II); Frederick asks him why he is ashore, and whether the Prince is okay. Willmore reveals that all is well, and that he has come to Naples simply to spend some time at the Carnival; he must head out to sea again in a day or two. As the men rejoice in one another’s company, several men and women dressed in masquerade outfits enter; the women are dressed like courtesans and have papers pinned on their breasts and are carrying baskets of flowers. Willmore takes a closer look at the papers, which read, “Roses for every month.” Belvile informs his friends that these women are to be hired by the month, rather than by the night. Willmore is very interested in spending time with one of the courtesans, but when he inquires a woman tells him to “beware of [the] roses.” She leaves with another man and Willmore is incensed; his friends tell him to calm down. Two men dressed in horns and with papers pinned to their backs enter; on their papers is written, “Flowers of every night.” As Belvile and Willmore discuss the strangeness of the way in which sex is sold in Italy, Florinda, Hellena, and Valeria enter dressed as gipsies, followed by Callis, Stephano, Lucetta, Phillipo, and Sancho, all dressed in masquerade.

Willmore approaches Hellena, and asks her what luck he might have in taking her home; she warns him to be careful around her, as she is a “gipsy” and may very well pick his pocket. He tells her that he has spent much time at sea and would like her to take some of his love, which has been building up out on the water. Hellena implies that she would sleep with him if only she weren’t destined to become a nun. Willmore disdains her plan to become a maid, and vows to help her get out of her predicament.

Meanwhile, Lucetta spots Blunt as an obvious foreigner, because he is staring at her and strutting about. She speaks to Sancho about her plans to lure him in. Florinda approaches Belvile and pretends to read his palm. Belvile is weary of the practice and makes an effort to get away from Florinda, who grabs him and refuses to let him leave until he confesses whether he truly loves Florinda. At the mention of her name, Belvile is suddenly interested; Florinda tells him to wait for her at the garden gate later that night. Belvile vows to obey just as Don Pedro enters with several other masked Carnival attendees. Florinda hands Belvile a letter and then leaves. Fredrick warns Belvile that the letter may be a trick designed by Florinda’s brother, Pedro, to destroy him. But Belvile tells Frederick not to “disturb [his] happiness with doubts,” and proceeds to open the letter (l. 240). As Belvile reads the letter, Willmore can be heard wooing Hellena; she vows to meet with him later, and all women leave the scene, except for Lucetta.

After examining Florinda’s letter, which again instructs Belvile to meet her in the garden at ten o’clock that night, Belvile recruits his friends to help him rescue his love from the “threatened violence” of her brother (who is planning to have her married to his friend, Don Antonio) (l. 257). Meanwhile, Blunt leaves with Lucetta, and the conversation shifts to a new topic: the famous Paduana Angellica Bianca is in town, and has put herself up for monthly sale. Willmore tells Belvile that he wants to pay her a visit; Belvile agrees to accompany him to her castle after they dine.


We are introduced to the Englishmen in this scene; they are an interesting mix of cavaliers. Belvile seems to dominate the overall tone of the band of friends as a gloomy, sulking character wrapped in self-pity. His friends Blunt and Frederick attempt to cheer him up unsuccessfully; only when Willmore arrives do Belvile’s spirits seem to momentarily lift. We learn much about Willmore in this scene: he may be understood as the titular character—a “rover” who spends most of his time out on the sea—and he is established as a quick-tempered, somewhat reckless man, with an inclination to philander. He also expresses a strong dislike and fundamental disagreement with a lifestyle of religious devotion; when speaking with Hellena, he openly disdains the life of a nun, claiming that “’tis more meritorious to/ leave the world when thou hast tasted and proved the/ pleasure on’t” (22, l. 186-188). In other words, Willmore believes it more admirable to taste the pleasures of life and have to give them up in death than to abstain while living and die not having ever known great material and sexual pleasure—and thus be oblivious to what one is truly leaving behind in death. The conversation that Hellena and Willmore have regards her supposed destiny as a nun should be noted as one in a string of exchanges between characters that address religion with a skeptical tone. Recall the opening scene of the play, in which Hellena overtly criticizes religious life when arguing with her brother, Pedro. It seems as though Aphra Behn might be communicating via her characters (in particular, Hellena) her own opinions regards religion and its anti-libertinism, restricting nature. It is helpful to consider Aphra’s thoughts on libertinism, which are noted to be quite enthusiastic; scholar Susan Staves notes that libertinism—“the seventeenth century revival of classic Epicurean hedonism that first came to England from France”—was an ideology to which Behn was strongly attracted (20).

Willmore may also be understood as Belvile’s foil in this play. Consider Belvile’s characteristics in comparison to those of Willmore: Belvile is calm and avoids fighting when possible, whereas Willmore is a more untamed character, always ready to fight, and consistently pledging to “storm” in the name of his friends or a woman. Belvile is a gloomy character that is deeply committed to and affected by his love for Florinda, whereas Willmore is an easy-going, fickle character that is not strongly committed to or affected by any single woman. As scholar Susan Owen notes in her critical essay, “Response to Restoration Politics,” Willmore may be understood as a cavalier, and Belvile as the character who most closely resembles the heroes of French heroic romance and English heroic drama (71). It is interesting to consider how these opposing characters interact in this scene versus subsequent scenes; they seem to balance each other out when they first meet, but later on in the play they are consistently in conflict.

We are also introduced in this scene to Blunt, who is established as a wealthy -- albeit unintelligent, naïve, and overly trusting -- man. The other Englishmen in The Rover are followers of the exiled Charles II, in exile themselves during the Interregnum, but it seems as though Blunt—who has maintained his wealth because the parliamentarians did not sequester his estate—might be a supporter of the Commonwealth (Owen 71). It is apparent throughout the play that the cavaliers associate with him purely because of his money, as he is insulted on several occasions by them when out of earshot. Representation of Blunt as an incompetent and overindulged childlike character, who is ultimately embarrassed and stripped of his goods, should be considered in light of Behn’s advocacy for Toryism; his character may be registered as a critique on those who empathized with or bowed down in the Commonwealth in any degree.