The Disappointment

The Disappointment Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why is Cloris conflicted about having sex with Lisander? What does the text show us about her mental state?

    The speaker tells us that "Love and Shame confus'dly strive" in Cloris's eyes. She is "surprised" by him in a thicket and it appears at first that she will be raped. It quickly becomes clear that Cloris also desires Lisander. She touches his chest "to draw him on," thereby "permit[ting] his force." Yet Cloris's words show that she is conflicted. She tells him to stop and protests that it would be better to die than lose her virginity. Though Cloris desires Lisander, she is fearful of losing her "honour." A woman's virginity was seen at this time as the key to her respectability in society. Yet at a certain point, Cloris is overcome with passion and lets shame and a desire for respect to leave her.

  2. 2

    What is the effect of using motifs from heroic epics to describe unsuccessful sex in this poem?

    The language used to describe sex and particularly Lisander in the poem draws on Greek and Roman epics describing heroes. Sex is depicted using language associated with texts like The Illiad, as when Lisander's seduction of Cloris is called a "conquest" and her body is described as the "spoils" of war. Here, the two young people are like two armies, with Lisander's army overpowering Cloris's. Though Lisander is initially depicted as a brave warrior, his impotence eventually reveals this description to be ironic. The effect of this language is humorous and serves to undermine any sense that Lisander is heroic.

  3. 3

    Whose perspective does the poem's speaker take, Lisander or Cloris? What does this reveal about the speaker?

    Normally, poems in the "imperfect enjoyment" genre take the male perspective. We see a man's rage and shame when he is unable to perform sexually. In Behn's version, the "disappointment" of the title refers to what Cloris experiences when she is expecting to have sex with Lisander. Through we get insight into Lisander's thoughts, the poem sets us up to identify with Cloris. We see her withdraw her hand in disgust when she touches his limp penis. Meanwhile, Lisander lies in the thicket childishly screaming and blaming everyone from Cloris to the gods.

    The Nymph's resentments, none but I
    Can well imagine, and Condole ;
    But none can guess Lisander's Soul,
    But those who sway'd his Destiny

    In other words, the speaker can imagine Cloris's disappointment and anger. This suggests that the speaker, too, is speaking from a woman's perspective and can identify with Cloris. On the other, those who can "guess Lisander's soul" are "those" who have experienced the same problem as him. In these ways, the poem's speaker aligns herself with Cloris.