The Ravishing Restoration: Aphra Behn, Violence, and Comedy

The Ravishing Restoration: Aphra Behn, Violence, and Comedy

The Ravishing Restoration: Aphra Behn, Violence, and Comedy

The Ravishing Restoration: Aphra Behn, Violence, and Comedy

Synopsis

Ann Marie Stewart is currently a professor of theatre at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. She holds a BA and a MA in Theatre and English from Michigan State University, and a PhD in Theatre History from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has also taught and directed in theatre departments at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Colorado, and Olivet College. She has published articles on Renaissance and Restoration drama, and is interested in the dramatic evolution of playwriting by British and American women throughout the centuries.

Excerpt

Aphra Behn used theater as a forum to highlight complex social issues, particularly those regarding the complexities of gender roles, sugarcoated within the genre of comedy. Inequality for women, forced marriage, the sexual double standard, and the perils of female powerlessness—particularly in matters of love and finance— are themes to which Behn returns repeatedly. These motifs reflect her perception and dramatization of women’s reality in Restoration society, in terms of how they are oppressed, and the means by which they attempt to break free of their constraints. She kept her audiences captivated with clever plots and witty dialogue, beautiful poetry and sophisticated intellectual arguments, and inventive use of staging and risqué romantic scenarios. From this platform, Behn drew attention to violence and injustice against women.

Altogether, nine of her plays—equating to almost half of her dramatic work—include scenes of sexual coercion. the high instance of rape and attempted rape seems to imply that Behn had a particular preoccupation with seduction, domination, and victimization, and the artistic representation or re-creation of ravishment. in her scenes, a unique pattern arises in which she stages ideological debates between male desire and female chastity, displays violent force by men against women, and often provides an example of women’s ability to usurp male authority via escape. Her comedies conclude with greater or lesser degrees of closure, but they subscribe to the obligatory happy ending, and the return to patriarchal order is signified by marriage, and the economic and physical protection offered by a husband. Again and again, Behn’s conclusions re-inscribe the system that she had previously turned to chaos. As a result, simultaneously, she appears both a feminist in her compassion for the powerless, as a voice for the oppressed, and anti-feminist in her seemingly cavalier return to the status quo. One of the purposes of this book is to deconstruct and analyze both interpretations of her work, while recognizing that one of Behn’s only consistencies is her . . .

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