Stillness in Motion in the Seventeenth Century Theatre

By P. A. Skantze | Go to book overview

4

Decidedly moving

Aphra Behn and the staging of paradoxical pleasures

THE ARGUMENT

From the instructions embodied in her prefaces to the creation of her five-act plays, Aphra Behn designs a theatrical world negotiated through motion. Behn’s articulation of her purpose solicits the reading and theatre audiences to understand the compact they actively make with her, as with her characters and the actors on the stage. In her plays, Behn builds framed theatrical moments and in turn breaks the frame in order to provide the audience with a set-up of fixity and the correcting (sometimes simply inevitable) influence of motion. Though each chapter in this book examines the use of gender in creating terms of value, in Behn’s work the examination extends to the female characters invented by a female writer for female players. To be reminded of this historical fact is not to encourage an exercise in essentialist nostalgia, but rather to recognize the lucid examination of gender offstage and on by a very ironic maker of plots and theatrical schemes. In the theatrical world Behn stages the exchange of bodies, of money, and of wit reflecting the social world where there exists an increased anxiety and excitement about trade of all kinds. Through her plots and her characterizations, Behn makes comment again and again upon the world of the still, the withheld, the lasting, and the world of the moving, the offered, the ephemeral.


Prefatory addresses to the reader

“Good, Sweet, Honey, Sugar-candied reader,” begins Aphra Behn, tongue firmly in printed cheek as she addresses the reading public regarding her play The Dutch Lover (I, 221). Jonson’s equivocating in his desire for readers/appreciators, Milton’s fervent, impassioned address to his ‘fit audience though few’ meet their rhetorical match in Behn’s overblown direct assault on the ‘favor’ of her literate public. With a startling ease of address she mocks the female supplicant role, laying it on thick to entertain her audience and, without pedantry, further her argument. With Behn in the 1670s we move well beyond the years of the public back and forth of

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Stillness in Motion in the Seventeenth Century Theatre
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments viii
  • Introduction 1
  • Prologue 21
  • 1 - Permanently Moving 30
  • 2 - Predominantly Still 59
  • 3 - Theatrically Pressed 82
  • 4 - Decidedly Moving 106
  • 5 - Perpetually Stilled 132
  • Epilogue 154
  • Notes 162
  • Bibliography 187
  • Index 202
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