Novelistic Drama: Aphra Behn's
The False Count; or, A New Way to Play an
Old Game and The Lucky Chance; or,
The Alderman's Bargain
IN THE 1680S THE DRAMATIC ARTS SUFFERED A SERIOUS DOWNFALL when “the collapse of the King's Company and the formation of the United Company in 1682” inevitably brought “a reduction of new plays.”1 Comedies with disguised political references occupied a prominent place, but with one playhouse the total number of plays produced decreased. The Duke of Monmouth's Rebellion in 1680 culminated as Charles's worst problem, while the long Exclusion Crisis brought unrest to the country and affected the theaters as well.
At the beginning of the decade, Aphra Behn became involved in a dangerous controversy after the Exclusion Crisis. Because of her position in The Roundheads; or, The Good Old Cause (1682) and her epilogue to the anonymous Romulus and Hersilia, she was arrested for attacking the duke of Monmouth. The charge against her was for “abusive reflections upon persons of quality.”2 These were difficult years in politics. Treason, ambition, and disloyalty among the leading class bred unrest and bloodshed among the common people. However, it was not the political climate but the financial situation of the stage that convinced Behn of the folly of continuing as a dramatist. The increased competition with only one company and the decline in audience made playwriting a more precarious way to earn a living.
In spite of the difficult times, some playwrights, such as Behn, still wrote comedies. The problem was that in the 1680s, English drama insisted on presenting “exemplary patterns of divinity operating in this, our experiential reality.” Rose A. Zimbardo's