The Rover Play Summary

Instructor: Meredith Spies

Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.

This lesson includes a brief biography of playwright Aphra Behn and a summary of her play, The Rover. There is also discussion of important themes in the play, and you can test your knowledge at the end with a brief quiz.

Who is Aphra Behn?

Aphra Behn was believed to have been born in Canterbury, England, around 1640 and is considered to be the first professional female playwright and author in British literature. Her actual history is somewhat hazy, but it's widely held that she spent a period of time in Surinam and that she worked as a spy for Charles II after her return to England. She took her last name from her late Dutch husband, though some speculated that she made up this husband and faked his death to allow herself more social freedom (widows in that era were not as bound by societal stricture as unmarried women).

She turned to writing professionally after being imprisoned for her debts, and she eventually wrote her prized piece Oroonoko (1688), which is considered to have laid the foundation for the modern English novel. But one of her earlier piece, The Rover (1677), was her most successful play and was produced in two parts. Nell Gwyn, a famous actress and notorious mistress of Charles II, starred in the play--the equivalent of having someone as famous as Angelina Jolie star in your small production.

Behn died in 1689 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Her works are usually political in nature, revealing her Royalist leanings.

Aphra Behn
Aphra Behn

The Rover: A Brief Synopsis

The Rover is a wildly successful Restoration comedy about banished Cavaliers (supporters of King Charles I during the English Civil War). In fact, the play is subtitled 'The Banish'd Cavaliers'. It takes place in Naples at the time of the English Interregnum, the period between the death of Charles I and when Charles II resumed the throne, when England was led by various attempts at Commonwealth governments.

The play has three major plot lines, among other smaller plot lines, featuring the titular rover Willmore and his Cavalier friends. Having been banished from England, they're in Naples looking for a good time during Carnivale, the season of celebration before the austerity of Lent begins in Catholic areas.

Plot Line 1: Hellena and Willmore

Revelers at Carnivale, a painting by Giuseppe Bonito
Revelers at carnivale by giusepe bonito

The play opens with sisters Florinda and Hellena in Naples, Italy, during Carnivale. A group of Cavaliers are determined to have a good time during the festivities. Among them, Willmore, a naval captain, meets and falls in love with Hellena, who herself is determined to experience love and passion before she must enter a convent, something her brother Pedro is forcing upon her. A famous courtesan named Angellica Bianca also falls in love with Willmore, further complicating the situation.

Plot Line 2: Florinda and Belvile

Florinda is being forced by her brother Pedro to marry his best friend. She is less than enthused and wants to marry her true love, Belvile. (Many of Behn's work deals with forced marriages and the rights of women.) Florinda and Belvile scheme to marry, despite her brother's plans, engaging in subterfuge and deceit in order to meet their goal. Florinda also becomes the victim of an attempted rape by another Cavalier, Blunt.

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