- Of Love and War: The Political Voice in the Early Plays of Aphra Behn by Judy A. Hayden
Arguing that Behn’s early plays should be read as responses to the political turmoil of the early part of Charles II’s reign, Ms. Hayden contends that she “does not board the political bandwagon during the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Crisis. Although her plays may have become more vocal and certainly more outwardly royalist after the Exclusion Crisis, they consistently express political content.” Each of the five [End Page 267] chapters has a common focus: the relationship between each play and the political issues of the early years of the Restoration. A Conclusion and Appendices provide the relevant period political documents.
Chapter One addresses The Young King, which Ms. Hayden dates to the period between 1664 and 1670. Relying on Frederick Link’s 1968 Behn biography, Ms. Hayden uses the dedication, a document usually used to help date the play’s origins, to reject the notion that the play was begun or that an early draft was written while she was in Surinam, as well as the theory that it was revised during the 1670s. “That she was able to revive this play in 1679 owes much to the similarity of the political issues of Restoration and Exclusion.” Chapter One also discusses the romance plot taken from La Calprenède, the inclusion of a Druid among the characters, gender, the play’s use of the restoration plot that is characteristic of Carolean drama—a term used interchangeably with “Caroline literature,” “Restoration-type drama,” and “Restoration drama”—the play’s effort to historicize the Stuart monarchy, and the “parallel in Polish/Swedish historical events during the reign of Sigismund III with those in mid-seventeenth-century England,” which Ms. Hayden calls “remarkable.”
The other chapters on the plays also follow this form: they open with a description of a historical situation, identify issues in the dramas, and provide descriptions or lists of contemporary male-authored plays that share with Behn’s a technique (a character like a Druid or a Moor) or an issue (such as incest). Chapter Two argues that “The Forc’d Marriage is a restoration-type play that re-historicizes the events surrounding the collapse of the Interregnum government and the return of the Stuart monarchy.” In Chapter Three, Ms. Hayden explains that in The Amorous Prince, Behn criticizes not Charles II’s sexual exploits nor his preference for sex over governing, but the courtiers who supply women to tempt him. Yet Behn’s drama, like those of her male contemporaries, “demonstrate[s] public anxiety about the King’s lack of sexual restraint.” With The Dutch Lover, the subject of Chapter Four, “Behn reaches her stride as a shrewd and competitive playwright.” The play was a miserable failure, however, and Ms. Hayden accepts Behn’s claim that it was the actors that killed it: “Hippolyta’s questioning of gender privilege must have been both intimidating and shocking to the male hierarchy. That the actors intentionally sabotaged the play, then, is perhaps not surprising, and, under the circumstances, the lack of approval from her audience is unfortunate, but understandable.” Chapter Five on Abdelazer maintains that his “point is that contemporary contention about Catholicism is merely a means to distract and to divide the polity over the chief issue at stake—the succession”—thus positing religious issues as separate and a diversion from the real problems of royal succession. Much of this chapter draws parallels between the character of the Queen and the actual Duchess of Portsmouth; for example, “While the Queen rifles the treasury for her lover in this play, the expensive Duchess of Portsmouth spent money in lavish receptions and refurbished on numerous occasions her sumptuous apartments. The estimate is that with her pensions and her presents, she cost the country nearly £40,000 annually.”
The conclusion, focusing on a justification for viewing Behn’s early plays within the context of her male contemporaries, reviews women’s opportunities to enter...