Importance of Carnival in Aphra Behn's The Rover

Essay by praenomenpaulUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, April 2004

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"Masquerading! A lewd custom to debauch our youth. There's something more in this than I imagine." - Don Pedro

Aphra Behn, the first female playwright to earn a living through her writing, was also one of the wittiest and entertaining as evidenced through her most well known play, The Rover. Set in 17th century Italy while under the colonial reign of Spain, a large cast of characters becomes embroiled in scenes of infidelity, seduction, misrepresentation, and elaborate swordplay, which create tension and confusion in addition to many comedic episodes. The setting is Carnival time in Venice, which is important to the plot for several reasons: the wearing of masks (as was customary) allows a freedom from normal constraints, there is often in the play a mistake made in identities, circumstances can (and do) occur which could never otherwise happen, it allows for a fast pace to be maintained which keeps the spectators involved, and ultimately, "confusion captures the spirit of the carnival" (1).

During carnival times class barriers came down with the rich mingling with the poor. The tradition of wearing masks at carnival time became necessary in order to protect the identities of the rich (2). This also gave opportunities to act out in a manner far removed from their habitual one. By having her female characters hidden behind masks, Behn is able to remove them from their traditional roles as women and give them empowerment. In effect, they can assume new personalities and remove their inhibitions or the otherwise usual yokes that have been cast on them by a male-dominated society.

Hellena is the perfect example of one throwing off inhibitions and revealing her inner self behind the guise of a mask. Slated for the convent in an effort by her father to consolidate the family finances,