Reviving Aphra Behn: The Rover in the 'Restoration' Repertoire

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Author: Nancy Copeland
Editors: Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau
Date: 2007
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,564 words

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[(essay date summer 1999) In the following essay, Copeland discusses the late-twentieth-century reception of and renewal of interest in The Rover, describing how critics have sought to reconstruct the work for modern readers and audiences.]

In approximately the last decade, the all-male canon of late seventeenth century comedy, grounded in a repertoire of one or two plays each by the "'big five'" playwrights--Etherege, Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar1--has been supplemented by the work of Aphra Behn, in the form of her 1677 comedy The Rover. Not only is The Rover now available in numerous editions and in many anthologies, but it has also become a fixture of the "Restoration'" repertoire in Britain, and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the English-speaking world. Marion Lomax noted in her 1995 edition of the play that since the mid-1980s it has "appeared on stages all over the world";2 her examples are from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, but it has also been performed in Canada and has received noteworthy productions in the United States. The success of The Rover has been accompanied by renewed interest in some of Behn's other plays and in some of those written by members of the subsequent generation of women playwrights, notably Susanna Centlivre and Mary Pix, but none of these has achieved The Rover's prominence. As the example of even the "'big five'" indicates, it is not unusual for a canonical playwright from this period to be represented by a single play: for example, Etherege by The Man of Mode. Irving Wardle, surveying the boom in revivals in the British theatre during the late eighties and early nineties, provides further evidence that from the perspective of late-twentieth century artistic directors, the theatrical past is populated with "'one-play'" playwrights.3 Nevertheless, the anomalous status of The Rover, as the only play written by a woman during the late-seventeenth century to enter the late-twentieth-century canon, is of particular interest since it raises a number of issues about the construction of the "Restoration" repertoire.

The term "Restoration comedy" is appropriate, despite its imprecision when applied to any plays except those written between 1660 and 1685, because this paper is concerned with canon formation as it intersects with repertoire building, and in the commercial theatre the Restoration is perceived as having lasted at least until the death of the last Stuart monarch in 1714. The relationship between the "text and performance canons" for this period has been described as "symbiotic" by Brian Corman, who points out that academic rediscovery of a playwright leads to the availability of texts, which facilitates the inclusion of the play in the repertory, thus helping to validate the canonical status of the work through performance.4 Once a play is made available through performance, the process of canon-formation at least potentially includes reviewers. In the English context, where a London or Stratford production can receive a dozen reviews, many of them lengthy and detailed, in newspapers alone, reviewers make a substantial...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420076020