Summary of Aphra Behn’s The Rover

The Rover is a play written by the English author Aphra Behn.


Act I, Scene I

The play opens with a scene in a chamber belonging to a Spanish family in Naples.

Hellena a gay young girl who is meant to be a nun is asking her elder sister Florinda who she is in love with. Florinda says that she would tell her the secret when she herself was in love. Hellena then says that though she was not a lover yet, she could make a shrewd guess about what it was to be in love – it was to sigh and sing and blush and dream and wish. It was to look pale and tremble in the presence of the beloved. That was how Florinda had looked when their brother Don Pedro had brought the English colonel home to see her. She also guesses that his name was Belville.

Florinda blushes which, Hellena says, betrays her secret. Hellena also suggests the names of two other possible lovers – Don Antonio the Viceroy’s son, and the rich old Don Vincentio who is her father’s choice.

The last name makes Florinda angry and she defiantly says she will make it known to her father what is due to her beauty, birth and fortune and to her soul. Hellena is pleased with this disobedience but wants her to confirm that she is in love with the gay and handsome Englishman. Florinda again stalls saying that a girl designed to be a nun ought not to be so curious about love. At this Hellena announces her intention of never to be a nun, at least not until she was too old for anything else. She is curious about love because she hopes he [Belvile] will have some mad companion who could be her lover. She is determined to find a handsome young man in the carnival who was as mischievous and gay as she herself was. Florinda cautions her. But Hellena is not to be sidetracked and charges her sister with indifference now that she has found her man. As for herself, she possesses youth, gay humour, beauty, and vigour. And she knows her to use all these gifts to her best advantage. She then learns from Florinda that she knew him at the siege of Pamplona whereas a colonel of the French Horse had treated her and her brother nobly and had saved her from insults. As she finally talks about her love for Belville, their brother Don Pedro comes.

Don Pedro reminds her of her father’s desire to marry her off to Don Vincentio and of his vast future and his passion for her. Florinda scoff at this saying that she hates him and tries to enlist her brother’s support in her favour. She values Belvile for having saved her honour from the lustful attention of the common soldiers. Pedro still pleads for Vincentio saying that in contrast to him Belvile has nothing to give her but the jewels of his eyes and heart.

At this stage, Hellena intervenes on behalf of her sister saying that these gifts were some valuable than Vincentio’s jewels and says that her sister’s fate was worse than being confined to religious life. She also draws the picture of an unenviable life with an old, miserly husband, saying that a marriage with Vincentio would be worse than adultery. Pedro, offended, asks his servant Callis to lock her up for her impertinence. Unfazed, Hellena defiantly says that she will soon have a lover (“a saint of my own to pray to”). Pedro then discloses that in pleading for Don Vincentio he had merely been urging his father’s will. His own choice was his friend, the young and brave Don Antonio who she must marry the next day. Their father would be conveniently away! Florinda meekly says she will do as becomes his sister, at which assurance Pedro leaves.

Florinda then bewails to her sister that she never knew her ruin was so near and that since Antonio is young and gay, she has no defence against him.

At Hellena’s suggestion, her governess Callis agrees to let them take part in the entertainment of the carnival. Callis herself wants to enjoy the fun provided they let her remain in their company. Hellena plans to be as wild and take all innocent freedom. She tells her sister not to be sad and assures her that she will outwit their brother. She asks her sister to put on the gay and fantastic dress for the masquerade and ramble around in the carnival.

Stephano, Don Pedro’s servant, comes with the news that Florinda’s dress for the masquerade is ready and that her cousin Valeria is waiting for her. Florinda decides to write a note for Belvile for a possible meeting. The scene ends with Hellena asking her sister to get dressed for the occasion.

Act I, Scene II

The scene now shifts to a street. It is carnival time which is also the time for masquerades.

We are introduced to Belvile and his friends Frederick and Blunt and later to Willmore. Belvile is downcast. Frederick correctly guesses that he has renewed his acquaintance with the Spanish girl, Florinda, who he had met at Pamplona but who he has little chance of gaining. Her brother has forbidden him to visit her. He has a powerful rival in the viceroy’s son who is rich is a Spaniard and is her brother’s friend. While the Spaniard is free to court her, he himself has to depend on letters and occasional glimpses of her from her window.

Both Frederick and Blunt cannot understand such constancy. Blunt is thankful that he has not dissipated his fortune by cavaliering.

Willmore fresh from the seas enters and is welcomed by his old friends Belvile and Frederick. Belvile addresses him as a rover. Willmore says that he is onshore only for a day or two to have fun, and that love and mirth are his special business in the warm climate of Naples.

At this point enter several masked men, who are singing and dancing. There are women also who are dressed like courtesans with papers with the slogan ‘Roses for every month‘ pinned on their breasts and are carrying flower baskets.

Belvile explains that they (the women) are or would have others think that they are courtesans. Willmore eager for an affair makes bold to ask one of the women if she would give him leave to gather at her bush. But the woman puts herself into the hands of her man and goes away. Willmore is disappointed. He says that he could pluck that rose off his hand, and “even kiss the bed the bush grew in.” Frederick remarks that nothing sharpens the appetite for love like a long voyage at sea, to which Blunt adds that the only exception is a nunnery. Willmore rues the lost opportunity and says that he is “no tame sigher but a rampant lion of the forest.”

Two men enter dressed all over with horns of several sorts with papers pinned on their backs. Belvile points out that though the Italians object to the word cuckold yet cuckoldry is very common. Wilmore then remarks that Italians view cuckoldry as a kind of authorized fornication for which neither men nor women are blamed or despised as against the dull English or the French.

Florinda, Hellena and Valeria enter all dressed like gypsies. Callis and Stephano, Lucetta, Philippo and Sancho are wearing masks.

Hellena points Florinda’s Englishman to her and makes straight for the handsome fellow with him, namely Willmore. Gipsies are traditionally fortunetellers and this provides Willmore with an opportunity to ask Hellena what luck he is likely to have in love in the carnival. There is a verbal duel between the two. He has a certain forward impudence, she says, which she likes, but he has little money to lose. She also accuses him of being inconstant. Willmore does not contradict her but says that she has a store of love in him and asks her to share some of it. Hellena tells him that he would have to rescue her from a nunnery, a kind office which Willmore offers to perform saying that it would be virtuous for her to lose her virginity. He is impatient to come first to the banquet of love. But Hellena rebuffs him asking why women are held guilty of either adultery or murder and also why men think that there is no difference between love and making love. Finally, Hellena asks him to meet her in the same dress after dinner. She only hopes he will be constant till then. Later Willmore tells his friends that if she is as beautiful as she is free and witty, he will be constant for a month to gain her.

Blunt is vain and thinks he is a lady killer and that a woman has fallen for him. Later Frederick notices him going away in her (Lucetta’s) company. At this, all the friends speculate on the fate that awaits Blunt. Frederick expects that he will be robbed of everything while Belvile thinks that they would have to have the bellman cry “A lost English boy of thirty” to locate him.

Florida dressed as a gipsy pretends to tell Belvile his fate saying that Flroinda expects him at the garden gate and also gives him a letter. The letter asks him to come to the garden gate at ten in the company of a friend or two.

Don Pedro and other maskers pass on the stage.

Frederick fears that this might be a trap laid by Florinda’s brother. But Belvile is excited and asks Willmore to help him. Willmore is ever ready to do anything for a friend but hopes that she will grant him her favour (which means sexual favour). He quietens down only when he is told that the lady is Belvile’s mistress.

The scene closes with Frederick mentioning the famous courtesan of Naples, Angellica Bianca who is the adored beauty of the men and the envy of women in the town. Willmore always ready for amorous adventure gets immediately interested in her.

Act II, Scene I

The scene opens with Belvile explaining to Willmore that they are wearing masks in order not to be held accountable for what they do in disguise. Willmore cannot get his gipsy out of his mind and will remain restless till he has played a game of love with a “soft, white, kind woman” such as he imagines Angellica Bianca to be. Belvile leads them to Angellica’s house.

Blunt enters and is ecstatic about his meeting with his girl [Lucetta] who has made him believe that he is someone special and who has offered him her love for sheer love, not money. But Belvile and Frederick and Willmore are all sceptical about Blunt’s story.

Two of Angellica’s bravos hang up a great picture of the courtesan and two little ones at each side of the door. The price for her favour is a thousand crowns.

The picture evokes different reactions from the characters. Belvile says that only a fool would pay the high price. Blunt deluded that he has won his girl [Lucetta] for sheer love will have nothing to do with the courtesan if she is to be ‘sold.’ Willmore full of praise for her beauty thinks the price not at all excessive but rues his poverty.

Don Pedro enters wearing a mask followed by Stephano. At this Belvile, Frederick and Blunt withdraw.

Pedro doesn’t consider the price excessive and goes away, presumably to get the money.

Angellica and her woman Moretta enter. One of the bravos tells Angellica about the reactions of the English to her picture and the price. She finds their wonder at her beauty welcome because it feeds her vanity. She also says that she has had no time for love and that only gold shall charm her, and also that she has spread her nets for Don Pedro or Don Antonio.

Both the gallants arrive wearing masks. They are friends but because of their disguise can’t identify each other and both vie for Angellica’s favour. Antonio lets drop a hint that he is more interested in the courtesan than in Florinda, a disclosure that Pedro considers to be an act of betrayal.

Angellica sings a song of Damon and Caelia and then she bows to Antonio who pulls off his mask and blows up kisses. Pedro’s fears that his rival is Antonio are confirmed. The latter’s offer to pay a thousand crowns leads to a quarrel between the two and they draw and begin to fight. Willmore and Blunt enter and part them. But Pedro challenges him to a duel at the Malo the next day in the same disguise. Antonio agrees and speculates that his rival could be no one else but the English colonel Belvile so often mentioned by Don Pedro.

Willmore all entranced by Angellica’s picture takes down one of the little ones. A bravo and Antonio protest and Angellica also appears but Willmore is firm at which he and Antonio start fighting. Angellica tries to intervene and permits Willmore to keep the little picture but Antonio says he must seek his permission first and resumes the fighting. Belvile and Frederick also join the fray and beat the Spaniards away. Angellica wants to have a word with Willmore who as she says appears “a gentleman.” Willmore agrees at once and though Belville and Frederick try to stop him, he goes in to see the courtesan.

Act II, Scene II

The scene opens in Angellica’s chamber. Angellica begins by asking Willmore why he had pulled down her picture. He in turn asks her how she had dared to tempt people like him and put such an exorbitant price on herself. The courtesan then tells him that instead of apologizing he was making his crime worse. Willmore clarifies that he had come to rail at her vanity which had made her put such a high price on her sinful favours. It was a sin, he adds, because sexual favours are meant to be conferred for love and not sold for money. Angellica laughs and tells him that his doctrine would not mean much to her and asks her maid to bring a glass for him to see his face. But gradually Angellica finds herself weakening and growing soft towards him.

When Willmore offers to buy Angellica’s favour piecemeal, he has only some money with him, she declines saying that they sell by the whole piece.

Willmore plainly tells Angellica that it is base to sell her sexual favours but he strangely admires her beauty and as a slave to love and beauty, he would sacrifice whatever he had to enjoy her. Angelica is touched. Willmore continuing his censure of her says that he still does not hate her and that what he feels for her is lust, not love. If it had been love, he should have pined and languished at her feet.

Moretta finds her mistress bewitched and when she asks Willmore to go away, she stops him. Angellica then accuses men of being mercenary because when looking for a mate they look to the dowry the girl will bring and not her appearance or her virtues. Willmore at once agrees. At this Angellica offers him all her love without any other consideration. Willmore finds himself believing her, though outwardly he still frowns at her. It is now Angellica who turns away with pride at such distrust, but he holds her and asks her to throw off her pride and show the power of love. Angellica’s submission to Willmore is complete. She again asks for a price but a different price for her love – his love.

The scene ends with the lovers going away leaving a disappointed fuming Moretta.

Act III, Scene I

This large scene opens with the entry of women characters in masks and their speculations about the possibilities of love for them.

Hellena finds that she cannot but be angry and afraid if her lover should be in love with someone else. But she will love only if she loves as well as she is loved. In contrast to Florinda’s more thoughtful love, love for her is a thrilling, pleasurable experience.

At this point Belvile, Frederick and Blunt enter and the girls withdraw and eavesdrop.

The men are at Angellica’s looking for Willmore. The latter comes out and is ecstatic about his victory over the courtesan who has even given him gold for his love.

Lucetta’s pimp Sancho comes and takes Blunt away for his ‘adventure’ with her.

Willmore frankly admits that he had almost forgotten his little gipsy. Hellena who has heard Willmore’s admission comes forward. Willmore tries to cover up his escapade by pretending to have been melancholy in her absence. Hellena winking at his dissembling tells him that she is as inconstant as he is. To wheat his love for her she pulls off her wizard leaving Willmore entranced about her beauty.

Hellena then teases him about his visit to Angellica and she says she will see him again the following day if he kneels and swears not to see her (Angellica) again, which he does.

Angellica who has seen this meeting between Willmore and another woman is sorely disappointed and asks her bravo to find out who the woman is and to tell him to see her.

Florinda in disguise gives Belvile her picture and asks him to wear it, which since he does not know her true identity, he accepts only reluctantly.

When he discovers that the lady in question was Florinda herself, he rues his mistake.

The scene closes with Willmore proposing that they drink a bottle.

Act III, Scene II, III, IV

The three scenes focus on Blunt’s total discomfiture at the hands of Lucetta.

Lucetta leads him to believe that she has been captivated by him completely and that she will undress and come to him. Sancho the pimp comes and leads Blunt to what he calls her chamber.

He hastily undresses and she puts out the light to avoid detection. At this, the bed descends leaving Blunt groping to find where he is. In the process, he lights upon a trap and is let down to the common shore.

From Lucetta’s conversation with her gallant Phillipo, we learn that they have robbed him of most of his money and his clothes.

The last of the three scenes find Blunt creeping out of a common shore all dirty and naked and cursing himself for his foolishness. He recognizes that he is a dull believing English country fop,” and fears that his friends, Frederick and Belvile will laugh at him.

Act III, Scene V

The scene is laid in the garden at night. Florinda in a state of undress is waiting for Belvile. But as she is waiting, Willmore who is roaring drunk stumbles upon the scene and mistakes her for a common whore, offers her money and asks for her sexual favour. When he tries to force himself upon her, she shouts for help. Belvile and Frederick come and Belvile recognizes Florinda’s voice and asks the villain to let go of the lady. Florinda for fear of detection asks Belvile to go and walk under her chamber window.

Florinda’s brother Don Pedro comes with Stephano and other servants. He sends Stephano to see if his sister is safe. Stephano finds that she is but wonders how the garden gate was open. Masquerading cannot be the reason, according to him.

Act III, Scene VI

The scene laid in the street shows Belvile angry with Willmore who is melancholy. Frederick holds Belvile back. Willmore is unrepentant and blames only the drink.

“Belvile is unhappy that he will lose Florinda to Antonio the following day and wishes if he could meet his rival. He then goes and stands near Florinda’s window.

Since they are in front of Angellica’s house, Willmore offers to go in for he has promised to be with her that night.

Antonio enters and makes sure that he has paid a thousand crowns to Angellica. The two rivals, Willmore and Antonio fight and the latter is wounded. Belvile rushes in to help and is mistakenly arrested for murder. Antonio mistakes him for his hated rival and orders for him to be sent to his apartment.

Act IV, Scene I

Belvile finds himself a prisoner in Antonio’s room. The two admire each other’s bravery. In order to repay Antonio’s generosity, Belvile offers to replace the injured Antonio in his duel with an unknown challenger over Angellica at the Molo. Belvile will go dressed as Antonio.

Act IV, Scene II

At the Molo Florinda mistaking Belvile for Antonio is relieved to find that her brother’s challenger is not Belvile but Antonio.

When in the duel Belvile disarms Pedro, the latter is satisfied that he loves Florinda and gives her hand to him and asks them to marry immediately in St. Paul’s Church or else their father would come.

Belvile draws the grieving Florinda aside and reveals his true identity to her. Willmore’s entry however leads to the discovery of Belvile’s identity, which makes Pedro as adamant as before. He suspects that there was a plot between his sister and Belvile. Belvile angry with Willmore runs after him with his sword. Willmore doesn’t know his offence.

Angellica is very angry at her love for Willmore not being returned. Willmore tries to mollify her suspicions but to no purpose. Hellena enters dressed as a young man and in order to vex him tells Angellica an invented tale of his treachery. Willmore wants to get away to meet his little gipsy but Angellica wouldn’t let him go. Eventually, he discovers the young man to be his little gipsy and turns the tables on her. Don Antonio is announced and Hellena runs away for fear of discovery.

Angellica is still angry and vows revenge.

Act IV, Scene III

Florinda had been confined to her room as a punishment for the plot between her and Belvile. She runs away from home with her cousin Valeria in the company. They wish Hellena were with them. Valeria tells her cousin that she shut up their guard Callis in her room. And also that she has informed Belvile of her decision to escape or else die than marry Antonio. She also tells her that Belvile has decided to go in search of her brother Pedro to undeceive him about any conspiracy between Florinda and him.

At the entry of Don Pedro, Belvile and Willmore, the ladies put on their masks.

The latter walk boldly by one by one so as not to arouse the men’s suspicion.

Willmore ever ready for an adventure with a woman thinks Valeria has given him an inviting look and follows her.

Frederick enters bursting with the news of Blunt’s cheating and gives the news to Belvile. Florinda finding that she is followed goes off. Willmore re-enters and goes out with Valeria following him. Hellena also enters and spying Willmore, vows to find his haunts and plague him everywhere. When she sees Pedro, she runs off.

Act IV, Scene IV, V

Florinda fearing that she is pursued by her brother seeks shelter in a place that turns out to be Blunt’s and his friend’s.

Blunt is full of anger at being cheated by a woman and is meditating revenge against all women. Florinda appeals to him for help but Blunt threatening vengeance proceeds to molest her. She implores him for kindness and tries to resist him. Frederick enters the scene and is ready to join Blunt in wreaking revenge that has a double pleasure in it. Florinda now desperate appeals to them to treat her with kindness for the sake of Belvile. She also gives Blunt a diamond ring. They reluctantly agree to reprieve her till they see Belvile.

A servant comes saying that Belvile and a Spanish gentleman have come. Blunt however doesn’t wish to see them and asks Frederick to lock the woman up in his chamber. Blunt then tells the servant to say that he is not at home.

Act IV, Scene VI

Blunt unsuccessfully tries to bar the entry of Belvile and his Spanish companion to his room. He offers several excuses but Belvile has the door broken. All the English friends and Pedro are there. They all have great fun at Blunt’s expense and at Lucetta’s treachery. Blunt shows them the ring that Florinda has given him to escape molestation. Belvile at once understands that Blunt’scaptive is no other than Florinda and vainly tries to save her. The friends are all eager to see the woman. They draw lots. The wench falls to the share of Pedro since he has the longest sword. Valeria enters and saves Florinda from discovery by Pedro by sending him on a hunt for her.

Florinda is thus saved but her identity comes as a surprise to Willmore, Frederick and Blunt. They all apologize for their misbehaviour.

Valeria suggests immediate marriage for the lovers. A priest is sent for. She herself is paired off with Frederick. The two couples go for the marriage ceremony.

Angellica comes wearing a disguise. Willmore runs to her thinking that it is his little gipsy. But Angellica calling him a base villain draws a pistol and holds it to his breast.

She pulls off her vizard. But Willmore tries to laugh the whole matter off. Angellica charges him not only with undoing numerous foolish believing girls but also with teaching her to love. This love, she says, has robbed her of her pride, and given her a mean submissive passion and enslaved her. What is more, he has forsworn all his vows.

Willmore counters this by saying that everyone breaks vows and adds that her lover, the old general, had spoiled her and made her excessively vain.

Angellica charges him with destroying her innocent security and made her aware that nothing could compensate her for the loss of her honour.

Willmore replies by saying that he doesn’t value constancy and says: “I must, like cheerful birds, sing in all groves, and perch on every bough.” He returns her gold.

Antonio comes looking for Angellica and takes her pistol away. When he comes to know that it was Willmore who had taken down the little picture (Act II.i), he is happy to get the opportunity to shoot him. He professes love for Angellica, something that surprises Pedro, and pleases her. She gives him his life and goes out.

Pedro is finally reconciled to Belvile and his sister.

Willmore follows Belvile and Pedro but Hellena dressed as before in boy’s clothes stops him.

He at once recognizes his little gipsy. Hellena asks him if he would be a faithful friend to a maid that trusted him. Willmore replies that her form and face and humour are too good for a cold dull friendship. He adores her for her good nature and invites her to a feast of lovemaking. But Hellena wants him to love her only and also to go through the ceremony of marriage before consummation of their love.

Willmore declines, saying that love and beauty have their own ceremonies and that they will have no norms but love and no witness but the lover. However, he finds her so invaluable that he is ready to go through the ceremony of marriage.

Willmore suggests that they disclose their names to each other. Ironically he calls himself Robert the Constant. In the same vein, she calls herself Hellena the Inconstant.

When the two of them are thus pledged together, enter Petro, Belvile, Florinda, Frederick and Valeria. Both Pedro and Florinda are surprised to see Hellena there. When Pedro asks her what business she has there, she replies that it is to love and be loved, like everyone else of her age. Pedro charges her and Belvile with deception. The latter replies that he too is surprised but stands up for Willmore by saying that though he is a rover of fortune, he is a prince aboard his little wooden world. Hellena too says that she had changed her mind and that the three hundred thousand crowns that her uncle had left her will be better spent in love than in religion. Most of the characters support her in this. Finally, Pedro relents and gives her to Willmore.

At this point, Blunt enters dressed in a Spanish dress looking very ridiculous.

Finally, gay people in masquerade enter with music and start dancing. Belvile invites them all to a small feast. Willmore meanwhile asks Hellena to go inside for the ceremony.

Try aiPDF, our new AI assistant for students and researchers