Saturday 9 July this year will be quite a day for Aphra Behn in her home city of Canterbury. Both the Canterbury organizations that Elaine Hobby has been working with have chosen that date for events celebrating Behn and advertising her achievements to a wider public. If you are interested in a trip to Canterbury (or perhaps are already based there) and fancy a Behn-focused day, please join us. It is less than a week before the start of the Early Modern Words conference in Loughborough.
First, during the day on 9 July, the bronze maquettes that are competing to be the basis of a life-size statue of Aphra in Canterbury will be on display at Canterbury Cathedral, in the Chapter House. These four mini-statues, made by world-class sculptors Victoria Atkinson, Meredith Bergmann, Maurice Blik, and Christine Charlesworth, will be accompanied by information about Behn and her Canterbury years co-written by the A Is for Aphra campaign leader, Charlotte Cornell, and Elaine Hobby. Visitors to the Cathedral will be invited to vote for which maquette is the best image of Aphra, and to take away leaflets telling them more about her.
Then on the evening of 9 July, from 6-8 p.m., the Aphra Behn Society is hosting an Aphra Behn Garden Party in the nearby village of Ickham. The centrepiece of the evening will be the performance of extracts from Behn’s second play, The Amorous Prince(1671), by members of the Canterbury Players. Elaine, who is editing the play for the Cambridge Edition, has provided the script and some notes for the director, Sally Elkerton. This is, we believe, the first performance of The Amorous Prince since its première in 1671 – yes, that’s 351 years ago, and this July performance marks the play’s advertising for sale in the Term Catalogues.
If you can make yourself free on Saturday 9 July, do come along. Further details of the maquette tour are here. An invitation to the Garden Party (£10 per head, a fee that includes a year’s membership of the Society; £5 for those who are already members) can be achieved by contacting the Aphra Behn Society Chair@AphraBehnSocietyUK.com.
Having in the past wandered around the Shakespeare and Renaissance section of the British Library’s Discovering Literature website, I was delighted to be invited to write an article on Behn’s The Rover for their new Restoration and Eighteenth Century section. To me it is excellent news that the British Library has expanded its online teaching resources into Behn’s period, and I greatly enjoyed the chance to pitch my favourite Behn play to the anticipated ‘A-level student and general public’ reader.
The article draws on the work I’ve completed when editing The Rover for volume IV of the project’s forthcoming edition of Behn’s works (for CUP, scheduled for publication in 2020). I position the play in some of its key cultural contexts, and explore a little of its performance history both in 1677 and into the eighteenth century. The article includes information on the significance of the play’s setting in Naples, Italy; on stage courtesans; and on the English laws and conventions governing women’s place in society. I also address Restoration conceptualisations of masculinity and (of course) ideas of carnival.
Part of the delight – as well as the challenge – of writing for Discovering Literature is the need to construct an argument that is punctuated by frequent links to images and existing articles held within the British Library holdings and website archive. The benefits are enormous when used effectively – as I believe they are here. Linked resources in the BL piece include an article by Matthew White on ‘The Turbulent Seventeenth Century’, another on an engraving of Charles’s execution; a link to Coryate’s Crudities (1611) with its opinions on Italian courtesans (with connections to Othello and The Merchant of Venice); and the opportunity to explore Mary Astell’s Reflections upon Marriage (1700). Some of these links were my suggestion, and others were proposed by the Discovering Literature editors drawing on their detailed knowledge of the BL catalogue, and their understanding of the enterprise as a whole.
Title page from Mary Astell’s Reflections upon Marriage (1700). From the British Library collection (Public Domain image).
My favourite enhancements to the article are photographs from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s glorious 2016 production of The Rover – directed by Loveday Ingram. Joseph Millson’s won Best Actor award for his portrayal of Willmore (see Billington’s favourable review in The Guardian). Also enlightening are the images from the Senate House Library’s copy of the 1677 Rover, which the British Library provided so that I could discuss its use as a prompt-copy for early eighteenth century performances of the play. It shows that cuts were made to the play for this performance; most notably, an example where a speech by the courtesan Angellica Bianca was deleted at the end of a scene, resulting in an increase in Willmore’s standing and a decrease in hers.
Like all Discovering Literature articles, my introduction to The Rover is freely available under a Creative Commons Licence. I very much hope it will help to attract yet more readers and directors to Behn’s fascinating, funny play.