Editing Aphra Behn in the Digital Age

Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

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Reading ‘The Rover’

St Peter’s Church, Canterbury (image copyright Elaine Hobby)

Reading The Rover with 18 other Aphra Behn afficionados in St Peter’s church in Canterbury. With an audience of curious onlookers who stayed and stayed, even as the church got colder and colder. That might not be everyone’s ideal Bank Holiday activity, but for me, nothing could have been more dazzling. And the fact that this coincided with a supposedly national jubilee for Elizabeth II means that I shall always remember my version of a street party.

The Rover is not only (perhaps) Behn’s best play – certainly, her most successful, being performed in London every season for decades after her death – it is also very dear to my heart. Having taught it (at least) a hundred times over the years, and seen (I think) twelve productions, I’ve also edited it for our Cambridge Edition of the Works of Aphra Behn, and it will appear in Volume II in 2023.

Angellica Bianca with pistol (image copyright Charlotte Cornell)

But being required to ‘be’ Willmore – I had no control over the casting! – I learned how wholly callous he is. Despite the occasional flights of poetic fancy, he is entirely without conscience – or, indeed, any sense that a person might need one. Having made friends with ‘Angellica Bianca’ before we started, I was very glad when she accepted with alacrity the use of my grandsons’ mock-gun as she forced Willmore to back across the stage, again and again. I’d always thought it a great pity that Don Antonio should happen by just as Angellica has told Willmore that she has to kill him ‘for the publick safety of our sex’. Such a shame.

If that’s your idea of fun, do come along on Saturday 11 June to Canterbury to participate in – or just watch, if you prefer – the reading of Behn’s last play to be premiered, The Younger Brother. The play’s not as well-known as it should be, though Margarete Rubik’s edition in Volume IV of The Cambridge Edition is starting to change that. Central is Mirtilla – married, juggling with that the passionate attraction to her of two men, and herself infatuated with her page who turns out, of course, to be a woman. What’s not to enjoy?

A reading of The Rover, St Peter’s Church, Canterbury (image copyright Elaine Hobby)

Participants are invited to sign up on the Canterbury Commemoration Society Events page. Or, if you want to come but are too snowed under this month, how about The Widow Ranter on 2 July?

Upcoming Events: 9th July 2022

Canterbury Cathedral. Located in Canterbury, Kent, England, UK. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

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.

Close-up, Aphra Behn’s Widdow Ranter (1690), Folger Shakespeare Library, B1774.

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.

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