The Theatre of Aphra Behn by Derek Hughes (auth.)

By Derek Hughes (auth.)

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Ii. 26). But, when Vallentio describes the deeds of ‘Clemanthis’ in battle, his language feminizes both speaker and subject: ‘Oh! how soft and wanton I could grow in the Description I could make of him’ (I. i. 17 In the single combat, Thersander fights a feminine duplication of himself, and finds that Cleomena’s exploit increases his ‘softness’ for her (IV. iv. 3). The most remarkable overlap of the male and female occurs when Amintas rescues Urania from Orsames, providing him in quick succession with his first experiences of a woman and young man.

It is also to bring Thersander close to death at Cleomena’s. His solution to the dilemma of how to fight himself had been to get his friend Amintas to disguise himself as Clemanthis; Cleomena had assumed the disguise after the first false Clemanthis had been attacked, and apparently murdered, by jealous rivals. Cleomena believes that Clemanthis has been murdered by Thersander, and this misconception – ‘The Mistake’ of the play’s subtitle – leads to the second act of violence between the lovers, when she attempts to murder him in revenge.

The text becomes the dagger. At this moment when she links her language so uncompromisingly to brutal action, however, Cleomena loses her authority. She is captured; she becomes subject to the dictates of the Scythian king; and she is put in fetters. In differentiating the kinds of power available to the sexes, Behn repeatedly contrasts the kinds of bondage to which they are subjected. In particular, she contrasts the male rhetoric which declares lovers to be the slaves of their mistresses with the women’s actual physical vulnerability to servitude, implying that the men’s emotional abasement before the women is a luxury sanctioned by their retention of physical mastery.

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The Theatre of Aphra Behn by Derek Hughes (auth.)
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