Episode Three

A Feminine Monarchy

Written and produced by Savannah Dorriety, Aramis Mullins, and Ke-Anna Rich (cite)

In this episode, Ke-Anna, Aramis, and Savannah try to figure out exactly what about the newly-restored monarchy Behn’s works valorize and critique, with some help from an interview with Dr. Michelle Dowd (University of Alabama), director of the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies.

Show Notes

Segment 1: Behn and Royalism

In this first segment, the hosts go over the conventional scholar’s approach to Behn’s view of monarchy and interview Dr. Michelle Dowd about women, literature, and the monarchy.

In this segment, the following resources are mentioned:

  • Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko and Other Writings. Edited by Paul Salzman, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Behn, Aphra. The Rover and Other Plays. Edited by Jane Spencer, Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Todd, Janet. “Behn, Aphra Aphara, Writer (1640?–1689).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 23 Sept. 2004, doi: 10.1093/ref:odnb/1961.
  • Van Renen, Denys. “Reimagining Royalism in Aphra Behn’s America.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, vol. 53, no. 3, 2013, pp. 499–521, doi: 10.1353/sel.2013.0034.

Segment 2: Critiques of Monarchy

In segment two, the hosts explore critiques of monarchy, and particularly the Divine Right of Kings, within Behn’s Works.

In this segment, the following resources are mentioned:

  • Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko and Other Writings. Edited by Paul Salzman, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Behn, Aphra. The Rover and Other Plays. Edited by Jane Spencer, Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Griffin, Megan. “Dismembering the Sovereign in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko.” English Literary History, vol. 86, no. 1, 2019, pp. 107–33, doi: 10.1353/elh.2019.0004.
  • Todd, Janet. “Behn, Aphra Aphara, Writer (1640?–1689).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 23 Sept. 2004, doi: 10.1093/ref:odnb/1961.

Segment 3: Women and Authority Figures

In segment three, the hosts discuss the parallels of nobility in Behn’s work and the seventeenth century monarchy.

In this segment, the following resources are mentioned:

  • Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko and Other Writings. Edited by Paul Salzman, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Kewes, Paulina. “The Regicide.” Stuarts Online, from the universities of Exeter and Oxford (an AHRC project), 15 Mar. 2016, http://stuarts-online.com/resources/films/the-regicide/.

Segment 4: Monarchy or Matriarchy?

In segment four, the hosts discuss the inversion of the gendered power structure by the roles of women in Behn’s writing.

In this segment, the following resources are mentioned:


(CW) Note this episode makes reference to the enslavement of people of color.

ELIZABETH. Author, spy, political propagandist, Aphra Behn was one of the first English women to earn a living by her pen. Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the English Civil Wars, expanding transatlantic slave trade, and settler colonialism in the Americas, with frankness and complexity Behn’s work engages a range of topics, from gender identity to political power.

My name is Elizabeth Tavares and I am so pleased to welcome you to “Aphra Behn: The Podcast.” This limited series celebrates the 350th anniversary of the first public performance of a work by Behn, surveying major trends across translations of romances and scientific texts, timely plays, erotic poetry, and inventive novellas. Researched, written, and produced by University of Alabama undergraduates during the coronavirus global pandemic in the spring of 2021, this series offers a primer to one of the most influential writers in English you’ve never heard of.

Listen to the seven episodes, covering topics from climate and gambling to gossip and marriage, in any order. Each episode includes a special feature, including short performances from plays and interviews with world-class scholars. Want to learn more? Check out our website for show notes as well as links to popular and scholarly resources. We’re grateful to the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, the Samford Media Center, and the Alabama Digital Humanities Center for their support of this project. And thank you for listening. Now on with the show.

KE-ANNA. Welcome to “Aphra Behn: The Podcast”! We’re your hosts

ARAMIS. Aramis Mullins,

SAVANNAH. Savannah Dorriety,

KE-ANNA. and Ke-Anna Rich. In this episode we’ll be exploring the intersection of feminism and royalism in the works of Aphra Behn.

ARAMIS. The conventionally scholarly narrative is that Behn was a Royalist, and that her works across a range of genres reflected this political point-of-view. For example, Denys Van Renen describes Behn as “a devoted Royalist . . . desperately searching for a way to recover from fifty years of intense domestic strife interrupted only by the brief euphoria of Charles’s Restoration in 1660.” Even the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography argues that in the 1670s Behn “became a propagandist for the king and the emerging Tory faction.” Combined with Jane Spencer’s introduction to her plays framing Behn as “opposed to any rebellion against the Stuarts,” the political picture seems uncomplicated.

ARAMIS. Most of these sources focus on Behn’s life, rather than focusing on her writing. We can certainly see themes of royalism within Behn’s works, examples of such being found in her focus on nobility, particularly in-born nobility, in Oroonoko and The History of the Nun.

SAVANNAH. In her poem, “The Cabal at Nickey Nackeys,” the speaker calls for, “a pox of the statesman that’s witty / Who watches and plots all the sleepless night: / For seditious harangues, to the Whigs of the city.” Here is an exceedingly anti-Whig sentiment, particularly pointing out how they do nothing but plot the downfall of the monarchy.

KE-ANNA. Despite this surface political position, throughout her body of work Behn presents ideas contrary to monarchy—or rather the idea of a male-dominated monarchy—and even at times elevates the idea of a feminine monarchy. According to the ODNB, which Behn “resisted the idea of writing for William III . . . She did, however, supply a Congratulatory Poem to . . . Queen Mary II”; specifically addressing the female monarch rather than the male seems to shift support to women in power.

SAVANNAH. To learn more, we talked with Professor Michelle Dowd, the director of the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama, and a specialist in early modern women’s writing. What was the status of women writers in the early modern period?

DR. DOWD. So, what I would say is, there was a kind of contradictory status. On the one hand there are a lot of pressures in place, social policies, and the status of women in general being understood as subordinate to men during the period meant that there were some opportunities that were just simply not available to a lot of women writers, especially in the first half of the seventeenth century. They couldn’t be Shakespeare and write a play for the stage or something like that. That just wasn’t possible. But there were women who wrote, they just often wrote in different capacities. A lot of aristocratic women were able to write and they wrote poetry or drama, like Elizabeth Cary, that circulated in different ways. So maybe it wasn’t performed at the Globe like one of Shakespeare’s plays, but had reached different kinds of audiences. And those women were very much respected for their writing: they were often patrons of male writers from the period, so there was a nice kind of interchange between male and female writers.

SAVANNAH. You mentioned that a lot of aristocratic women were writing. Was there a significant difference in the agency of average women and these upper class, elite women?

DR. DOWD. I think, maybe even more than agency, it’s about opportunity, that access. Some of it was about literacy rates and education. Aristocratic women were often educated to very high levels. Maybe they weren’t sent away to university or anything like that but they would have had a tutor in their family and they would’ve been taught Greek and Latin, and have read Classical materials and been reading poetry as well as writing it. So they would’ve just had access to those kinds of experiences whereas a lot of lower class women would not. They would’ve had less access and networks. I guess we would think of it as networking. You would know the people you would need to know in order to get things published.

SAVANNAH. Were women writers at the time drawn to certain topics or questions, certain concerns, more so than others?

DR. DOWD. One topic that women wrote a lot about, especially in the first half of the century, is religion. That was something that women were encouraged to write about. So you have a whole bunch of religious texts, you have poetry, you have prose, you have books that we would think of as advice books, and those were very, very popular and that was certainly an area or a topic that was seen as acceptable for women to write about. So, in some ways women could take advantage of that to publish their works and disseminate their ideas. But I think it’s sometimes we might assume that women were drawn to certain kinds of topics, but when you actually dig in and look there are some that might stick out, like the religious material. But then there’s a lot that is quite divergent. You see women writing on a whole range of things. Aphra Behn’s a great example of course. She certainly doesn’t write about just religious topics or anything like that but she about a whole range of things that were also of interest to male playwrights in the period as well.

SAVANNAH. Were there women writing about politics at this time, and specifically the monarchy?

DR. DOWD. Yes, in a way. Sometimes indirectly. Sometimes in those advice books, like I mentioned, there would be indirect or veiled discussions of politics. For both male or female writers depending on when you’re writing it could be dangerous to write really explicitly about politics. But again there are exceptions to that. First of all you have people like Queen Elizabeth who wrote their own material and she certainly wrote about her status and her position as a monarch in her speeches and some of her other writings. And you also have a playwright like Elizabeth Cary who wrote a play called The Tragedy of Mariam, which is based on a kind of Biblical narrative, but it talks about a queen. It really is about tyranny, you know, a tyrannical governor King Herod and how the court responds and how this woman responds. So that’s very much political, and some people have read it kind of allegorically that she was talking about contemporary issues. And then in the Civil War period you had a lot of people, both women and men, write much more explicitly about politics. So there’s a whole group of women, especially women who are Protestant women who came from what were considered the more radical sects of Protestantism like Quaker women, Adventist women, Levelers, who wrote petitions to the government so they were directly engaged in political writing. So they were religious but they were also very political. They used that platform to say really explicit things about critiquing the king or critiquing Cromwell.

SAVANNAH. A lot of scholars have also described Aphra Behn as royalist, and she does write a lot about monarchy as, maybe, the ideal form of government but a lot of the veiled messages within that writing seem to us to suggest a kind of inversion of the monarchy, to a matriarchy where women would be in power. Do you think there are other examples of this at the time?

DR. DOWD. Yeah. Actually that makes me think immediately of Margaret Cavendish, in her text The Blazing World, it’s like a fantasy world where she imagines this woman getting transported to this other world, but what happens is she is made as the empress of that world. And then she kind of imagines herself as this absolute ruler over this fictional world, and all the things she would do if she was ruler of this world. It’s a great text. And something that a scholar named Catherine Gallagher has argued, really interestingly, is that for Margaret Cavendish and other really strong female figures—women writers in the period that we think of as almost proto-feminist or having a really strong voice for women—a lot of them are supportive of the monarchy and they kind of use that figure of the monarch to rethink women’s power. So, in other words, the monarchy offers a kind of template for thinking about a different way that women can take some kind of power or have some agency. One thing to think about, the only public governmental position that was available to women was the queen. You could be queen. You couldn’t be a mayor or governor or sit on the House of Lords or something in this period but you could be queen. And obviously Elizabeth was queen, Mary was queen, there were other queens, and so in some ways that’s the one option that’s plausible. I mean, obviously you can’t just decide “I’m gonna go be queen,” but it is one where there are role models or models available for writers to look at.

SAVANNAH. How are other women being characterized by female writers?

DR. DOWD. People like Margaret Cavendish are also very elitist. She writes very strongly about women’s ability to run a household, be an empress in this imaginary world but she’s very critical of lower class women. She finds she sort of doesn’t have much time for lower class women and doesn’t feel that they have the same abilities that she does or women like her. So there’s definitely a class bias that you see there.

SAVANNAH. Among these aristocratic women, what kind of agency would they have had?

DR. DOWD. Aristocratic women would have had more contacts and more influence, I guess, in their communities. And so I think women did have quite a bit of certain kinds of authority and there’s certain kinds of authority they wouldn’t have had, their political authority would have been more indirect, right? Influencing people rather than taking on a big leadership role in the community.

SAVANNAH. It seems like these women, rather than being rebels as you mentioned before, are working within the patriarchal system to gain their power, would you agree with that?

DR. DOWD. I think that’s a great way of thinking about it. I think that’s helpful for thinking about both historical women and what they could actually do in their lives and also the kinds of writing that women did like maybe certain forms of writing like writing for the public stage before the Restoration was not available for women. But they could do other things they could write dramas that weren’t performed publicly but maybe were performed privately, they could circulate poetry and manuscripts, they could do other kinds of writing. It’s often these kind of private writings like diaries and things that we think of as really private but that often had a bit of a more public role. They were intended to document the virtue or the skill of a particular woman, like “look at how orderly I am, look at how godly I am, look at I’ve maintained all this,” and so those are all things that are working within the system. I guess they aren’t saying I’m gonna overthrow my role and do something completely outlandish and different. So I think that’s a great way to put it. And I think if we only look for rebel rousers in the past, we’ll find some, there were definitely some, and even Aphra Behn was a bit of a rebel rouser but if we only look for that we’re only gonna get part of the picture and we might actually dismiss some women who were doing really interesting things and writing really interesting things but we just need to attend to it a little more carefully because it doesn’t look as rebellious as some of these other examples.

KE-ANNA. Aphra Behn seems to use this technique of veiled criticism in her play, The Emperor of the Moon. While the play does not seem obviously rebellious, it features certain themes that seem to indirectly critique the monarchy and more specifically the Divine Right of Kings.

ARAMIS. In it, the royals are nothing more than a farce constructed by two pairs of lovers so that they may wed each other. The kingdom in the moon that the farce is built around is labeled a “Eutopia.”

SAVANNAH. Most would consider this in favor of royalism considering a utopia is typically associated with perfection. However, utopias are also defined as being nonexistent. What’s interesting here though is the way Behn spells it: E-U-T-O-P-I-A, rather than the spelling we typically think of. This is not just some error of the time period, the “E-U” changes the meaning. In this sense, eutopia is meant to be a place of ideal happiness, as we would initially suspect. So why would Behn use this form of the word?

KE-ANNA. Well, the play itself is full of contradictions, starting right from the dedicatory epistle. In the context of the “eutopia,” Behn is craftily using dramatic irony by drawing attention to a perfect but impossible ideal government. Allowing the audience to be in on the joke early on, by way of telling them the entire moon world is a farce. And, by the end, all the characters are in on how foolish the idea is, with the Doctor proclaiming “see my happy recantation of all the follies fables have inspired till now.” The doctor’s newfound disregard for the kingdom in the moon, highlights a rejection of the concept of divinity and perfection often associated with monarchy.

ARAMIS. Around this time, divinity and monarchy went hand in hand. For example, “those of the fiery regions we call the salamanders: they beget kings and heroes, with spirits like their dietetical sires.” Though this talk of deities is all part of the ruse of The Emperor of the Moon, it not only ties into the supposed divinity of kings, but brings up an interesting implication that men are “fiery” by nature. Kings in particular. This is seen all throughout the play on a smaller scale, with all the men tending to make rash and aggressive decisions while the women appear level-headed. This may hint towards a reasoning for why a woman run monarchy might succeed better than one led by men. Elaria’s later dream of “entertain[ing] a demi-god” once again gives into this idea of monarchs being divine and leads to the concept Divine Right of Kings.

SAVANNAH. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, (quote) “divine right of kings. . . claimed according to the doctrine that (legitimate) kings derive their power from God alone, unlimited by any rights on the part of their subjects.” In her Pindaric, “On the Death of Our Late Sovereign,” the speaker stresses that when the king died there was “no dire warning to the world given: / No hurricanes on earth! No blazing fires in Heaven!” This may present evidence against the notion of the Divine Right of Kings. Since the king’s power is sanctioned by God, it goes without saying that to deny a king of his power would go against God’s will.

KE-ANNA. In this passage, however, God gives no reaction in regards to the fallen king—the murdered king. As such, it’s almost as if the Divine Right of Kings is being thrown out the window. That and the speaker’s frequent questions about why there is no natural upheaval or divine intervention.

ARAMIS. Delving even further into this Pindaric, it appears to point to a critique of how the king ruled in general. As the speaker seems to point out that under the king, there were many problems that were unsolved. For example, “the fates, vicissitudes, and pains, / Of mighty monarchies, and mighty kings . . . Where zealous mischiefs, frauds, rebellions, reign, / Like Moses, he had lead the murm’ring crowd.” In truth, the poem is rather ambiguous about how well the king is actually handling these problems. Using Moses as an analogy, would make it seem almost positive, yet it is still not entirely clear whether the king is helping or hindering the regulation of the issues. Here, instead of using his power to prevent these things, it could be that the king’s actions or lack of action are leading the citizens to, rather than away from these issues.

SAVANNAH. Further ideas contradictory to a male-dominated monarchy are found in Behn’s novel Oroonoko. In it lies a symbolic disestablishment of male power, as seen through Oroonoko’s death scene. Though the speaker is not present for Oroonoko’s death, she mentions that the executioner, “first cut off his members and threw them into the fire.” With “his members” being phallic in nature, this is a show of cutting off male power. This cut is not only emasculating Oroonoko, it, along with his death, completely ends his bloodline.

ARAMIS. More pointedly, his royal bloodline.

KE-ANNA. This relates it to the idea of homo sacer, a concept from Giorgio Agamben, which Scholar Megan Griffin clarifies as “the fundamental basis of sovereignty is revealed through the figure of the homo sacer, or sacred life, a kind of life which is subject to neither divine nor human law and is defined solely by its ability to be killed (but not sacrificed or murdered).” Homo sacer and sovereignty have to co-exist because the sovereign is defined as being above the law and as such, has the ability to kill, with civil life being the middle ground between them. This makes bringing Oroonoko, someone of noble blood, down to the level of homo sacer especially telling.

ARAMIS. Even though Oroonoko is executed by means of dismemberment, he still faced the executioner nobly without begging for mercy, as they “cut his ears, and his nose, and burned them. He still smoked on, as if nothing had touched him.” Charles I suffered regicide just as Oroonoko did, but was beheaded and not dismembered.

SAVANNAH. However, he, like Oroonoko, also nobly accepted his death. According to the Stuart’s Online podcast episode, “The Regicide,” Charles I wore an extra shirt to keep himself from shivering in the cold because he didn’t want to seem afraid. Isabella from The History of the Nun is a parallel to the previous regicides, for she, like Charles I, was “tried and condemned to lose her head, which sentence she joyfully received.” Despite the three of them having been condemned to such horrific fates, the two fictional characters conduct themselves with dignity even when facing their deaths in parallel to the real event of Charles I’s execution.

ARAMIS. The portrayal of dignity in the face of execution seems to place Isabella on equal standing with the two, male monarchs. With Isabella gaining this equality with monarchs in the face of execution, the idea of equality for a woman in government is suggested.

SAVANNAH. The use of conquest language to describe women as the conquerors further suggests this preference for a female monarch. Oroonoko is completely smitten by Imoinda, and compares her to a queen as a way to express his desire, when he “told her with his eyes that he was not insensible of her charms; while Imoinda, . . . wished for nothing more than so glorious a conquest.”

KE-ANNA. Imoinda’s inherent conquest over a monarch begins to show the flip of these gender dynamics. In her dedicatory epistle to the Duchess of Mazarine, Behn conveys a similar dynamic by praising, “all the numerous conquest Your Grace has made over the hearts of men.”The language of conquest associated with a woman is seen once again here. The Duchess of Mazarine assumes the role of conqueror over men, a role typically played by male monarchs, and, like Imoinda, extends that conquest over the traditional conqueror. This draws a parallel between the position of power held by male conquerors while also placing women above this position. In doing so, the work once again suggests a preference for a feminized monarchy.

ARAMIS. The inversion of the gendered power structure is another major theme of Behn’s work that seems to convey this preference for a feminized monarchy. The portrayal of women’s agency is important to this message.

SAVANNAH. As previously mentioned, The History of the Nun opens with a dedicatory epistle to the Duchess of Mazarine, an exemplar of female autonomy at the time. Not only did the duchess leave her husband of her own will, but also became the mistress of Charles II while keeping several other lovers. The duchess’s control over her own decisions without regard for the men who traditionally would have functioned as authority figures, to the point of being openly unfaithful to the King of England, highlight the dramatic shift in power brought about by agency.

KE-ANNA. By dedicating her work to the Duchess, Behn promotes this autonomy for women as a positive, establishing the idea that women could overcome the traditional gendered power structure even on a royal level. The speaker in The History of the Nun states, “women are by nature more constant and just than men, and did not their first lover teach them the trick of change, they would be doves that never quit their mate.” This idea in tandem with the background of the Duchess, to whom the story is dedicated, seems to vindicate the woman in an adulterous situation, while placing blame on the man. A sentiment highly unpopular at the time, and when considering the Duchess’s connection to the King, contradictory to Behn’s supposed staunch Royalist views.

ARAMIS. The advocacy for women’s agency within a monarchical purview continues throughout The History of the Nun, with the narrator explicitly stating things would be better if decisions were not made until a woman was “of a mature age to make her own choice.” The narrator’s advocacy is contrasted with the portrayal of Isabella’s “choice,” as an elite woman, of whether to join the monastery or not.

SAVANNAH. It doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all, when weighing the outside pressures put upon her by the wishes of her family as well as the fact that she lived most of her life within the convent.

ARAMIS. The juxtaposition highlights the contrast between the idealized ideas of noble women’s agency during the Restoration and the harsh reality that most female autonomy at the time was not autonomous at all. This seems to suggest that the English monarchy and the system of nobility that it relies on further restrict women rather than giving them more freedom.

KE-ANNA. In Oroonoko, Imoinda’s rejection of the slaveholders and her inability to reject the advances of the King convey a similar message. In this situation Imoinda, as a woman of nobility and the unofficial wife of the Prince, wields enough autonomy to defy those that quite literally own her, but not to defy the King. Reference to her “noble disdain” characterizes the rejection and the ability of elite women to reject in a positive light.

SAVANNAH. Coupled with the anguish associated with Imoinda’s submission to the King, as she is described as, “only happy when she could get alone to vent her griefs and moans with sighs and tears,” this suggests that the ability of women to accept or rebuff one’s advances should extend even to monarchs. The power structure is thus flipped by putting a woman in a position where her consent trumps even royalty.

ARAMIS. Not just contained to the poems and prose, but the women in plays like The Rover are also a prime example of the inversion of the gendered power structure through the rejection of the marriage marketplace. Florinda is engaged first to a much older, rich man, then to the young and handsome Antonio who also holds a substantial fortune. These men highlight the expectation of marrying for money and status, and establish the idea of marriage as a marketplace.

KE-ANNA. This idea is further reinforced when Florinda’s feelings for Belville are rebuffed with the question, “what jewels will that cavalier present you with? Those of his eyes and heart?” Florinda makes the decision to reject this marriage marketplace and marry Belville anyways. Such an act puts Florinda in a position of power over her family who is bound by the church to recognize her marriage.

ARAMIS. In relation to her arranged marriage, Florinda claims she, “shall let him see [she] understands better what’s due to [her] beauty, birth and fortune . . . than to obey those unjust commands.” In her essay, “Rape and the Female Subject in Aphra Behn’s The Rover,” Anita Pacheco interprets this assertion as Florinda, “[defining] her independence in the very patriarchal terms that invalidate it.”

SAVANNAH. By linking her right to choose her partner with her birth and fortune, she is inverting the patriarchal system of nobility for her own gain. This use of the gendered power structure against itself further conveys a preference for a feminized monarchy, by portraying women in positions of power within the previously male-dominated system.

KE-ANNA. Isabella, from The History of the Nun, assumes a similar role in her rejection of the marriage marketplace. Though Henault worries about losing his wealth and status by marrying Isabella and thus helping her break her vows to Heaven, Isabella asserts that, “grandeur and magnificence [are] useless trifles to lovers, wholly needless and troublesome.”

SAVANNAH. She goes on to claim she and Henault should, “laugh at fortune and the proud.” This statement is a rejection not only of wealth but of the nobility as well. Isabella is thus rebelling against the marriage marketplace and the Church, as well as the system of nobility that sustains the monarchy.

ARAMIS. Behn further characterizes this inversion of the gendered power structure through the re- gendering of desire. In The Rover, Helena is referred to as a “little rover.” This title is often used to describe Wilmore and his sexual inconstancy, so attributed to Helena in this way, suggests a promiscuity not afforded to women of “quality.”

SAVANNAH. Re-gendering this title by assigning it to a woman, highlights a re-gendering of desire itself. This idea is further supported by Helena’s quest to find a man to “spoil [her] devotion,” and her subsequent pursuit of Wilmore. By portraying a woman in a role where she seeks fulfillment of her own desires, the patriarchal power structure, that sees women’s desires as subordinate, is upended.

KE-ANNA. This theme of women taking charge of sexual desire is also present in the case of Angellica. When discussing the price of the famous courtesan and sex worker, one of the Englishmen remarks at the, “honor and decency [with which] whoring’s established.” The juxtaposition of these characteristics with a profession often viewed as lowly and immoral, shows how Angellica has taken control of desire, particularly that of men, in such a way as to shift the implications of her trade, and gain a sort of status for herself.

ARAMIS. It is likely Angellica was not a prized asset in the marriage marketplace due to lack of wealth or status. Coupled with the enoblement of her position as a prostitute and the scores of noblemen vying to be her lover, this shows how female control over desire can put women in a place of power, above the system of nobility that formerly dominated them. A rebellion against this system of nobility suggests a rebellion against the monarchy that it upholds.

SAVANNAH. Through the use of critiques of male monarchs, parallels between female characters and authority figures, and the inversion of the gendered power structure Aphra Behn’s writings suggest a push for women in government from as far back as the seventeenth century. This push is important now more than ever, especially with the election of the first woman vice president of the United States in 2021.

[Soundbite from Vice President Harris: 7 seconds]

ARAMIS. We have seen similar advancement for women in power in territory more familiar to Aphra Behn.

KE-ANNA. In a recent article, the BBC explained that the line of succession to the English throne has been reformed to include women rather than have the throne be reserved for the first born son. This ultimately means should the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a daughter first, then sons afterwards, the daughter will be granted entitlement to the throne.

SAVANNAH. Now, three hundred and fifty years after the staging of Aphra Behn’s first play, we see the push for feminized political equality perhaps coming to fruition on both sides of the Atlantic.

ARAMIS. We appreciate you taking the time to listen to this episode of “Aphra Behn: The Podcast,” Monarchy or Matriarchy.

SAVANNAH. Thanks again to our guest Dr. Michelle Dowd.

KE-ANNA. If you enjoyed this segment check out the other episodes in this series.