Aphra Who?

Aphra Who?

Aphra Behn by Mary Beale

You know her, the old school (proto)feminist writer all the new school feminist writers are cutting their proverbial teeth on these days.

Thanks to efforts made by scholars and historians over the past few decades, Aphra Behn enjoys a vibrant afterlife these days–a lively one, indeed, for a female playwright from the 17th century (often referred to as the Restoration period because the Stuarts were literally ‘restored’ to the throne with the ascent of Charles II in 1660, after decades of civil war and political instability in England.)

Behn’s renewed fame is not just a product of the trend to piece together a women’s literary history by recuperating forgotten female authors, but also a result of the fact that she possessed both immense literary talent and keen insight into the time in which she lived and the human condition in general.  Her plays’ stylistic elements and themes–from playful, sarcastic banter and gender-bending role-reversals to the goods and evils of sex, marriage, and politics–still resonate today.

As a matter of fact, Aphra Behn is the inspiration behind Or, a new play by Liz Duffy, currently running at Women’s Project in New York City.  (At the end of this post, I have pasted the information about the play and its author from the press release on the WP website.)

Aphra Behn wrote 18 full-length plays, 19 if you count The Second Part of the Rover as a separate play.  This post marks the beginning of my reading journey through Behn’s entire dramatic canon (she also wrote poetry and fiction– her novella Oroonoko (1688) is often cited as one of the first English novels). I’ll be reading in choronological order if you want to join in at any point.

Below is a complete list of her plays with premiere dates (plays were often licensed/published around the time o they were staged so that manuscript sales would benefit from the production publicity; in other cases, publication followed months to years after production.):

The Forc’d Marriage (1671)

The Amorous Prince (1671)

The Dutch Lover (1673)

Abdelazer (1677)

The Town-Fopp (1677)

The Debauchee (1677)

The Rover (1677)

Sir Patient Fancy (1678)

The Feign’d Curtizans (1679)

The Revenge (1680)

The Second Part of the Rover (1681)

The False Count (1682)

The Roundheads (1682)

The City-Heiress (1682)

The Young King (1683)

The Emperor of the Moon (1687)

The Lucky Chance (1687)

The Widdow Ranter (1690)

The Younger Brother (1696)

About Or and author Liz Duffy (from Women’s Project website):

World Premiere
Or by Liz Duffy Adams, directed by Wendy McClellan
October 29 – November 22 at Women’s Project, 424 West 55th Street
Designed by Jennifer Moeller (sets), Andrea Lauer (costumes), Deb Sullivan (lights), and Elizabeth Rhodes (sound).

Aphra Behn is getting out of the spy trade and into show biz, if she can only write her play without interruptions from her love life – celebrity Nell Gwynne, King Charles II, and double-agent William Scott, among others. While war rages and Aphra and her friends celebrate free love, cross-dressing and pastoral lyricism, the 1660s start to look a lot like the 1960s. Verse or prose, now or then, love or death… and a lot of kissing.

Playwright Liz Duffy Adams is a WP Lab alumna, a New Dramatists alumna (2001-2008) and a recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Award, a Will Glickman Award, a Frederick Loewe Award in Music Theatre, a Weston Playhouse Music Theater Award, and a commission from Children’s Theater Company, Minneapolis. Her work has been written, produced, or developed at the Humana Festival, Portland Center Stage, Portland Stage Company, Syracuse Stage, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, MacDowell Colony, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Millay Colony for the Arts, New Georges, Shotgun Players, Moxie Theater, Clubbed Thumb, and Crowded Fire Theater among other organizations. Publications include Poodle With Guitar And Dark Glasses in Applause’s “Best American Short Plays 2000-2001,” numerous short plays and monologues in anthologies from Heinemann and Smith & Kraus, and several plays published by Playscripts, Inc. Adams was profiled in American Theatre magazine’s December 2004 issue. BFA: NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing; MFA: Yale School of Drama.


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