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"Jack Presbyter in His Proper Habit": subverting Whig rhetoric in Aphra Behn's The Roundheads (1682)

Adcock, Rachel

"Jack Presbyter in His Proper Habit": subverting Whig rhetoric in Aphra Behn's The Roundheads (1682) Thumbnail



Aphra Behn’s The Roundheads (1st perf. 1681, pub. 1682) was produced during a propaganda battle between the Whigs and Tories and set during the Interregnum in order to draw parallels between parliamentary usurpation and the Whig plea for
“liberty and property”. This article explores several contexts for the play, discussing the political atmosphere of the early 1680s, using this to speculate on the play’s propagandist message and its possible presentation in the theatre. In particular, it compares the annual Pope-burning processions with the play’s final bonfire scene, showing how Behn subverts this tradition in order to punish the bumbling, nonconformist usurpers, and explores its presentation of the Puritan lay-preacher (and proto-Whig), Ananias. Behn is clearly interested in playing with and undermining Whig traditions, slogans, and rhetoric, and subverts these in several ways. However, although The Roundheads’ anti-Whig message is undisputable, this article also considers whether the play questions the behaviour of the victorious (though rakish) cavaliers, particularly in their treatment of women. By considering the presentation of the “constant couple”, Freeman and Lady Desbro’ (who seems unlikely to ever become Lady “Freewoman” owning her “liberty and property”), the article suggests that the play’s message is more complex than Behn scholars have previously argued.

Publication Date Dec 6, 2014
Journal Women's Writing
Print ISSN 0969-9082
Publisher Routledge
Pages 34 -55
Keywords literature


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