Monday, September 28, 2015

Who Is Aphra Behn?

Aphra Behn, portrait by Peter Lely
Shockingly little is known of the first 27 years of Aphra Behn's life, due mostly to the unusual absence of any records of her existence during that time. Much of the biographical information presented in this play is true… or at least as likely to be true as any other scholarly theories. What we do know is that she was a spy for the English crown who went on to be one of the first professional female playwrights in the English language. While surprisingly traditional in some of her ideas, including her fierce loyalty to Charles II, her work contained ideas about gender, race, and sexuality that would have been extremely progressive from any writer of the time, but especially a woman. She paved the way for a new generation of English women to not only write professionally but live independently, inspiring 20th Century author Virginia Woolf to comment, "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds." She died at the (assumed) age of 48, her tomb inscribed with the words, "Here lies a proof that wit can never be defense enough against mortality."