by Aphra Behn
Sisters Hellena and Florinda's fates have been decided for them by the men in their life, mainly their brother and father. Hellena is to enter the convent after Carnival has ended, while Florinda's father wants her to marry elderly Don Vincentio -- though her brother, Don Pedro, believes he is being more reasonable by forcing her to marry the young and wealthy Don Antonio. However, Florinda is in love with an English Colonel -- Belville -- who helped the family during a siege. Belville, part of the banished English court, has lost all access to his fortune and therefore is seen as ineligible by Florinda's family.
Fortunately it is Carnival week in Venice! So the women decide to dress up like Roma fortune tellers in an attempt to avoid their chosen fates and have a grand adventure.
Colonel Belville, meanwhile, is also wandering about the Carnival with his friends Blunt, Frederick, and Willmore when they just H.A.P.P.E.N. to run into the disguised Florinda, Hellena, and Valeria (their cousin). Willmore and Hellena -- both fiery of temper, sharp of wit, and super pretty -- flirt with one another and agree to meet up later that evening to romance each other more. While that is going on, Lucetta -- a prostitute -- begins to seduce the not terribly smart Blunt; and Florinda talks to Belville about his beloved. Because she is in disguise, Belville does not recognize Florinda, but she manages to get him a letter setting up a meeting later for the two of them before Don Pedro walks on. Hellena and Florinda flee before their brother can recognize them with Valeria. And Belville reads the letter from his beloved, telling his friends it contains instructions for Belville to come to her garden at ten that night and carry her off. They all pledge to join him and help the pair elope.
To kill some time before it's the hour to elope, Willmore, Belville, and Frederick go to see Angellica, a famous courtesan. Angellica has been under long contract to a famous Spanish general (coincidentally Don Pedro's uncle) who has recently died, an the whole town is abuzz with the fact that this tremendous beauty is available once again -- to anyone with the means to buy her, that is. Angellica's servants hang up a portrait of her outside of her house advertising just how beautiful she is and the Englishmen are astounded by her good looks, but leave when they realize it would cost one thousand crowns a month to have her. Don Pedro enters and sees the picture and the price -- being a man with the funds to pay for such a relationship and having long desired her, he quickly runs off to fetch it.
Angellica laments that no one has taken her up yet, but notes that men are not to be trusted and vows to stay away from love as she always has done and stay focused on making sufficient money to survive. She learns that both Don Pedro and Don Antonio are interested she is ready to go with whoever gives her the money first. Don Pedro soon re-enters from one side of the stage, and Don Antonio enters from the other; both men are masked and at first neither knows who the other is. But Antonio wonders out loud if he could get away with sleeping with Angellica and still marry Florinda the next day. At the mention of Florinda, Pedro recognizes Antonio and attacks him on the honor of his sister. As they fight, Willmore and Blunt enter and break them up. Pedro challenges Antonio to a duel the next day over Angellica. Antonio accepts.
Meanwhile, Willmore tries to steal one of the pictures of Angellica -- since he can't afford her in the flesh -- but Don Antonio tells him to put it back, and the two of them begin to fight. Angellica enters and yells at them for creating a ruckus outside her home, then asks Willmore to speak with her inside. Willmore goes, despite Belville and Frederick's fears that Angellica is angry with him (and despite the fact that just a few minutes ago he "fell in love" with Hellena and made plans to meet her later). Willmore tries to persuade Angellica to sleep with him for free. Normally Angellica would not agree to this, but she falls in love with Willmore's charm and good looks. They vow to love forever and begin to make love, despite the warnings from her maidservant Moretta.
Hellena can't stop thinking about Willmore. The women are out and about in new costumes when they see Belville, Blunt, and Frederick approach, and briefly eavesdrop on the men. Belville, Blunt and Frederick have come to retrieve Willmore from Angellica because he has been inside with her for two hours. Willmore comes out and brags about having enjoyed "all of the honey of matrimony but none of the sting" for free. Hellena is shocked and furious an confronts Willmore. It takes him a minute to realize this is the woman he met earlier and so he begins to flirt with her -- because, why not, it's been at least five minutes since he's had sex. Meanwhile Angellica enters, and sees Willmore betraying the vows he JUST made to her. There follows a scene where Willmore tries to keep flirting with each woman while convincing them that the other woman is not someone he is flirting with. Somehow he manages to gaslight them and set up meetings with both for later.
Florinda, meanwhile, decides to test Belville's loyalty (what with his friend being such a lying philanderer) but when she tries to seduce he shows zero interest. He only wants to be with his beloved. The women exit, but Florinda leaves Belville with a locket that he recognizes once she has gone as the one he gave to her. He then laments the missed opportunity to connect with his love while she was right in front of him.
Blunt heads off to be with the woman he thinks is in love with him, but Lucetta is actually a criminal who pretends to be about to sleep with him but steals everything -- even his clothes -- and leaves him crawling through the sewers of Venice to get to safety. Blunt is very upset about this robbery and vows to take out his rage on women.
It is late at night now, and Florinda waits in her garden for Belville wearing only a nightgown. She has unlocked the gate so that she can be rescued, but Willmore has gotten separated from his friends and enters, drunkenly mistaking Florinda for a prostitute, and immediately tries to sleep with her. When she resists he attempts to rape her, only stopped when Belville and Frederick enter, Florinda runs off. Willmore and Belville are about to fight but their noise brings Don Pedro and his servants to the garden. A fight breaks out and the English are driven off.
The Englishmen get away from Don Pedro's house and have wound up in front of Angellica's home. Willmore -- slowly sobering up -- tries to explain to a furious Belville that he didn't know who Florinda was and mistook her for a whore. Belville and Frederick leave to find Florinda.
Don Antonio then enters, hoping that his page has paid Angellica so he can sleep with her. Willmore sees this and starts a fight with Don Antonio because he's mad someone would try to steal one of the many women he is sleeping with. Antonio falls, wounded. Willmore believes he has killed Antonio and runs off. Belville runs in, fearing that it is Willmore who has been hurt, and it is he that soldiers find standing over the not-dead Antonio. Belville is arrested and the injured Antonio finds his strength and orders Belville taken to his house.
Belville thinks that he is done for even though he is innocent of injuring Don Antonio. However, he is surprised when he is offered an alternative to imprisonment. Since Antonio is wounded and cannot duel Don Pedro in the morning as he promised, he asks Belville to go instead. Belville agrees and is conflicted to feel benevolent feelings about the person he was fully hating for being betrothed to his love, Florinda.
Florinda frets that Belville never came to rescue her as planned, and fears that the impending duel is between her lover and her brother. Don Pedro enters, masked, and reveals that he will be fighting Don Antonio, relieving some of Florinda's fears. When Belville enters, disguised as Antonio, the two prepare to fight but are stopped when Florinda runs in to stop them. Belville is confused as to why Florinda would defend his rival but they push her away and fight. Florinda stops them again just as Belville disarms Pedro. She begs him spare Pedro in her name. Belville lays his sword at Florinda's feet and swears his love to her. The action redeems him in Pedro's eyes, so he gives his sister to the man he believes to be Antonio, demanding that they get married at once. Florinda protests, but Belville secretly lifts his mask to show her who he is. Before the two can run away and marry, Willmore and Frederick enter. Wilmore greets him with an embrace that makes Belville drop his mask. Pedro -- seeing it is just the poor guy his sister likes and not his rich friend (who he was ready to kill in a duel) now refuses to allow the wedding. He drags Florinda away, accusing her of trying to trick him.
Belville, furious at being thwarted yet again, turns on Willmore and chases him away. Angellica enters with her servants Moretta and Sebastian, furious that Willmore loves Hellena. Sebastian runs after Willmore to bring him back. Angellica accuses Willmore of having another woman. Willmore, as usual, attempts to charm her back. It might have worked but Hellena enters disguised as a man and decides to interfere. She pretends to be a servant and tells a story about a young girl who fell in love and was left standing at the altar because her lover came to Angellica. Then she reveals the lover to be Willmore. Angellica is moved by the story, Willmore is only excited and impatient to find out who the woman in question is. Suddenly, Willmore recognizes Hellena and figures out what's going on. He turns to Angellica and starts describing Hellena in insulting and unflattering terms. He tells Hellena to go back to her mistress. Angellica is outraged with Willmore and vows to take revenge and sends Willmore away. Willmore exits with an aside in which he says he plans to try to win Hellena back.
Florinda and Valeria enter, disguised in different costumes, having momentarily escaped Pedro. Then Don Pedro, Belville, and Willmore enter. Pedro and Belville seem to be having a serious conversation. Frederick then comes in and relates Blunt's misadventures to Belville and Pedro. They all go off to find him. Except for Willmore who is trying to chase Florinda, who then ducks into a door for safety.
The house it turns out is Belville's house, but the only person there is the traumatized and angry Blunt. He has just been monologing about how he wished a woman would appear in front of him so he could take his revenge on her for what Lucetta did to him, when he sees Florinda. In spite of her requests for help, he attempts to rape. Frederick enters, and Florinda begs him to help, but he thinks she's a prostitute so getting raped sounds like a good time to him and he is ready to join Blunt. However, Florinda gives them a diamond ring and says she is a woman of quality connected to Belville. This gives Frederick some pause (it's only cool to rape poor women apparently) and he talks Blunt into waiting and they lock Florinda in another room.
Belville, Willmore, Frederick, and Pedro break into Blunt's room and laugh at him for being robbed. Blunt says that just a moment before there was a wench in his chamber and shows them the ring Florinda gave him. Belville recognizes the ring as the one he gave Florinda when they exchanged vows. The other men, unaware that the girl is Florinda, decide to let her out so they can have their way with her. They draw swords to see who has the longest. Don Pedro -- because he is a Spaniard and therefore (the script tells us) has the longest sword -- wins and unlocks Florinda's door so he can get to raping the woman he doesn't realize is his sister.
Florinda is saved -- thank god! -- when Valeria arrives and persuades Pedro to leave by telling him that Florinda has run off. He leaves to find her. Once Don Pedro is gone, Florinda removes her mask and is revealed to the other men as Belville's beloved. Frederick and Blunt realise that they almost raped their best friend's fiance (and not just a random poor woman) and apologize profusely. Florinda forgives them then Belville and Florinda run off to get married. Valeria and Frederick decide they'd like to elope as well and run off to join the two. Blunt goes off to see a tailor since he still has no clothes and Willmore stays behind to guard against Pedro's return.
However! Angellica enters and points a pistol at Willmore's heart. She rages at him but before she can kill him, Don Antonio enters with his arm in a sling. He takes the gun from Angellica, then recognises Willmore as the man who stole Angellica's picture. He offers to shoot Willmore. Pedro enters. Angellica decides to let Willmore live, and leaves. Don Pedro asks why Don Antonio missed the duel; Antonio tells him what happened, and leaves in a huff. Pedro decides to give Florinda to Belville in revenge. Willmore informs him that the marriage has already occurred. Pedro exits.
Hellena enters, still in boy's clothes, and banters with Willmore, who wants to sleep with her but doesn't want to marry her. Hellena finally convinces him for marriage. Pedro, Belville, Florinda, Frederick, and Valeria enter. They learn of Willmore and Hellena's engagement and Pedro approves, tired of fearing for his sister's honour (virginity). Blunt enters in a Spanish habit, looking ridiculous. Music plays and masquers from Carnival come in dancing. The play ends with vows of love between Hellena and Willmore.
Date Aired: April 18, 2022
Team: Jennifer, Ricardo, Sam, and guest host Colin A. Borden
Analysis Technique: Literary Structure
Community Voices: Mary Meyers, calling about episode 2.9 Rhinoceros.
To see the trailer, click here