Article Title

Teaching Willmore

Author Biography

James Evans is Professor of English at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. His most recent work includes articles on gender issues in Evelina (The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation) and She Stoops to Conquer (Philological Quarterly), both published in 2011, as well as two essays for The Encyclopedia of British Literature 1660-1789, forthcoming in 2014.


Teaching Aphra Behn’s The Rover for nearly four decades, I have witnessed a considerable shift in students’ attitudes toward the play, especially toward Willmore. More positive about his character in the 1970s and 1980s, they have had a much more negative assessment since then. The only available video version, the Women’s Theatre Trust production, compounds my pedagogical problem through filming techniques and choice of actor; emphasizing male violence against women, its interpretation parallels feminist criticism of the 1990s. Asking students to examine theater history may lead them to see that Behn does not completely match this ideological paradigm. The original casting featured William Smith as Willmore, and learning about his performances in the company at Dorset Garden may help students recognize that the character was conceived to emphasize his comic dimension as a flawed, desirable partner for Hellena. Understanding Behn’s comedy within the collaborative enterprise of Restoration theater may complicate their views of Willmore.


libertinine, comedy, casting, performance, male violence