Shakespeares Henry V and Aphra Behns The Rover were both written for an Elizabethan audience and concern many dominant notions of what it means to be a man. The dramatists explore not only masculinity but the extent to which men play different roles
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Both Henry V and The Rover call into question dominant notions of what it means to be a man. Discuss this statement in an essay of 1,500 words, using the play texts as a basis for your discussion. Shakespeare's Henry V and Aphra Behn's The Rover were both written for an Elizabethan audience and concern many dominant notions of what it means to be a man. The dramatists explore not only masculinity but the extent to which men play different roles, often adopting behaviours and attitudes that they perceive as compatible with society's expectations for what it means to be a man: brave, heroic, leaders and decision makers, providers for their families, and being the sexually dominant gender. By exploring how the plays portray central male characters, it is also possible to see that the private thoughts of men, particularly those that conflict with the dominant notions of masculinity, are reluctantly expressed or kept hidden. Henry's 'state', as put by Eliot, is 'multiple and episodic' (Shakespeare, Aphra Behn and the Canon, p.76). He has to play many roles in order to be 'a successful political and military leader' (p.36). His masculinity is an act; it is a role he has learned. As a king and leader, he is portrayed as brave and heroic: an active participant who is willing to die for his country and refuses to be ransomed.
Even though King Charles orders his son and nobles to strengthen their defence, the Dauphin refuses to believe that Henry has changed or that he is a serious threat, dismissing him as frivolous: 'idly kinged' (2.4.26) and as 'a vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth' (2.4.28). Ironically, it is Henry's victory that will prevent the Dauphin from assuming his father's title. The French King is cautious, but weak and does not inspire his followers, instead talking of fears and old defeats, thus showing the first signs of disunity among the French, which in comparison to the unity of the English: 'we band of brothers' (4.3.60) heightens their weakness and builds anticipation with the audience. Their arrogance and impatience is shown in lines such as, 'The Dauphin longs for morning', 'He longs to eat the English' (3.7.85-86), indicates to the audience they are likely to be defeated. Shakespeare's portrayal of female characters is also used as a device to dramatise aspects of masculinity. Associating Katherine with body parts emphasises that women service men's sexual needs. This not only diminishes women, but also heightens the intellectual superiority of men: masculinity is associated with decision making whereas women are portrayed as 'soldier-breeder[s] (5.2.203); someone to duplicate the fathers in the next generation. The performance of the scenes with Katherine would be comical to an audience; her mispronouncing of 'De foot and de cown' (3.4.51)
He wants sex, but without paying. This is dramatised by the stage directions: 'holds her, looks on her, and pauses and sighs'. It is his exaggerated behaviour that makes him appealing and powerful, even though his behaviour is manipulative. An audience would find him comical; unlike Blunt, they would laugh with him, not at him. In other words, Willmore is a stock character from restoration drama that the audience would recognise and enjoy. Another similarity between Henry V and The Rover in their portrayal of masculinity is the patriarchal tradition of arranged marriages. Henry woos Katherine as a mere courtesy, creating another dramatically effective comic scene, as Katherine has already been 'given' to him by her father. Indeed, this issue was already raised in the opening scene when the archbishop discussed Salic Law in an attempt to justify the war. Masculinity is therefore associated with maintaining male succession and ensuring power is retained by men. In The Rover, Behn explores this issue through the relationship of Belvile and Florinda. Her father and brother arrange for her to marry wealthy men against her wishes. Both plays portray females as possessions, where men control their women to protect their interests: be they financial, status or power related, but Behn is different because she allows Florinda to marry for love, therefore subverting the notion of patriarchy. Shakespeare and Behn portray masculinity in many different ways, demonstrating the dominant notions of what it means to be a man.
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