Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Lucky Chance was a disconcerting play from the moment I laid eyes on the Dramatis Personae. Of course, Act 5 confirmed my discomfort and distaste for the action of the play, but it seemed like everything I needed to know was encapsulated in the Dramatis Personae list.
The first thing that jumped out at me was that the women were characterized very differently from the men. Every major character was described in relation to other characters, which is the norm. However, the men had societal roles—“prentice,” “banker,” “ alderman”—or other descriptions given to them—“old,” “a fop,” “disguised”. The women were usually characterized in relation to the male characters or by character judgments: specifically the terms honest, generous, and virtuous.
Immediately we see women characterized by what they are and men by what they do. But what struck me as particularly insidious is the lack of “virtuous” appended to Julia’s name. I assume that the virtue referenced is virginity, which Julia, as a married woman, cannot be said to possess any longer. This in itself is disturbing; virginity equals virtue, but married intercourse is a lack of virtue? If it is not strict virginity but simple marital fidelity, Julia is the most virtuous woman in the play. She rejects Fulbanks offer of what amounts to an open relationship in order to preserve her honor, which is later taken from her against her will and outside of her knowledge.
The absence of this simple term is small but disturbing to me, since the term is consciously applied to two other women. If Behn had used a variety of descriptors: honest, virtuous, godly, respectable, honorable, etc., it might seem less important that Julia lacks this descriptor. But since she uses virtuous with the two other principal female characters and not with Julia, this difference seems glaring and significant.

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