Importance Of Historical Context In Understanding Literature

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Understanding the idea of historical meaning includes religious, political, and economic elements that are evident in a specific environment at a specific time. It allows one to view problems from a more critical standpoint rather than perceiving them based on current functionality (Fleming, 2017). Aphra Behn's The Rover, which explains the incidents that take place during the Carnival season when many Englishmen visit Naples, is a relevant historical text that can be used to make those connections. With such a piece of literature, it becomes vital to understand both periods the author is living in as well as period the story is set in in such situations. With such a background of information, it will be possible to understand and interpret large portions of the story correctly. The book by Behn enables the reader to deliberate on the commonalities and differences as pertains the administration of the law, marriage, women autonomy, and overall understanding the events that were pertinent at a given historical period.

Firstly, the text by Behn enables the reader to deliberate on the fact that historically, marriages or exchanging of vows was just as important as it is today. When a marriage event is held, big ceremonies will be organised and will be attended by guests and sometime it may involve the whole community. For example, the time and period when Aphra Behn's wrote The Rover, marriage was treated as an important union, and your brother or parent could decide to select a partner whom they thought was good for you. Not everyone had enough resources to pull out such magnanimous celebrations during their exchange of vows. In the past, if you are not a nobleman, you could just get a priest and get married instantly. A significant case from The Rover play is when one notes Belvile and Florinda, and Frederick and Valeria getting married at the same time instantly with no any sort of ceremony. Pedro tell Florinda "I have a command from my father here to tell you ought not to despise him, a man of so vast a fortune, and such a passion for you" (Behn 1677, p. 62). The implication of the statement is that Florinda's was required to submit to her father's desires for her as pertains her marriage. It thus underscores the fact that just as it is perceived today, marriage was a significant aspect of the society following the creation of a bond between a man and a woman.

Contrastingly, prostitution was regarded as immoral in some of the communities in the past even though it is still unacceptable in the modern-day society in some countries. Behn, as a writer, did not shy away from expressing her desire in sexual activities even though she is evidently among the first few professional writers at the time. Even though she did not re-marry after the passing away of her husband she did not stop writing on matters of sexuality (Broke University 2002). She, thus, focuses on an issue that is common today where women engage in sex from a professional perspective even though it was a controversial subject at the time. For instance, from her play, young men such as Don Pedro, Don Antonio who were both rich and Wilmore trying to buy their way into Angelica. Angelica was a prostitute, and she was looking for the highest bidder. Lucetta, who is also a prostitute, seduces Blunt to rob him his belongings. It, thus, follows that the prostitution business was booming back then, but it was also a risky engagement for those who got involved in it considering the strict ethical principles of morality at the time.

Behn's book also enables the reader to draw on the subject of the role of the law in settling disputes because there are notable dissimilarities in the manner in which the administration of order compares with the contemporary world. In the present day, disputes are often solved diplomatically through following the appropriate legal structures and the authorised institutions. In the court of law, the acts of violence are discouraged, and it is illegal to harass or engage in ferocious activities as one can be jailed because of being involved in such activities. However, in the sixteenth-century, disputes were sometimes solved by organising fights and whoever won would take it all. For example, in The Rover play, Don Antonio and Don Pedro organise a fight that would determine who was eligible have Angelica as both appeared to covet her. Nevertheless, the dispute was not solved as Don Antonio did not honour the fight he sent Belvile without communicating to Don Pedro. Pedro was thus furious because he was deceived about the whole process (Gray n.d). It, thus, shows that there are contrasting differences in the manner in which the law was administered in the past compared to the setting in the present-day scenario.

Furthermore, unlike in modern-day society, women were not allowed to make autonomous decisions in the past in the social or political arena. Often, the men would take the responsibility of deciding on matters associated with women's affairs and it appeared to be acceptable in the community. In fact, gender and politics are widely mentioned in the text, and it is evident that women were undermined and were not allowed into political positions. Women were also not allowed to do a variety of activities on their own without the presence of a man. Their position was perceived to be in the kitchen. Thus, politics cannot be separated from our daily activities, and it was widely discussed because at this time, many governments were undergoing transition, and this inspired the writer. A significant illustration in Behn's text is when, Don Pedro, the brother of Hellene, wanted her to be a nun so could continue being a virgin. Moreover, Florinda also supposed to marry elderly Don Vincentio Don Antonio who was her brother's choice. It is stated that "It's not enough you make a nun of me, but you must cast my sister away too, exposing her to a worse confinement than a religious life?" (Behn 1677, p. 95-97). She did not like either of the two, and she had to resort to other ways for her to marry the man he loved. Women were also less protected as men would force their way into them without fearing the consequences of their action. For instance, Blunt, Frederick, and Wilmore all wanted to rape Florinda because she did not entertain their advances (Bélanger 2006). Such behaviours are unacceptable in the present-day setting and only helps the reader make correlations on what defined social ethics as pertains women's autonomy in the society.

It is also important to note that the historical context also gives one an idea of what was going on around the time that the text was produced, especially when the text is an older version. The events that took place during the reign of King Charles were very different to what is happening in the society today. If the reader does not have an understanding of this period, they will struggle to understand what the text is all about. For instance, understanding the period in which the play The Rover was written gives an insight on the main themes of the play and creates a natural understanding if the reader understood this he would not be confused by some of the events that took place during the play. In the same context, the fight between Don Antonio and Don Pedro could seem nonsensical, but if one was to get the context of this event, they will understand it better and appreciate why the event took place on the play. Thus, it is important to understand the motivation or inspiration behind any literature work as it gives the reader a rough idea of what to expect when reading it (Barton 2006).

In summary, a more in-depth and broader understanding of a piece of literature can be gained by the reader through looking at it from a historical context so that to be in a position to comprehend specific ideas that are not clear, the reader has to do contextual exploration. An excellent piece of literature such as the text by Behn often stands on its own, but every literature work is a product of its environment. It covers on the standard features as pertains marriage, the administration of the law, the role of women in decision-making and enable the reader to deliberate on the events that are specific for a given society at the time the text is produced. Thus, literature engages the reader intellectually hence enhancing one's understanding of their lives and history of our community. Thus, to examine, appreciate and fully understand the play The Rover by Behn, one has to reflect on the historical events of the sixteen century in the United Kingdom as it is futile to read this play without considering the key historical context.


Barton, D. 2006. James II and The 'Glorious Revolution' Of 1688. The Churchin. History Information Centre. London.

Behn, A., 1677. The Rover. The University of Adelaide Library. South Australia

Bélanger, C., 2006.What is the meaning of “historical context”?. Marianopolis College. Westmount

Brock University, 2002. Aphra Behn’s THE ROVER. In Production at Brock University. Ontario, Canada

Gray, D. (ND). Ends and Beginnings in the Earlier Sixteenth-Century Drama. Oxford University. Oxford

Jenkinson, M., 2010. Culture and Politics at the Court of Charles II, 1660-1685. Boydell & Brewer, Boydell Press. Suffolk

October 26, 2021

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