Sunday, July 5, 2009

Love In Fantastic Triumph Sate

Aphra Behn wrote in the days just after Shakespeare. She was, by all accounts, not your average woman.

As a Tory she staunchly defended the King, against the Parliament. She believed in kings in the abstract sense. Which king it happened to be made little difference. He could be a good king or a bad king, a wise king or a foolish king. In fact this particular king was neither good nor wise, as Aphra Behn would learn. Charles II perfectly fit his epitaph, written by his close friend John Wilmot the Earl of Rochester:

Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King,
Whose word no man relies on,
Who never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.

The fact that Rochester wrote and passed this "epitaph" around the court long before Charles II actually died is evidence of how little even his closest friends thought of him.

But Aphra Behn was a Tory.

At nineteen she married a Dutch man, thus gaining her name and probably some of the language. When she was 26 her husband died. At that time England was in a war with the Dutch, and Charles II sent Behn to Belgium to act as a military spy. Men tend to spy in one way, women in another. She became the mistress of one of the royal family, one who was working on the military strategy. Thus she became privy to all of the Dutch military secrets, which she then passed along to the court of Charles II. To be blunt, Charles II made her a prostitute in order to gain an advantage in the war.

To add insult to that injury, he never bothered to pay her. She had to borrow money to return to England, and when he still refused to pay her she was thrown into debtor's prison. Rochester had been right, Charles II was a king "Whose word no man relies on."


Love in fantastic triumph sate
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flowed
For whom fresh pains he did create
And strange tyrannic power showed.
From thy bright eyes he took his fires,
Which round about in sport he hurled;
But 'twas from mine he took desires
Enough to undo the amorous world.

From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his pride and cruelty;
From me his languishments and fears,
And every killing dart from thee.
Thus thou and I the god have armed
And set him up a deity;
But my poor heart alone is harmed
Whilst thine the victore is, and free.


Rosa said...

I have a cousin who seems to have a lot in common with Aphra Behn. She constantly chooses the worst possible men to be in a relationship with, and practically kisses the ground they walk on even when she is treated poorly. I wonder what the nature of this mind state is; rather sad.

Doug P. Baker said...

It is very sad! I've seen it too, and I really don't know exactly what the root cause is. Probably there are different causes in different people.

We see a similar pattern in the life of Dorothy Parker, and her poetry/short stories bear a remarkable similarity in tone to that of Aphra Behn.

One thing I've noticed again and again is that we human beings are often not our own best friends. We continually fall into patterns of behaviour that only make our own lives harder and more miserable. My take on it is that our sinful nature is not only self centered, but it is also self destroying.

Very sad to see it in ones we love!