The Mask of Liberation
In Aphra Behn’s seventeenth century play The Rover, the masquerade of the carnival offers anonymity within a disguise, thus providing the characters a freedom from the pressures of their sex, caste, and political affiliations. The effective form of feeling free beneath a mask is a psychosomatic form of liberation from the confining restrictions and regulations of society, regardless of the day and age. This theme in Behn’s play is a reoccurring constancy in human nature that connects the internal conflicts with the external conflicts of a specific universal truth; the truth being that human beings desire a more non-restrictive, absolute, desegregated cohabitation within societal culture and wish to experience a free range of sensations within the laws of our human condition. The clever, pragmatic virgin, Hellena asks her governess, Callis, “I’ll be indebted a world of prayers to you if you’ll now let me see what I never did, the divertisements [sic] of a carnival.” Callis responds, “What, go in masquerade? Twill be a fine farewell to the world, I take it” (66). Callis speaks to what is constant in human nature. In other words, even if a piece of literature seems very much of its current era, it must still contain some underlying universal truth with regard to liberal humanism theory. So if the purpose of literature is the enhancement of life, then the purpose of The Rover’s masquerade is orchestrated to do just that; enhance the life of it’s characters by providing an experience which enlists a carpe diem mentality. The moral etiquette of a seventeenth century masquerade, or a 21st century rave are not the issue; the experience to divine by free will and right as an individual the situations of life’s flora and fauna are what all humankind desire; a belief in a reality that can be known directly through the senses.
Peter Barry states, “Human nature is essentially unchanging. The same...