Aphra Behn's "The Widow Ranter", similarities and parallels between the events and characters of the play and those of the English Civil War

Topics: Charles I of England, Oliver Cromwell, Long Parliament Pages: 6 (1951 words) Published: March 15, 2007
Upon reading Aphra Behn's, "The Widow Ranter", it is impossible not to notice the similarities and parallels between the events and characters of the play and those of the English Civil War. These similarities may at first appear to be mere coincidences, it is true that may civil wars are innately comparable to each other; however it is not the case of The Widow Ranter. In The Widow Ranter, Behn artfully constructs and construes a story which carries a message.

In order to clarify and justify Behn's intentions, it is important to first review and relate the events and characters of The Widow Ranter in comparison to those of the English Civil War. The primary characters of interest are Bacon, the Jamestown Counsel, and the Indians/ Indian King and Queen. Clearly Bacon, who is called both a "rebel" and a "general" in the play is meant to represent Oliver Cromwell; the Indian King, who is called the "Monarch" represents King Charles I, and the Counsel of Jamestown represents the English Civil War Parliament. This theory of character representations is supported by the parallel plots of [a portion of] The Widow Ranter and [a portion of] the English Civil War.

In The Widow Ranter, the Counsel and Bacon are initially on the same side, opposing the Indians; in fact he was a member of the counsel before he broke the law and disobeyed the Counsel by attacking the Indians. Then Bacon's Army forces the Counsel to release Bacon and grant him a commission to continue his war on the Indians (and subsequent goal of killing the Indian King). The resulting situation is an increasingly hostile relationship between the Counsel and Bacon, who is again at war with the Indians. Characters of all three parties overtly lack complete loyalty to their causes and/or leaders, and the scene is a chaotic battle in the woods with everyone fighting everyone.

In the parallel account of the English Civil War, Cromwell and the Long Parliament are initially on the same side as well, in opposition to King Charles I and the Royalists. Then, in 1649, [Cromwell's] New Model Army turns against the Parliament, forcing them to approve the execution of [former] King Charles I, whom they have been holding in prison. The remaining 'Rump' Parliament and Cromwell's Army are now also in a strained relationship as The New Model Army returns to combating Royalist uprisings.

As you can clearly see, both accounts portray triangular relationships between the main characters/parties partaking in nearly synonymous plots. Yet this is merely the start of the analogous elements shared by The Widow Ranter and [this portion of] the English Civil War. Upon closer examination, notable similarities between the corresponding characters of these plots can be observed as well.

To begin with, in addition to both Bacon and Cromwell being military champions of the people fighting against monarchy, they share many of the same personality traits and characteristics. Both men are "honorable" military leaders, with an attitude of respect and mercy for their enemies, as well as for neutral parties and properties. Cromwell maintained that his troops behave in a "gentlemanly" manner by treating civilians (of any loyalty) with respect and taking extra care to not damage or destroy their property. Bacon commands similar principles, insisting that his supporters, whether it be his troops or the mobbing supportive public; do not act rashly without genuine justification for their behavior. Also, Cromwell and Bacon both believe in the preservation of life, whether it be theirs or the enemy's. Bacon expresses this attitude by taking the noble women of Jamestown hostage (but treating them with the utmost of dignity) in order to force the surrender of the Counsels forces without great "loss of blood." Cromwell's army accommodated this outlook by purposely not shooting [to harm or kill] at the Royalist soldiers (evident when reviewing casualty counts), as well as by not executing the...
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