By Jacinta Justice
I decided to write about Aphra Behn’s The Forced Marriage. It was composed in 1670 and the setting is France. I read the play on enotes.com/forcedmarriage. I paid for the full subscription. The play is about a woman’s right to choose her own husband. It begins with the king appointing a young warrior (Alcippus) to the position of General after a brave battle. Alcippus then asks the former general for his daughters ( Ermenia) hand in marriage. With the kings blessing the men decide this is a good idea. Armenia is in love with Philander the kings son and he in love with her. Ermenia protests this to her father but he dismisses her by saying she isn’t of royal blood and she should accept her marriage to Alccipus. The king has a daughter (Galatea) who is conveniently in love with Alcippus but dares not tell her father because he is not of royal blood.
The play is a tragicomedy. It is tragic because Erminia and Galatea are not able to choose the men they want to marry. It is a comedy because the brother and sister who are royalty are in love with the “commoners” who are married to each other. This turns into a tangled mess as everyone starts to plot a way to get what they want. Romance is the plot of this play. The heroines are Ermenia and Galatea. Their love is so strong it outweighs their sense of obedience to society.
The climax of the play is when Alcippus returns home unexpected and find Philander hiding in his bedroom. A fight breaks out between the two and when Ermenia steps in the middle Philander leaves willingly. Alcippus then accuses her of adultery and and strangles her. Thinking she is dead Alcippus is overcome with thoughts of suicide. Ermenia is seen walking through the courtyard with a veil and is believed to be a ghost. She then uses this to her advantage and appears to Alcippus telling him that Galatea is the one he should marry. During her funeral Ermenia reveals that she is alive and the king grants the marriage between Philander and Ermenia and Galatea and Alcippus. Resolution of this story is that Ermenia and Galatea are finally allowed to marry who they love.
Ermenia is the main character who is caught in an awful situation; she is torn between love and honor. She has to conform to society and this leaves her heartbroken. Ermenia moves the plot along by letting her husband know how she feels from the very first night when she will not share his bed. She is very active in her role using her wit to gain control of her destiny.
Aphra Behn drew the characters as heroes and heroines. The heroes are both in love with the same woman but are unaware of each other’s passions. I think that Philander and Alcippus are three dimensional because they are always drawing their swords and seem to be jumping out at you. The theme pursued in this play is loveless and unhappy marriages arranged by families. Behn concerned herself with the life and fate of women in the 17th century. Her work is revolutionary for her time period. It was a very successful play at the time and I believe would be so again today. I don’t think the speech and language were hard to understand at all. There are still forced marriages in the world today. The United Sates may not have forced marriages but parents certainly play a huge role in a lot of people’s decisions on who they marry.