LITERATURE WEEK 4: APHRA BEHN
You may find footnotes like these useful or distracting. If it’s the latter, feel free to skip right over them, but they’re here if you find them helpful. I’ll only include these for your early readings, as you’re getting the hang of figuring out what you should be circling to learn more about in your reading.
1 Behn visited colonial South America sometime between 1663 and 1664.
2. Surinam was a British sugar colony on the east coast of Venezuela in South America. Today, it is the Republic of Suriname.
3 This name popped up in lots of “animals of the New World” lists from this time, but we’re not sure what animal exactly it was supposed to be—probably the lion-headed marmoset or rice rat, based on other descriptions.
1. The Royal Society’s natural history museum in London
2. butterflies, not actual flies
3. This was the title character of a popular 1664 play (co-authored by Dryden), which had a famously lavish production, including “speckled plumes” and feather headdresses.
4. about one foot
5. Pay attention to this idea, which will keep popping up: Behn is criticizing Christianity as a toxic influence on non-Christian natives, who exist in a kind of natural moral perfection without the devices of organized religion.
1. Coramantien (in modern day Ghana) wasn’t actually a country—it was a British-held fort and slave market on Africa’s Gold Coast. The Cormantines, as the
native people came to be called, were much sought-after as slaves because of their physical beauty, fierceness in war, and the dignity with which they bore the decided indignity of slavery.
1. Technically, the word Moor refers to a Muslim from Maghreb, but Moor at this time (and in Shakespeare’s) was a more generic term used for any dark-skinned person—including people from Africa and the Arabian empire.
1. Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649 during the civil war between Royalists and Parliamentarians. This suggests that Behn was a James II supporter—though James would be forced into exile and replaced by William and Mary within the year.
2. This is kind of skeevy, but the notion of singling out African people for special praise because they had European features or morality was a whole thing in the 1600s.
1. Women who had aged out of the king’s harem
1. This may not seem like particularly exciting or intricate plotting to you, but you are looking at a literary innovation right here. This double plot (Oroonoko’s plotting to get close to Imoinda while the king is plotting to keep Oroonoko away from Imoinda) was a major literary innovation, and many other writers would copy its tension-building effects.
1. In spite of. Oroonoko is basically saying here that he will die before the king dies, that he remains loyal to the king in spite of the Imoinda incident.
2. If you’ve read The Iliad, this passage may remind you of Achilles, who retreats to his tent and stops fighting after Agamemnon claims the slave-girl Achilles won in war for his own.
1. It’s ironic that the captain says he can’t trust a “heathen” to keep his word of honor (that’s what parole means here), but he’s actually the one who has behaved in an untrustworthy way. Because breaking his word is outside Oroonoko’s moral code, he is at a disadvantage against the captain, whose morality is more flexible.
1. Notice that the conditions of slavery have already been imposed on Oroonoko on the ship as he makes promises that limit his authority in the hopes of securing his freedom.