Maria Barca


The 17th century author and playwright Aphra Behn used her writing talents to demonstrate her knowledge of gender as a liberator and oppressor in Western European society. Behn wrote tales in which her female characters were imbued with her knowledge of the time and place Behn lived. Thus, the playwright and author created female characters in her works who, armed with Behn’s knowledge, intentionally subverted or emphasized their gender roles to obtain social power and authority that they would conventionally lack in Behn’s world. This social strategy is seen in Behn’s play The Feigned Courtesans where her characters Marcella, Cornelia, and Laura Lucretia gain social mobility by feigning the role of the courtesan and crossdressing as men, reinforcing and undermining the gender binary in the process. This paper takes an analytical approach through feminist, queer, and anthropological lenses to deduce how and why Behn’s female characters in The Feigned Courtesans conformed and strayed from their gendered world in order to obtain power in previously unobtainable places.