London: J. M. for Thomas Dring, 1671. First edition. Modern full panelled calf binding with raised bands and a red morocco spine label. Quarto (pages 126 x 116 mm) collates complete: [iv], 82, . First two leaves and last leaf with paper repairs. Early ownership signature of a woman reader, Mary Howard, on the title page along with her note “first edition.” Occasional light foxing; marginal annotation on final leaf. Else a very nice, clean copy of this scarce text that has come only three times to auction, with its last appearance over 30 years ago.
Separated from her husband and in need of a means to support herself, Aphra Behn made literary history by becoming the first professional female playwright in England. “Forced to write for bread and not ashamed to own it,” Behn rapidly developed a reputation for quick wit, political timeliness, and a concern for the cultural limitations placed on women. Her inaugural play, The Forc’d Marriage, was staged in 1670; and popular demand allowed for her second play, The Amorous Prince, to follow just five months later in 1671. Strengthened by positive reviews, Behn used The Amorous Prince to further develop the themes that would characterize her career, examining how contemporary approaches to sex and marriage placed women at social disadvantage. Notably, the legal ban on female actors had only recently been lifted from the English stage in 1660; and The Amorous Prince was one of the first plays to use the Shakespearean device of the cross-dressing “breeches part” with a woman actor. Again, Behn won over her audience. Following the success of The Amorous Prince, Behn declared “I value fame as much as if I had been born a hero” (Blain, Grundy & Clements). Yet for a time, Behn’s name fell out of a literary canon that privileged male playwrights. It was the production of the first Norton Anthology of Women’s Literature and the advent of women’s studies courses in the late 1980s allowed scholars and students to rediscover Behn’s drama. And along with The Rover and Oroonoko, The Amorous Prince stands as one of her most influential and memorable works. (Item #2078)