London: Jacob Tonson at the Judges Head in Chancery Lane, 1679. First edition. One of two variant imprints with no priority according to ESTC, the present listing only Jacob Tonson. Printed self-wrappers sewn at spine, measuring 165 x 210mm. Collates , 71, [1, Epilogue]: complete. Some paper restoration near stitching of spine and along the header of the title page not affecting text. Occasional light toning and foxing throughout, as expected in an imprint of this period. Small nick to the header of the prologue and loss to top corner of page 3-4, neither affecting text. Housed in a custom case. In all, a pleasing and complete copy of this scarce work by England's first professional female playwright. ESTC reports only 15 copies in the U.S., with this being the only one on the market. The Feign'd Curtizans last appeared at auction in 1974.
Almost a decade into her career as England's first professional female playwright, Aphra Behn continued to gain confidence in pushing against the social strictures confining her countrywomen. The Feign'd Curtizans is part of this larger project, depicting virtuous sisters Marcella and Cornelia who leave their lives as respectable ladies of the court and pose as courtesans to escape the fates planned for them by their father. For while Marcella is in love with Sir Henry Fillamore, she has been promised in marriage to Octavio; and Cornelia as a younger daughter has been committed to holy orders and convent life. Scholars have turned to this play as both an example of Behn's engagement in high court politics -- here, tapping into concerns about Catholic power and to the Exclusion Act -- as well as in terms of sexual politics. "There is a powerful resonance in The Feign'd Curtizans in the spectacle of women evading an oppressive destiny of arranged marriage and enforced celibacy, plotting to take control of their lives...When necessary these heroines dress as men and fight alongside men. The feminist force of this is increased by the fact that actresses now played the parts. Behn evokes sympathy for the victims of double sexual standards, and the double standards are subjected to explicit critique. She also extends qualified sympathy to prostitutes, women who find themselves as victimized outsiders through meeting men's needs" (Owen). The fates that patriarchy has marked Marcella and Cornelia for are so harmful, so very imprisoning, that both are willing to leave behind social respectability to gain the freedoms allowed to those on the margins, regardless of cost. Notably, Behn dedicates the comedy in the opening epistle to Nell Gwynn (Ellen Guin), who herself made similar choices and, like the heroines, succeeded in her maneuvers. Sometime orange girl and prostitute, she became mistress to the King and one of England's most famed actresses. The Feign'd Curtizans stands among the most complex and socio-politically engaged of Behn's plays.
Feminist Companion 77. ESTC R4074. Wing B1732. (Item #3211)