Study Questions: Aphra Behn and "The Disappointment":
Introduction to Aphra Behn: After her
years as a playwright, what experimental (and scandalous)
epistolary novel first brought Aphra Behn fame as a novel-writer?
Why did Aphra Behn probably travel to the Low Countries for King Charles II?
Who was John Hoyle and why was he significant in Aphra Behn's life?
What did Virginia Woolf claim all women should do in connection with Aphra Behn?
Why did Woolf think this was appropriate?
How is the term "history" used differently in Aphra Behn's day than
in modern times?
Vocabulary: Imperfect Enjoyment, situational
Character Identification: Cloris,
- Why is this poem entitled, "The
How is that an appropriate or inappropriate title? Who
is the disappointed person? (Possibly more than one answer
- Note the twist Aphra Behn makes on
the traditional French motif of "imperfect enjoyment," as
discussed in the footnote. After reading this poem,
do you see the
poem as a sexual attack on men? Or as a sexual empowerment
- What time of day is the setting
for the opening stanza of "The Disappointment"?
How is this time of the sun going down symbolically
for later events in the narrative?
- What is the "lone
thicket" made for?
- What does the verb choice
of "permits" suggests
about the situation in stanza 14 regarding the
relative power of each lover?
- Why does the girl
reach out to meet the man's chest?
- What two emotions
strive with each other in the girl's bright eyes?
does the girl threaten to do if the suitor persists?
[We shall skip over the R-rated
graphic details on lines 31-50--but do note the
sexual symbolism of
thrones, altars, and whatnot.]
- What does the girl offer as a "sacrifice" to
love's sacred flame in lines 65-68.
does it mean that the shepherd is himself "o'er
ravished" in line 69?
- What does it
mean that the shepherd "cannot perform
- The shepherd is lying
down now rather than being positioned over the
girl. What does
- After the man strips
off his female lovers clothes and discovers his
own (err, ahem)
incapacity, what does he
do to call "its fleeting vigor
- When Cloris returns "from
the trance" of her
desire, Behn states that Cloris
gently laid her "timorous
hand . . . by design or chance
/ Upon that fabulous Priapus." What
does that bit about "by
design or chance" suggest?
How could we read this as the
female equivalent of sprezzatura?
is the bitter irony
about the allusion to Priapus?
Cloris realizes what has happened
to her lover, what happens
- As Cloris runs away from
her lover, the stanza describing
departure alludes to
two divine romances--Daphne
/Apollo and Venus/Adonis.
Why are these mythological allusions
how do they connect
to the poem?
- The same
stanza personifies the
wind using anthimeria
it "wanton" in
her hair and ruffle her
garments. Why is this word-choice appropriate
inappropriate?) for the
- What do you make of the first person
in line 131-32?
- What five
things does Lysander curse when he
is left alone
in the thicket?
do the concluding lines follow the generic
enjoyment theme" and
simultaneously turn those
conventions on their
Passages for Identification or Discussion:
A. He saw how at her length she lay;
He saw her rising bosom bare;
Her loose thin robes, through which appear
A shape designed for love and play;
Abandoned by her pride and shame
She does her softest joys dispense,
Offering her virgin innocence
A victim to love's sacred flame;
While the o'er-ravished shepherd lies
Unable to perform the sacrifice.
B. The willing garments by he laid,
And heaven all opened to his view.
Mad to possess, himself he threw
On the defenseless lovely maid.
But oh, what envying god conspires
To snatch his power, yet leave him the desire!
C: In vain th'enraged youth essayed
To call its fleeting vigor back;
No motion 'twill from motion take;
Excess of love his love betrayed:
In vain he toils, in vain commands:
The insensible fell weeping in his hand.
D. Finding that god of her desires
Disarmed of all his awful fires,
And cold as flowers bathed in the morning dew. . . .
Who can the nymph's confusion guess?
The blood forsook the hinder place,
And strewed with blushes all her face.
E: He cursed his birth, his fate, his stars;
the shepherdess's charms,
Whose soft bewitching influence
Had damned him to the hell of impotence.
Food for Thought: Daring readers might
wish to contrast Aphra Behn's feminist twist on the French
motif of imperfect enjoyment" with the Earl of Rochester's
Enjoyment," which is more typical of the genre. It can
be found in our Norton anthology on pages 2163-2165.
WARNING: THE EARL OF ROCHESTER'S
POEM IS ESPECIALLY GRAPHIC IN ITS DEPICTION OF SEXUALITY.
MODEST AND REFINED
WITH THIS SUBJECT MIGHT WISH NOT TO EXAMINE IT.
If you fall into the latter category, "turn the leef
and chese another tale," as Chaucer would put it.