Secret agent, prisoner, playwright and poet. Clearly there was never a dull moment in the life of this 17th century International Woman of Mystery.
While her blood-thirsty play Abdelazer attracts our attention because of the music that Purcell composed for it, the rest of her life seems equally adventurous. As a spy (codename: Astrea) for Charles II in the second Anglo-Dutch War, she was tasked with infiltrating plots against the King by Republicans exiled in the Netherlands.
Double-crossed and on the verge of bankruptcy, she returned to England only to be locked up in a debtor’s prison.
Her career as a writer, though, seems to have been more successful, especially after her 1677 play The Rover was a hit at the box office.
Her independence as a professional writer made her a celebrity of the day, particularly with her concern for equality between sexes. No doubt her poem poking fun at male sexual dysfunction The Disappointment, amongst others, raised a few 17th century eyebrows!
Equality also seems to have been on her mind with the 1688 novel Oroonoko which follows the story of an enslaved African prince (highly unusual for the period); a work which is now considered one of the foundations of the English novel.
In 1689 she was buried in Westminster Abbey, joining her colleague Henry Purcell amongst the Pantheon of other historical figures.
We’ll be performing Purcell’s suite from Abdelazer, plus even more fantastic music by Bach, Vivaldi and Locatelli, at Saffron Hall on 26th January 2019 Find out more>>>
Intrigued by Aphra Behn? Find out more>>>