Aphra Benn, Sir Patient Fancy, 1678

Sir Patient Fancy – Aphra Benn, 1678


With her damn’d Stuff, will never cease to teeze us.

What has poor Woman done, that she must be

Debar’d from Sense, and sacred Poetry?

Why in this Age has Heaven allow’d you more,

And Women less of Wit than heretofore?

We once were fam’d in story, and could write

Equal to Men; cou’d govern, nay, cou’d fight.

We still have passive Valour, and can show,

Wou’d Custom give us leave, the active too,

Since we no Provocations want from you.

For who but we cou’d your dull Fopperies bear,

Your saucy Love, and your brisk Nonsense hear;

Indure your worse than womanish Affectation,

Which renders you the Nusance of the Nation;

Scorn’d even by all the Misses of the Town,

A Jest to Vizard Mask, the Pit-Buffoon;

A Glass by which the admiring Country Fool

May learn to dress himself en Ridicule:

Both striving who shall most ingenious grow

In Leudness, Foppery, Nonsense, Noise and Show.

And yet to these fine things we must submit

Our Reason, Arms, our Laurels, and our Wit.

Because we do not laugh at you, when leud,

And scorn and cudgel ye when you are rude.

That we have nobler Souls than you, we prove,

By how much more we’re sensible of Love;

Quickest in finding all the subtlest ways

To make your Joys, why not to make you Plays?

We best can find your Foibles, know our own

And jilts and cuckolds now best please the town;

Your way of writing’s out of fashion gown,

Method, and Rule—you only understand;

Pursue that way of Fooling, and be damn’d.

Your learned Cant of Action, Time and Place,

Must all give way to the unlabour’d Farce.

To all the Men of Wit we will subscribe:

But for your half Wits, you unthinking Tribe,

We’ll let you see, whate’er besides we do,

How artfully we copy some of you:

And if you’re drawn to th’ Life, pray tell me then,

Why Women should not write as well as Men.

Aphra Behn was one of the first British women to make her living out of writing, and as you can see, embraced the opportunity to make her feelings on the status of women known. She has been remembered by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own as the woman who earned other women the right to speak their minds, and many of her works focused on race, slavery, sexual desire, and gender, all of which were highly controversial topics.

In this Epilogue from Sir Patient Fancy, Behn is mocking some male behaviour and challenging the notion that women were seen as intellectually inferior to men. For me, the key lines are:

Quickest in finding all the subtlest ways

To make your joys, why not make your plays?

It is these lines which I feel speak most about the status of women, both in Aphra Behn’s time, and our own. It speaks to the frustration in the view that women are often viewed as the object of entertainment for men – to please and to entertain, but not to challenge their intellectual standing. For me, this resonates with the No More Page Three campaign, as it too asserts that women offer more to society than titilising entertainment and pleasure, and their representation otherwise is damaging. Aphra Behn challenged this notion through her actions as well as her words, and should be remembered as one of the first people to publicly assert that men and women were intellectual equals.


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