The Feign’d Courtezans: A Comedy

The Feign’d Curtizans: or A Nights Intrigue is a comedy first performed in 1676 at the Duke’s Theatre in London, staring the well-known actress and mistress of King Charles II, Nell Gwyn. Set in Rome, The Feign’d Curtizans was written and performed after the advent of the Popish Plot. The play is sympathetic to Catholicism during a time when declaring one’s Protestant beliefs was politically expedient. Behn uses the English characters of Sir Signall Buffoon and Mr. Tickletext to satirize their nationalism and fear of Italian “Popery,” while portraying several Italian characters of quality as honorable and virtuous. Behn emphasizes that, while Whiggish middle-class patriots are to be derided, upper-class good taste is international.

The play centers around two virtuous sisters, Marcella and Cornelia. Marcella has been promised to Octavio for marriage, but has fallen in love with Sir Henry Fillamour. Cornelia is bound for the convent. They have run away to Rome together, posing as courtesans named Euphemia and Silvianetta, so that they may be free to control their own futures.

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