Where Fact Meets Fiction:
The Historical Characters of Or,

“Here begins the freedom of the mind….For now that Aphra Behn had done it, girls could go to their parents and say, You need not give me an allowance; I can make money by my pen.” –Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Or, is a comedy, not a historical drama, and playwright Liz Duffy Adams plays fast and loose with history and all of her characters. But a brief introduction to the real people behind the characters in the play can provide some fascinating insight.

Aphra Behn (1640-1689):

Poet, playwright, spy, novelist. Aphra Behn is generally regarded as the first woman to make her living through writing. Her life, by modern day standards, was certainly unique. She was widowed in 1665, ended up in debtor’s prison during her espionage career in Antwerp, and wrote over a dozen successful plays, as well as verse and fiction. During the course of the play, Aphra Behn writes The Young King; or, The Mistake after ending her espionage career of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. While her politics were fiercely pro-Royalist, her personal reputation was free-thinking and free-loving. Today Behn is a common touchstone of women’s studies and acknowledged as one of the brightest of the Restoration wits.

Charles II (1630-1685):

“The Merry Monarch” and the son of Charles I, whose return to the throne in 1660, restored the Court to a place of resplendence, frivolity and intrigue. He re-opened London theatres and struck down the ban against women performing on stage. While his restoration to the throne ushered in an era of hope, England was soon afflicted with war, plague, and a fire that nearly destroyed all of London during his reign.

Nell Gwynne (1650-1687):

The most celebrated actress of her day. Briefly an orange seller in the Theatre Royal, the beautiful young woman with a flair for comedy graduated to playing major roles in plays by such esteemed playwrights as Behn, Dryden and George Villiers. She was particularly renowned for her “breeches parts” where the role would require her to dress as a young man. After 1668, she enjoyed a second preeminent career as the mistress of Charles II, but returned to the stage in 1670 for a final season. Gwynne had two sons with Charles II.

William Scott (dates uncertain):

The son of the regicide nobleman Thomas Scott, who was executed for his part in the beheading of Charles I in 1660. Surprisingly, by 1666 William showed interest in spying for the English and was recruited by Behn to gather military intelligence on the Dutch. Unfortunately their collaboration did neither of them much good—the dispatches were deemed of little value and Behn was unpaid for her work. It is possible that Behn and Scott were lovers for a brief time.

Lady Henrietta Maria Davenant (died 1691):

The third wife of playwright and theatrical producer Sir William Davenant. After his death she took over the management of his theatre, the Duke’s Company, leading it to become one of the most financially successful theatres in London, and a frequent producer of Behn’s work.

Costume sketches by Catherine Hunt