We are pleased to announce that volume 67 in our Critical Texts series will be Aphra Behn's Emperor of the Moon and Its French Source, edited by Judy A. Hayden and Daniel J. Worden.
Aphra Behn (1640-89), undoubtedly a major figure, is somehow whatever you want her to be: if you want to find a spy, a figure of mystery, the clues are all there; if you want to find a feminist, feel free to; if, on the other hand, you'd like to see a counter-cultural Puritan, go right ahead. What can't be disputed is that she lived by her pen at a time when this was almost out of the question for women, and Emperor of the Moon, written almost at the end of her fairly short life, was a commercial success. It's actually set in Naples, not outer space, and was a commedia dell' arte rather than a Flash Gordon episode. The Internet helpfully provides this character summary:
Doctor Baliardo, a Neapolitan philosopher, has so applied himself to the study of the Moon, and is enraptured to such an extent with the mysteries of that orb, that he has come steadfastly to believe in a lunar world, peopled, ruled and regulated like the earth. This wholly fills and absorbs his every waking thought, and, in consequence, he denies his daughter Elaria and his niece Bellemante to their respective lovers, the Viceroy’s two nephews, Don Cinthio and Don Charmante, as being men of men of mere terrestial mould. The girls are, however, secretly assisted in their amours by Scaramouch, the doctor’s man, who is himself a rival of Harlequin, Cinthio’s valet, for the hand of Mopsophil, duenna to the young ladies.
All this proved a sturdy sort of knockabout pantomime, kept in the bottom drawer of every manager for decades to come. On Boxing Day 1748, two revivals somehow opened against each other on the same night, with Covent Garden saying it was 'not acted 10 years', and Drury Lane 'not acted 20'.
In our new edition, the play is presented alongside its lesser-known Parisian original (the two being almost contemporary): Arlequin Empereur dans la Lune, by Anne Mauduit de Fatouville. The Arlequin prefix is telling: Anne wrote no fewer than six Harlequinades — others include Arlequin chevalier du soleil and Arlequin Jason ou la toison d'or comique.
Aphra Behn's Emperor of the Moon and Its French Source will be published in the autumn.