It is the day of the Carnival, and Belville and Willmore have just met a pair of gypsies (who are actually regular women named Florinda and Hellena in disguise). Willmore, who is an unapologetic sexual libertine, is captivated by Hellena's wit and cannot stop thinking about her. Falling in love is presumably a new experience for him and one that he does not like too much.

...A Pox on't, I cannot get her out of my Head: Pray Heaven, if ever I do see her again, she prove damnably ugly, that I may fortifie my self against her Tongue.

Have a care of Love, for o' my conscience she was not of a quality to give thee any hopes.

Pox on 'em, why do they draw a Man in then? She has play'd with my Heart so, that 'twill never lye still, till I have met with some kind Wench, that will play the Game out with me— Oh for my Arms full of soft, white, kind—Woman! such as I fancy Angelica.

What does Belville mean when he says "not of a quality to give thee any hopes"? On this website called LitCharts, it says that it means Belville thinks the gypsy is too "highborn" to sleep with him out of wedlock. But why would a gypsy be highborn? Could the line mean that the gypsy seems inconstant/promiscuous, so it would not be a good idea for Willmore to fall in love (real love, not Willmore love) with her?

You can read the earlier interaction between Hellena and Willmore starting here.

1 Answer 1


Willmore does not actually believe that Hellena is a gipsy, because he met her during the Carnival at Naples, where revellers go about in costume and wearing masks. This is why he raises the possibility that she may “prove damnably ugly”, as he has not yet seen her face beneath the mask. In fact, Willmore says that he is sure Hellena is a “Person of Quality”:

Willmore Hang her, she was some damn’d honest Person of Quality, I’m sure, she was so very free and witty. If her Face be but answerable to her Wit and Humour, I would be bound to Constancy this Month to gain her.

This is “quality” in the sense:

quality, adj. 5.a. Nobility, high birth or rank, good social position; chiefly in phrase person (also man, woman, gentleman, lady, people, etc.) of quality. Now archaic.

Oxford English Dictionary.

Aphra Behn herself published The Rover under the pen-name “a Person of Quality”: see Plays Written by the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn (1724), volume 1, p. 1.

So when Belvile in the next scene says “she was not of a Quality to give thee any hopes” he is referring back to Willmore’s speech quoted above, but punning on the word “quality” by using it in this sense:

quality, adj. 1.a. Character, disposition, nature.

Oxford English Dictionary.

That is, Belvile means that in his opinion Hellena’s character gives Willmore no hope of making a romantic conquest. I don’t think Belvile can be supposed to have any special knowledge or insight into Hellena’s character, since as yet he has not even spoken with her: more likely, he is simply taking advantage of an opportunity to tease his friend.

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