Collection No.2. Love in a Village, by Isaac Bickerstaff

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Bickerstaff, Isaac
Author dates: 1733-1808(?)
Title: Love in a Village

First played: 1762
First published:  1763, W. Griffin; for J. Newbury, and W. Nicholl ... G. Kearsly. 78p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1763)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comic Opera

Trend(s): Class; Popularity

Character Types: Servant; Country; Legal; Educated Female

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Disguised as servants to escape their unwanted marriage to one another, Rossetta and Young Meadows realize they are in love. Lucinda escapes her "gouty father and superannuated maiden aunt" to marry her lover Mr. Eustace. Servants sing at a hiring fair.

Front matter: Addressed to Mr. Beard; the author explains that the opera is mediocre as a piece of dramatic writing, but that Dibdin's songs are quite good!

Act I.
Rossetta and Lucinda are in a garden. Lucinda bemoans her boring country life with a “preposterous gouty father and a superannuated maiden aunt”. Rossetta urges her to elope with Mr. Eustace, her suitor, about whom neither her aunt nor her father knows. Rossetta complains that she is being followed around the house by Lucinda’s father; she has run away from home to escape an “odious marriage”, and feels as though she has escaped only to face the prospect again. She has assumed the guise of a chambermaid in Lucinda’s household. Lucinda jokes that Rossetta is in love with Thomas, the gardener (really Young Meadows, who has disguised himself as a gardener to avoid an unwanted marriage). "Thomas" has had the misfortune of falling in love with the chambermaid (Rossetta)They meet in the garden, but neither acknowledges their mutual attraction because of their perceived difference in class. Justice Woodcock, the aforementioned “gouty father”, visits with his friend Mr. Hawthorn; they plan to attend a servants’ hiring fair. Lucinda meets with Hodge, a servant, who gives her a letter from her suitor Mr. Eustace; this gentleman plans to see her at the hiring fair. Hodge assures her that he will not betray her secret to her father. Lucinda complains that her father’s unusual temper will prevent her from marrying a man who is in all ways her equal. Hodge and his mistress Margery fight; she wants him to marry her, but he refuses. Hodge and Young Meadows discourse. Hawthorn, Justice Woodcock and the others attend the servants’ fair. Each servant sings about his or her profession.

Act II.
Lucinda and Mr. Eustace meet; the latter has a post-chaise ready for an elopement, but Lucinda is uncertain. Lucinda’s family members enter unexpectedly. Lucinda tells her family that Mr. Eustace is a music-master who has been recommended to her; her aunt Deborah and Justice Woodcock argue, as Deborah is certain that the music-master plans to run away with Lucinda. Justice Woodcock allows Eustace to stay, and sings a bawdy song. Eustace tells Lucinda he would have preferred to have told her father the truth. Rossetta bemoans her love for the gardener. Young Meadows confesses his love for her, but Rossetta refuses to acknowledge her reciprocity because they are not of the same class. Young Meadows wants to tell her his real social position, thinking that she considers her status as a chambermaid higher than his as a gardener, but they are interrupted by Justice Woodcock. After arranging to meet clandestinely that evening, Young Meadows steals away, and Rossetta flirts with the Justice. Hawthorn enters just as Rossetta slips off, and teases Woodcock about his flirtation. A letter arrives for Justice Woodcock from Sir William Meadows, to say that the gardener Thomas is actually his son, Young Meadows. Lucinda tells Hodge that she plans to elope tonight. Margery is angry at Hodge for leaving her. Rossetta arrives; Hodge confesses his love for her. Rossetta tells Margery that she is not a serious rival, but Margery does not understand and decides to go to London to become a prostitute because Hodge has abandoned her. Lucinda tells Rossetta about her plan to elope that evening. Hawthorn enters to reveal that there is a young gentleman of fortune living in the house as a gardener.

Act III.
Hawthorn, Sir William Meadows and Justice Woodcock marvel that Rossetta and Young Meadows, originally betrothed to each other, and who both took flight to avoid the marriage, have now met as servants. Rossetta has told Sir William of her side of the story, but Young Meadows does not yet know of any of these developments. Rossetta prepares to meet Young Meadows in the garden. Hodge enters to reveal that Aunt Deborah has caught Lucinda and Mr. Eustace trying to make their escape. Hodge asks for a kiss, but Rossetta refuses. Deborah, who has locked Mr. Eustace in a closet, accuses Lucinda of poor morals and suggests that her education has turned her into the hussy she is. Young Meadows is surprised to see his father, who presents Rossetta, the girl from whom Young Meadows fled. Young Meadows is astounded and asks for his father’s blessing for their marriage. Mr. Eustace is finally freed; he, Lucinda and Hodge deny everything to Justice Woodcock, who accuses Deborah of being tipsy. Sir William and Young Meadows recognize their kinsman Mr. Eustace, who admits to Justice Woodcock that he is Lucinda’s lover and that he hopes to marry her. To spite Deborah, and after Rosetta persuades him to do so, Woodcock agrees to have Lucinda marry Mr. Eustace. The couples rejoice, except for Hodge, who refuses to take Margery back.

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Secondary commentary

A) Gänzl, Kurt. ‘Bickerstaff, Isaac John (b. 1733, d. after 1808)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biograhpy. 23 May 2008.

"[Love in the Village is] a full-length comic opera set with a largely pasticcio score, but including five fresh songs by Arne. Love in a Village scored an even larger success, proving itself the most successful comic opera to have been produced in Britain since The Devil to Pay (1731) and establishing itself alongside that work and such burlesque pieces as The Beggar's Opera (1728), The Dragon of Wantley (1737), and Midas (1762) as one of the most popular and enduring examples of musical theatre to have come from the English-language stage. It also contributed to the songbooks of the nation what would be Bickerstaff's most enduring song, ‘The Miller of Dee’… Bickerstaff owned [it] had been textually inspired by an earlier work, The Village Opera, an admission that had won him many learned critical columns of abuse for plagiarism."

B) Rudolph, Valerie C.‘Isaac John Bickerstaff: September 26, 1733-1808’. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 23 May 2008.
"By the end of the following year, Love in a Village had established Bickerstaff on the London stage. This most popular of Bickerstaff's works appeared at Covent Garden on 8 December 1762. In his dedication to John Beard, who acted the sensible, country-loving Hawthorn, Bickerstaff asserts that his comic opera has little dramatic merit, but "tolerable" songs. Part ballad opera and part new music, Love in a Village includes a list of sixteen different composers at the end of the printed text, including, of course, Arne. In the advertisement following the dedication, Bickerstaff admits some slight indebtedness to Charles Johnson's The Village Opera (1729). Critics, however, charged that Bickerstaff had borrowed substantially from Johnson, and his masterpiece never did escape the taint of plagiarism.
In Love in a Village the course of true love takes many twists and turns before it runs smoothly. There are two pairs of lovers to be united: Lucinda and Eustace; Rosetta and Young Meadows. The former plan to elope; the latter, disguised as a maid and a gardener, imagine social-class differences that prevent their love. Despite Lucinda's quick wit and her presentation of Eustace to her father as her music master (a hint borrowed from Wycherley's The Gentleman Dancing Master, 1672), the elopement is thwarted, but the couple is eventually united anyway. Rosetta and Young Meadows discover that the arranged marriages each sought to escape were really to one another, thus removing class barriers to their union. Nevertheless, even the apples of a pastoral paradise must have an occasional worm, and not to be wed are the rustic Hodge and his cast-off mistress, Margery, who finally leaves the countryside for London and a life of prostitution.
Bickerstaff loved symmetry, especially balancing pairs of characters. While Love in a Village has three pairs of lovers, it also pairs Justice Woodcock, the country squire, with Hawthorn as appreciators of country life; Woodcock and Sir William Meadows as fathers concerned with arranged marriages; and Woodcock and his sister Deborah as adversaries in the courtship of Eustace and Lucinda. Perhaps the most unusual part of the work, though, is the hiring fair that concludes the first act. Servants go to the fair to find work, and the finale is a "Servants Medley" with songs by a housemaid, a cook-maid, a footman, and a carter, as well as a concluding servants' chorus.
The overwhelming popularity of Love in a Village led Bickerstaff to venture into comic opera again, and his Maid of the Mill premiered at Covent Garden on 31 January 1765. In his dedication to William, duke of Gloucester, Bickerstaff argued that comic opera ought not to compete with tragedies and comedies but instead provide "occasional relief" from them. Indeed, comic opera can be enjoyed without impugning either the good taste or the good sense of its audience."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Justice Woodcock occasionally uses Latin terms. Hodge and Margery, country servants, are ill-educated and make grammatical slips.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Justice Woodcock
a. Sample of dialect
[Page 12]
J. Woodcock.
No no, 'tis a very foolish piece of business; good for nothing but to promote idleness and the getting of bastards: but I shall take measures for preventing it another year, and I doubt whether I am not sufficiently authorized already: For by an act passed Anno, undecimo, Caroli primo , which impowers a justice of peace, who is lord of the manor.---

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: Latinate (typical of legal profession)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: father of Lucinda; a retired lawyer
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent; sometimes bawdy

Variety: Hodge (servant)
a. Sample of dialect

[Page 14]
Hodge. Been, ay I ha been far enough, an that be all? you never knew any thing fall out so crossly in your born days.
Lucin. Why, what's the matter?
Hodge. Why you know, I dare not take a horse out of his worship's stables this morning, for fear it should be missed, and breed questions; and our old nag at home was so cruelly beat i'th hoofs, that poor beast, it had not a foot to set to ground; so I was fain to go to farmer Ploughshares, at the Grainge, to horrow the loan of his bald filly: and wou'd you think it? after walking all that way,---de'el from me, if the cross-grain'd toad, did not deny me the favour.

[Page 60]
Why with miss Lucinda : her aunt has catch'd, she, and the gentleman above stairs, and over-heard all their love discourse.

b.1 Orthography: “ay” “an”
b.2 Grammar: “her aunt has catch’d she”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character Profile: poorly educated, lowborn country man. Hodge describes himself:

Well, well, say no more,
Sure you told me before;
I know the full length of my tether;
Do you think I'm a fool,
That I need go to school?
I can spell you and put you together.

A word to the wise,
Will always suffice,
Addsnigers go talk to your parrot;
I'm not such an elf,
Though I say it myself,
But I know a sheep's head from a carrot.

e. Consistency of representation: consistent “she” for “her”

Variety: Margery (rustic servant)
a. Sample of dialect:
[Page 19]
A nasty ungrateful fellow, to use me at this rate, after being to him as I have---Well well, I wish all poor girls, wou'd take warning by my mishap, and never have nothing to say to none of them.


How happy were my days till now,
I ne'er did sorrow feel;
I rose with joy to milk my cow,
Or take my spinning wheel.

My heart was lighter than a fly,
Like any bird I sung,
Till he pretended love, and I,
Believed his flatt'ring tongue.

Oh the fool, the silly, silly fool,
Who trusts what man may be;
I wish I was a maid again,
And in my own country.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: triple negation for emphasis: “never have nothing to say to none of them”; “I sung” (sang)
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: low-born country woman
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

When teased for his flirtation with Rossetta, Woodcock says that he doesn’t understand the teasing: it is “Cherokee language to [him]”:

[page 42]

Hawth. Pho, pho, I am no judge of it:---besides, I want to talk to you a little more about this---Tell me, sir justice, were you helping your maid to gather a sallad here, or consulting her taste in your improvements, eh?---Ha, ha, ha!---Let me see; all among the roses! egad, I like your notion: but you look a little blank upon it: you are ashamed of the business, then, are you?

[page 43 ]


Oons! neighbour, ne'er blush for a trifle like this;
What harm with a fair one to toy and to kiss?
The greatest and gravest---a truce with grimace---
Would do the same thing, were they in the same place.
No age, no profession, no station is free;
[25]  To sovereign beauty mankind bend the knee:
That power, resistless, no strength can oppose:
We all love a pretty girl---under the rose.

J. Woodcock. I profess, master Hawthorn , this is all Indian, all Cherokee language to me; I don't understand a word of it.

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Other points of interest

Commentary on women’s education:
[page 64 ]

Mrs. Deb. This is mighty pretty romantick stuff! but you learn it out of your play books, and novels. Girls in my time, had other employments, we work'd at our needles, and kept ourselves from idle thoughts: before I was your age, I had finished with my own fingers, a compleat set of chairs, and a fire screen in tent stitch; four counterpanes, in Marsailles quilting; and the creed, and the ten commandments, in the hair of our family: it was framed, and glazed, and hung over the parlour chimney piece, and your grandfather was prouder of it, than of e'er a picture in his house. I never looked into a book, but when I said my prayers, except it was the compleat housewife, or the great family receipt book: whereas you are always at your studies: Ah! I never knew a woman come to good, that was fond of reading.

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©2008 Arden Hegele