Collection No. 5: The Padlock, by Isaac Bickerstaff

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

Publication details

Author: Bickerstaff, Isaac
Author dates: 1733-1808(?)
Title: The Padlock

First played: 1768
First published: 1768, for W. Griffin. 31p.
C18th availability: Available in Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in The padlock: a farce by Dibdin, Charles, 1745-1814.; call number: lib.

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comic Opera

Character Types: African

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Leonora escapes the advances of the aging Don Diego to be with her lover Leander with the help of Ursula and Mungo, Don Diego's servants.

Prologue: material for the play taken from Don Quixote (a story called The Jealous Husband).
Act I.
Leonora has been living with Don Diego for three months. He has an agreement with her parents: he has given them four thousand pistoles, and is to marry her at the end of a three-month period, taking the money back as her dowry, or he is to return her (still virginal) to her parents with an additional two thousand pistoles. The aging Don Diego has kept her locked up for much of this time to avoid being cuckolded. The three months have elapsed, and Don Diego intends to marry her. He summons Leonora, and asks her to marry him. She sighs at the prospect of being locked up for the rest of their married life, but is too afraid to refuse him. Having recently had a fondness for going to mass (as Don Diego’s servant reports to him), Leonora wishes to go the following day. Leander, a student, is in love with Leonora. In order to make his affections known to her, he has stood outside her window every day in various disguises; she has recognized him each time. He has also befriended Mungo, Don Diego’s servant, who has told him the secrets of the family. From Mungo, Leander has learned that Don Diego will be absent this evening as he goes to consult with Leonora’s parents. Leander and his friends wish to rescue Leonora during Don Diego’s absence. Don Diego describes the complex system of locks with which he has entrapped Leonora, and tells the audience that he will keep the key to the final padlock in his pocket. Don Diego puts Mungo in charge of securing the house. Mungo sings “Dear heart, what a terrible life am I led”. That evening, Leander plays for Mungo outside Don Diego’s house. Ursula, the servant, comes downstairs to sing. They wonder how Leander has lost the use of his leg. Ursula invites Leander in to play some music so they can dance; they discover there is a large padlock on the door, so Leander says he will come over the back wall, despite a seemingly lame leg. Leander tells Leonora that he is the pilgrim whom she saw at mass; he and Leonora sing of their love for one another while Mungo and Ursula see how high the back wall is; they return and Leander prepares to go over the wall.

Act II.
Leander has been admitted to the house. He gives Ursula and Mungo money; Ursula flirts with him and Mungo wants to learn how to play the guitar as well as he does. Leonora and Leander try to evade Ursula, who is still flirting and offers to dance. Ursula tells Leonora that Don Diego will surely kill Leander the next day, as it is impossible for him to climb over the wall from the inside, so Leonora may do anything she likes. Don Diego returns early and hears Mungo singing; fortunately for the lovers, the drunken Mungo delays Don Diego’s entry, but he reveals that a young gentleman has been inside the house. Leander leaves to go over the wall, where his friends have placed ladders, but Don Diego enters too soon. Realizing the folly of a May-December marriage, Don Diego allows Leander and Leonora to be married and will remove all the bars from the windows of the house. He will also give them five hundred crowns, but refuses to see them again. Don Diego will not reward Mungo for his treachery. They all sing: “That men should rule our sex is meet / But art, not force, must do the feat”, says Ursula; Leander urges men to “Let all her ways be unconfined / And clap your padlock on her mind.”

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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.

"The Padlock (1768) was produced not at Covent Garden, from which a disenchanted Bickerstaff had finally managed to break away, but by Garrick at Drury Lane. In essence it was no more original in its plot than his other hits—young lover whisks young beloved away from the old man who had intended to marry her—but, like Love in the City or, rather, like The Romp, it held one joyous piece of character writing that helped to turn it into the success that it became. Charles Dibdin, the composer of the piece, appeared black-faced in the low-comic, dialect role of the West Indian servant Mungo, with his soon-to-be famous song ‘Dear heart, what a terrible life am I led’. Much thanks to Mungo, The Padlock triumphed at the Lane before going on to a career which saw it played more widely than any other of its writers' works; it was, for example, produced as Das Vorhängeschloss in Germany and as A Lakat in Hungary."

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.

"Returning to comic opera at Drury Lane with The Padlock (3 October 1768), Bickerstaff borrowed his plot from Miguel de Cervantes's exemplary novel El celoso extremeño (1613). The aging Don Diego, eager to marry the young Leonora, padlocks her in his house while he goes to make wedding arrangements. The young Leander gets into the house anyway and wins Leonora's affections. A repentant Don Diego, realizing his foolishness, blesses the young couple and orders all the locks and bars removed from the house. Love, he learns, cannot be coerced, only given.
The character of Mungo, the black servant, gave the opera its tremendous popularity. Played in blackface by Charles Dibdin, one of Bickerstaff's chief musical collaborators, Mungo reflects on the harsh lot of slaves but nevertheless maintains his dignity and his wit. The black actor Ira Aldridge kept Mungo and The Padlock on the stage into the second quarter of the nineteenth century."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Mungo, the comic black servant, is the only character to speak in non-StE.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Mungo (black servant)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 10]
Mung. Go, get you down, you damn hamper, you carry me now. Curse my old Massa, sending me always here and dere for one something to make me tire like a mule---curse him imperance---and him damn insurance.

Deig. How now.

Mung. Ah, Massa, bless you heart.

Deig. What's that you are muttering, Sirrah?

Mung. Noting, Massa, only me say, you very good Massa.

[page 11]

Dear heart, what a terrible life am I led,
A dog has a better that's shelter'd and fed:
Night and day 'tis de same,
My pain is dere game;
Me wish to de Lord me was dead.

What e'er's to be done,
Poor black must run;
Mungo here, Mungo dere,
Mungo every where;
Above and below,
Sirrah come, Sirrah go,
Do so, and do so.
Oh! oh!
Me wish to de Lord me was dead.

b.1 Orthography: “Massa” (master); “here and dere”
b.2 Grammar: “to make me tire like a mule” (tired?); “bless you heart”; “only me say, you very good Massa”’ “what a terrible life am I led”; “me wish to de Lord me was dead”
b.3 Vocabulary: “damn”, “imperance”?
c. Nationality: of African origin, but lives in Spain
d. Character profile: Don Diego's black slave
e. Consistency of representation: very consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest


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©2008 Arden Hegele