Collection No. 7: The Recruiting Serjeant, by Isaac Bickerstaff

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

Publication details

Author: Bickerstaff, Isaac
Author dates: 1732-1808(?)
Title: The Recruiting Serjeant

First played: 1770
First published: 1770, for W. Griffin. 28p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1770)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1994)

Genre: Interlude

Character types: Country; Military

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A countryman does not fall to the temptations of the recruiting sergeant.

A recruiting sergeant comes to the country and praises the army; a countryman responds to his call and wants to join the army, to the consternation of his wife and mother.  The mother tells her son not to trust the sergeant’s offer of gold. The countryman’s wife sings about how her children will starve in the workhouse if their father leaves for war. The sergeant describes a battle; to the mother and wife’s horror, the countryman is impressed, although slightly concerned that he will be dismembered. However, the countryman thinks better of joining, and says “second thoughts are best.” It turns out that his desire to join was just a ploy to revenge himself on his wife, who followed him to the alehouse the night before. The sergeant and the country folk toast the King and Queen.

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Secondary commentary

A) 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.

"Two months later (20 July 1770) Bickerstaff was again at Ranelagh House with another serenata, The Recruiting Serjeant. A recruiting sergeant extols the pleasures of war to a rural lad, who almost enlists but thinks better of it at the last minute and does not sign up. Despite the work's patriotism (it ends with toasts to the king and queen and praise of the military), parts of it resemble a Brechtian antiwar satire, especially the recruiting sergeant's enthusiastic description of battlefield slaughter. The Recruiting Serjeant was well received and maintained its popularity into the nineteenth century. It was presented in Boston (1799) and in New York (1800) with similar success."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

The countryman speaks with a West Country accent; his wife speaks a dialect closer to StE.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: West Country accent (Countryman)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 12]
COUNTRYMAN. Hip, Measter Serjeant.
WIFE. Go, yourself destroy.
SERJEANT. What says my cock?
COUNTRYMAN.Mayhop I wants employ.
A lad about my soize, though, wou'd na' do,
SERJEANT. Ay, for a colonel.
COUNTRYMAN. And a coptain too!
SERJEANT. For both, or either.
COUNTRYMAN. But, I doubts, d'ye see,
Such pleaces are na' for the loikes o'me.

b.1 Orthography: “Mayhop”, “Measter”, “soize”, “wou’d na’”, “coptain”, “pleaces”, “loikes”
b.2 Grammar: “I wants”
b.3 Vocabulary: “Hip”
c. Nationality: English: West Country
d. Character profile: rural, naïve peasant
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: The countryman’s wife (closer to StE)
a. Sample of dialect:
Dear Joseph, what's come o'er thee? tell me, do:
Three babes we have, I work for them, and you;
You work for us, and both together earn,
What keeps them tight, and puts them out to learn.
But if a soldiering, you're bent to roam,
We all shall shortly to the parish come;
And the churchwardens, no one to befriend us,
Will, for the next thing, to the workhouse send us.
Thee know'st at workhouse how poor folks are serv'd;
Bill, Tom, and Susan, will be quickly starv'd.

b.1 Orthography:
b.2 Grammar: “Thee know’st”; “a soldiering”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English: West Country
d. Character profile: the countryman’s wife is better spoken than her husband
e. Consistency of representation: 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