Collection No. 9: The Maid of the Oaks, by John Burgoyne

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

Publication details

Author: Burgoyne, John
Author dates: 1723-1792
Title: The Maid of the Oaks

First played: 1774
First published: 1774, for T. Becket. 68p.
C18th availability: Available in ECCO (1774)

Modern availability: Available in LION (1996)

Genre: Comic Opera

Trend(s): Gender

Character types: Irish; Sophisticated; Country; Servant; Class-Crossing

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The sophisticated Dupeley falls for a disguised Lady Bab; at her wedding to Sir Harry Groveby, Maria learns that Oldworth is her real father.

Preface: Burgoyne’s comments on the English stage, including the following:
“They who suppose an English audience, because used to plain entertainment, are incapable of relishing the most refined, are greatly mistaken. It is true, there will ever be spectators in the two extremes of the house, who are tasteless and despicable---to the honour of the town be it said, they are but few--- and whether they bawl for a hornpipe from the Upper Gallery, or yawn in the weariness of dissipapation in the Boxes, they equally betray stupidity, prejudice, or caprice: But the middle class and bulk of the assembly, like that of the kingdom at large, will ever be on the side of nature, truth, and sense.”

Prologue: instructs the audience to treat this play like an infant (i.e. gently); there is a special instruction to prevent it from being ‘smother’d by the parish nurse’.

Act I.
Charles Dupeley, recently arrived in England, is visiting his friend Sir Harry Groveby. Sir Harry is going to be married to the Maid of the Oaks, an orphan ward of Mr. Oldworth. This gentleman arrives and is introduced to Dupeley. Hurry, a servant, rushes in as he arranges for the wedding. Dupeley will soon meet Lady Bab Lardoon. Oldworth leaves to attend to the wedding preparations. Dupeley suggests that Groveby has been taken in by the woman, and that he would have seen through her plot to ensnare a lord, stating that all English women are “Pamela Andrews and Clarissa Harlowe” (intertextuality: Richardson’s novels). Groveby has not consulted with his uncle, Old Groveby, about the marriage, as he is certain to disapprove of the class difference. Dupeley taunts him, suggesting that he will need a divorce by the next winter. Groveby reprimands him and leaves. Dupeley converses with Hurry, who does not give him the sophisticated descriptions of the Maid for which he hopes. Various workmen are preparing a building for the wedding. An Irish painter sings a song.

Act II.
Maria, the Maid of the Oaks, is sitting under a tree singing. Oldworth enters and offers to gratify any unfulfilled wish she may have before her wedding. Maria would like to know who her parents were, but Oldworth says to be patient, for this mystery will be revealed by nightfall. Lady Bab Lardoon arrives and is ‘like a mole in the sunshine’ out of London. She describes what Maria perceives as the loose morals of the town; Lady Bab is shocked by Maria’s lack of sophistication. Sir Harry comes to claim Maria as his bride. Lady Bab tells the listeners of how she has been lambasted in the London papers. Sir Harry tells Lady Bab about Dupeley’s attitudes towards British women, and Lady Bab plans to disprove him. Many little children rush in and sing a song.

Act III.
Old Groveby arrives for the wedding. He threatens to change his will to cut out Sir Harry because Maria has no money or family name. Old Groveby meets Maria in the woods; without realizing she is the bride, he asks her to tell him about Sir Harry’s fiancée. Old Groveby then makes known his goal to break up the wedding. Sir Harry arrives and Maria leaves instantly. Old Groveby wants to marry Maria himself, without realizing that she is Sir Harry’s fiancée. Sir Harry clarifies that the girl who just left the grove was Maria herself, and Old Groveby wishes to take revenge for having been tricked. Lady Bab, dressed as a shepherdess, sees Dupeley; she astonishes him with her country simplicity, but he becomes suspicious when she presents a satirical portrait of town gentlemen. She throws him off the scent by telling him that Mr. Oldworth taught her to say that. Dupeley suggests they run off together. Lady Bab (still a shepherdess) hints that he will leave her when he meets Lady Bab Lardoon in London; Dupeley denies this and tries to kiss her. Hurry enters and reveals Lady Bab’s real identity. Sir Harry and Oldworth enter and laugh at the confused and ashamed Dupeley. They go off to extricate Maria from Old Groveby’s embraces. After Oldworth apologizes for not contacting him earlier, Old Groveby relents and says he will change his will to leave all his property to Maria (and her husband Sir Harry). They prepare to lead the bride to the wedding.

Act IV.
Hurry continues to supervise the preparations; he is ‘mad with joy’. Guests to the wedding sing as the procession approaches. Oldworth reveals that he is Maria’s real father, and that she is an heiress; he raised her as his ward to avoid turning her into a coquette, and to ensure that her husband would marry her for love. Actaea, an unpleasant cousin of Lady Bab’s, arrives, and she and Dupeley escape as Actaea sings.

Act V.
A Shepherd and Shepherdess enter and sing to one another. Folly and Druid sing. The Palace of Celestial Love is revealed. Lady Bab vows to renounce hypocrisy and fashion, and Dupeley asks her to marry him. Songs and dances conclude the ceremony. 

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Secondary commentary

A) Mintz, Max M. ‘Burgoyne, John (1723–1792)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 May 2008.

"Burgoyne returned to literary pursuits, having in 1774 authored a play, The Maid of The Oaks, a mix of concealed identities featuring a female advocate of women's equality. The play had been written in two acts as part of the lavish wedding celebrations for Edward Smith Stanley, later twelfth earl of Derby, and Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, held at Burgoyne's home, The Oaks, near Epsom in Surrey. It was later expanded to five acts by David Garrick and became a popular part of the Drury Lane repertory."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

The main division is between the town and the country, depicted in Lady Bab’s personas as a knowledgeable town lady of fashion, and a rural, uneducated shepherdess. Humour is added in the servant Hurry’s speech – he is so rushed that he mishears and mispronounces several words. O'Daub, an Irish painter, speaks with some Irish vocabulary.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Hurry (a servant)
a. Sample of dialect
Why, honest Hurry, if there is none to be had, you need not be in such haste about 'em---Mercy on us! My Fête has turn'd this poor fellow's head already, he will certainly get a fever.

Get a favour, Sir!---why there has not been one left these three hours; all the girls in the parish have been scrambling for them, and I must get a hundred yards more---Lord a mercy! there is so much to do at once, and nobody to do it, that it is enough to moider one's head.

I thought as much.
You are a courtier, friend Hurry.

[page 11 ]

I court her!---heaven forbid!---she's going to be married, Sir.

Well said simplicity! If you won't tell me who she is, tell me what she is?

She is one of the most charmingest, sweetest, delightfulest, mildest, beutifulest, modestest, genteelest, never to be prais'd enough young creature in all the world!

b.1 Orthography; “moider”
b.2 Grammar: “she is one of the…young creature”; superlative suffixes “est”; double superlatives “most charmingest”
b.3 Vocabulary: mishears “fever” as “favour”, and “courtier” as “court her”; interjection: “Lord a mercy!”; expression “moider [murder] one’s head”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: a servant
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: O’Daub (Irish painter)
a. Sample of dialect

[page 14]

And, by my soul, it would have been better for you if you had---I would have put out Mr. Lanternbug 's stars with one dash of my pincil, by making them five times more bright---Ho! if you had seen the sign of a setting sun, that I painted for a linen-draper, in Bread-street, in Dublin--- [50]  Devil burn me but the Auroree of O'Guide was a fool to it.

O'Guide!---who is he? Guid-o, I suppose you mean.

And if he has an O to his name, what signifies whether it comes before or behind---Faith I put it like my own of O'Daub, on the right side, to make him sound more like a gentleman---besides it is more melodious in the mouth, honey.

b.1 Orthography: “pincil”,
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “honey”?
c. Nationality: Irish
d. Characteristics of dialect speakers: Irish; prefixing a name with O makes it sound “more like a gentleman”?
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Lady Bab (a lady from the town)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 20]
Lady BAB .
Only fit for sheep-walks and Oakeries !---I beg your pardon, Mr. Oldworth---in town it wou'd just raise you to the whist-party of old lady Cypher, Mrs. Squabble and lord Flimzey; and at every public place, you wou'd stand among the footmen to call your own chair, while all the maccaronies passed by, whistling a song through their tooth-picks, and giving a shrug--- dem it, 'tis pity that so fine a woman shou'd be lost to all common decency.
MARIA, (smiling)

I believe I had better stay in the Oakery, as you call it; for I am afraid I shall never procure any civility in town, upon the terms required.

Lady BAB .
Oh, my dear, you have chose a horrid word to express the intercourse of the bon ton; civility may be very proper in a mercer, when one is chusing a

[page 21 ]

silk, but familiarity is the life of good company. I believe this is quite since your time Mr. Oldworth, but 'tis by far the greatest improvement the beau monde ever made.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “you have chose”; “her” for Old Groveby (wrong gender)
b.3 Vocabulary: “civility” vs “familiarity”; beau monde, bon ton (French)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: sophisticated, city woman
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent (she pretends to be a shepherdess)

Variety: Lady Bab as a shepherdess
a. Sample of dialect
Lady BAB .
You seem to wish for my nosegay, Sir, it is much at your service.

                                         (Offers the flowers, and curtseys awkward.

Oh, the charming innocent!---my wishes extend a little further. A thousand thanks, my fair one; I accept it as a faint image of your own sweets. To whom am I so much obliged?

Lady BAB .
To the garden-man, to be sure; he has made flowers grow all over the garden, and they smell so sweet; pray smell 'em, they are charming sweet I assure you, and have such fine colours---law! you are a fine nosegay yourself, I think.

                                         (simpers, and looks at him.

Exquisite simplicity!
(half aside)
sweet contrast to

[page 44 ]

fashionable affectation---Ah, I knew at first glance you were a compound of innocence and sensibility.

Lady BAB .
Lack-a-dazy heart! how could you hit upon my  temper so exactly?

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “lack-a-dazy”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: sophisticated, city woman
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent (alters language when pretending to be a shepherdess)

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest

Education at home vs. education abroad:

Don't sneer, and I will tell you---By mere chance, in a progress of amusement to this side the country: [125]  The story is too delicate for thy relish, suffice it that I came, saw, and lov'd---I laid my rank and fortune at the fair one's feet, and would have married instantly; but that Oldworth opposed my precipitancy, and insisted upon a probation of six months absence---It has been a purgatory!

All this is perfectly en regle for a man of home education---I should like to see the woman that could entangle me in this manner.

Journalistic practices:

Lady BAB .
Lord, a great while, and in all its stages: They first began with a modest inuendo, " we hear a certain Lady, not a hundred miles from Hanoversquare, lost, at one sitting, some nights ago, two thousund guineas ---O tempora! O mores!"

OLDWORTH, (laughing)

Pray, Lady Bab, is this concluding ejaculation your own, or was it the Printer's?

Lady BAB .
His, you may be sure; a dab of Latin adds surprizing force to a paragraph, besides shewing the learning of the author.

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©2008 Arden Hegele