Collection No. 14: The Musical Lady, by George Colman the Elder

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

Publication details

Author: Colman, George (the Elder)
Author dates: 1732-1794
Title: The Musical Lady

First played: 1761
First published: 1762, for T. Becket and P. A. Dehondt [etc.] 40 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1762)
Available in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (1777): B-10 09965
In The Dramatick Works of George Colman.

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy / Farce

Trend(s): Contemporary Satire

Character types: Italian; Professional Female

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The Italian opera-loving Sophy resumes her British identity thanks to her lover Mask.

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Secondary commentary

A) Baldwin, Olive, and Thelma Wilson. ‘Colman, George, the elder (bap. 1732, d. 1794)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 May 2008.

"Colman's comic afterpiece The Musical Lady was premièred on 6 March 1762. It ridiculed the fashion for Italian music and Jane Pope played the affected heroine, as she had done so successfully in Polly Honeycombe."

B) Sondergard, Sid. ‘George Colman, the Elder: April 15, 1732-August 14, 1794’. 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. 26 May 2008.

"Colman returned to parody of popular affectations in The Musical Lady , which premiered in the 1761-1762 season, but was even more popular the following season and was regularly revived for a decade. Originating in the excess of material generated during the composition of The Jealous Wife, Colman's third play turns to satire of English infatuation with Italian music and musicians, yet also contains significant autobiographical content. Mask, furnished by his father with "a handsome set of chamber in King's Bench Walks" to study law, settles for a garret, in Old Mask's opinion, "with a worse smell than the country goal," and sells off all his law books. The earl of Bath's attitude (or George's own guilt) toward his rejection of the legal profession could hardly have been more explicitly portrayed. Mask rests his hopes on marrying Sophy, a young woman of such affected Italianate taste that "I should hardly be surprized at her marriage with one of the Sopranos at the opera." Old him rails against his son until Freeman informs him of Mask's fortunate marriage to a woman of wealth--at which point he reverses his polemic and compliments the lad's resourcefulness, "Ods-my-life-strip him stark naked, and throw him into the sea, he would rise up again with a sword and bad-wig." Colman must certainly have hoped for similar support from Pulteney as he settled into the professional life of an author."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Mask uses Italian terms to seduce Sophy.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Italian terms
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 8]
I tell you, I am sure of her. I have made some pretty intelligible overtures to her already, which have been received not unfavourably. I have played off the complete virtuoso upon her, and she supposes me to be very lately returned from Rome. I have been thrown into raptures and musical extasies---and cried out bravo! divino! and ancora! louder than herself. But that which, I plainly perceive, weighs most with her is a ridiculous proposal I have made to carry her over to Italy directly after our marriage. In short, I have touched the principal string, the master key of her soul. Nay, she has even declared that I am a bell' cavaliero , and a person of infinite gusto ---What do you think of that, Freeman?

[page 12]
Oh, their merit is above all recompence. They are a perfect treasure of taste and vertu ! O the dear Caprice!---Such cadences! such sostenutos ! ---and her graces, shakes, slurs, and trilloes --- ravishing beyond expression!---And then Signor Staccato's execution! What enchanting tones?--- what a noble forte !---what a tender piano ! and

[page 13 ]

such amazing harpegiaturas ! The very soul of harmony seems to breathe from the instrument.
[page 18]
The Sophini! ---I am pleased with it prodigiously---the sweetest concetto!---The Sophini! --- But pray, Signor,---for I will call you Signor--- was not you charmed at the concerto last week?--- The Caprice was amazing, and great beyond expression in the song of Fonti Amiche .


The stile of that air was excellent. The chromatico ---I remember.---But pray now, tell me truly,
[taking her tenderly by the hand]
---were there not some strokes of your composition in it?--- I know all the Virtuosi consult you on these occasions---I thought I could discern your manner.---Come, confess, I am sure it was so.---

[page 19]
During the song Mask exclaims
Divino! squisito! bravissimo! &c.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: Audience terms: “bravo!” “divino!” “ancora!” “squisito!” “bravissimo!”
Musical terms: “sostenusos”, “trilloes”, “forte”, “piano”, “harpegiaturas” (appoggiaturas), “concerto”, “chromatico”
Other terms: “vertu”, “concetto”  “bell’ cavaliero” “gusto”
c. Nationality: English (with Italian)
d. Character profile: Sophy, an aspiring opera singer, is enchanted with all things Italian; her suitor George Mask seduces her by pretending to be the same using Italian terms to praise her
e. Consistency of representation: consistent, until the end of the play when Mask reveals himself to be a true Briton and Sophy reforms

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest

Reference to the castrati of popular Italian opera:
And why not? Love, perhaps, may as well be sung as said, and is hardly more ridiculous one way than the other; not to mention that it is the only way of succeeding with Sophy. It is true indeed that notwithstanding her rage after the gamut, she knows little more of music than I do; yet I am so well convinced of the violence of her attachment to every thing that is Musical and Italian, that I should hardly be surprized at her marriage with one of the Sopranos at the opera.

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©2008 Arden Hegele