Collection No. 17: The Oxonian in Town, 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 Oxonian in Town

First played: 1767
First published: 1770, for T. Becket and Co. ... and R. Baldwin [etc.] 29 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1770)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Nationality

Character types: Educated Male; Irish

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The Oxford student Careless' new acquaintances try to rob him; he is saved by his friend Knowell, whom he gives permission to marry his sister in thanks.

Act I.
Charles Knowell and Frank Careless are visiting London from Oxford. Knowell is in love with Careless’ sister Polly. Careless asks why Knowell is unhappy. Knowell replies that he is distressed because he perceives a danger: Careless’ three new friends Rook, Shark and McShuffle plan to steal his estate from under him. Careless refuses to believe him, saying that two of his friends are polished gentlemen, while the third is so blunt that he cannot be anything but honest. Careless reminds Knowell that they do not have enough money to support themselves in London without the help of these new friends. Knowell tells the audience that he has pretended to join the crooks. He meets with Rook, Shark and McShuffle, who plan to get Careless drunk and gamble his money away. This will force Careless to marry Lucy to get her dowry. The crooks commend Knowell for his spirit; they have never met a university man who would participate in such a scheme. They agree that each will take a quarter of the profits. Careless is visiting with Charlotte Brisk and other ‘ladies of pleasure’; he, Knowell and the ladies decide to go to see a new farce at the theatre in hopes of causing a riot. Shark and McShuffle tell Charlotte to give Careless the slip after the play, for they have some business to do with him, but promise that he will be returned to her by one o’clock. Careless and Charlotte dance.

Act II.
Rook, McShuffle, Shark, Careless and Knowell are drinking after the play. Knowell warns Rook and Shark to keep from getting drunk, then leaves for an hour-long appointment with a lady. Knowell visits Lucy Mayfield, who is in on the scheme, pretending to have a great fortune to attract Careless once he has been ruined by the gamblers. Lucy flirts with Knowell. A constable arrives and arrests Lucy based on information given by Knowell. The latter gentleman asks for a moment to speak with Lucy; he tells her that if she goes along with his plan to stop Shark, Rook and McShuffle, he will ensure that the charges against her are dropped. Lucy agrees to help him. They return to Careless, who has lost six thousand pounds to the other men and realizes he will not be able to pay up. Lucy emerges and gives evidence against the men, exposing their plot. The constable arrests Shark, Rook and McShuffle. Careless suggests that Knowell marry his sister, and says that with the knowledge of this story, his father will undoubtedly consent. Lucy concludes by saying that she has reformed.

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Secondary commentary

A) 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.
"The Oxonian in Town played over twenty times, despite an interruption of its third night, 10 November, based on complaints that the character of McShuffle, one of the London sharpers attempting to swindle Oxonian Frank Careless, was an Irish slur. Since the other crooks, Rook and Shark, are clearly not Irish, the play's antigambling stance is unequivocably portrayed, and a statement declaring no intention of anti-Hibernianism was published the next day, there were no subsequent interruptions."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

All the characters speak in StE. Controversially, only the evil McShuffle is a foreigner with any language variation.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: McShuffle (Irishman)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 7]
Arrah, my little honey, I am glad to see your face in town again, and am glad you are one of us; for you're as honest a cratur as ever [200]  won a tousand pound by two or tree little tricks, honey.

b.1 Orthography: “cratur”; “tousand”; “tree” (three)
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “Arrah”; “honey”
c. Nationality: Ireland
d. Character profile: crude crook
e. Consistency of representation: very consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

Irish and a university education:

[Page 9 ]

Larning! oh, that must be very stupid! But, pray, what do they all do at this shame univarshity?

Do? why some few unaccountable fellows cultivate the arts and sciences, and study the languages.

The languages!---Do they understand Irish, honey?

No, faith, I don't believe any of them are in the least acquainted with it.

Oh, then the devil burn me, if mine ownshelf, or Paddy the chairman in the Pee-a-ches, is not a grater scholar than any of them.
(gabbles Irish.)
Can they talk so, my dear?

Ha, ha, ha, ha!

No, indeed, they can't.

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Other points of interest

The effects of a university education on a young man's temperament:
By all means. Give me your hand, Charles; I am glad we have you, by Jupiter: for you are the only young fellow of spirit I ever knew that was bred at the university.

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©2008 Arden Hegele