Collection No. 19: An Occasional Prelude, 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: An Occasional Prelude

First played: 1772
First published: 1772
C18th availability:
Available in print in The dramatick works of George Colman in Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library: B-10 09965

Available from ECCO (1777)

Modern availability: Not available

Trend(s): Contemporary Satire

Character types: Irish; Professional Female

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The inner workings of the theatre are portrayed.

Irish chairmen (who are paid to reserve chairs for theatre-goers) discuss the reopening of the theatre. They are happy that the summer is over and that Covent Garden will again be full of actors and audience members. The chairmen discuss the manager of Covent Garden (Colman), saying that although he is a little man, he provides high quality entertainment. The manager speaks with a prompter, reads letters from a woman who wants to be an actress and a female playwright, and negotiates wage increases with a stage carpenter. An author asks the manager why he rejected his play; the manager explains the process of selecting plays and the role of the theatre as “a Foundling-Hospital for wit”. He interviews the aspiring actress, who shows a great deal of spirit and vivacity. They discuss Italian opera, and the actress demonstrates her talent for mimicry by speaking in the Scots dialect (the words are not printed, unfortunately). Colman agrees to hire her as a “gentlewoman-volunteer”, and says that he will consider her most promising if the newspapers criticize her harshly.

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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.

"An Occasional Prelude , composed to open the 1772-1773 season, is a rich document revealing much about the realities of working professional theater. At once self-deprecatory and disparaging of the popularity of puppet shows, the playwright has two chairmen (men sent in advance literally to "hold" chairs for performances) discuss the Covent Garden manager: "To be sure he is no bigger than one of the Outlandish poppits at the Hole in the Wall yonder." The manager asks his carpenter if he has "Brush'd up Mother Shipton" and "laid by the Fairy Prince," and the harried laborer complains about "the Gentleman Managers now-a-days," each of whom are so "full of Fly-traps and Somersets, and Trick upon Trick" one would think "he had been born and bred a Harlequin." Lamenting the deluge of unsolicited manuscripts pouring into his playhouse, the manager waxes philosophical: "The theatre is a Foundling Hospital for wit--limited indeed--for we can no more take in all that are brought, than the other foundling Hospital.""

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

The chairmen (who are paid to reserve seats for audience members) are Irish. The Author speaks with what seems to be an Irish accent. The female actress speaks in Scottish brogue to show off her talents (unfortunately, the words of the brogue are not written out).

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Irish chairmen
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 244]
1st chair. Paddy, my jewel!
2nd chair. What’s the matter, honey?
1st chair. You can rade, my dear. Is not that long black and white piece of paper a play-bill sticking up there?
2nd chair. Indeed, and it is.
1st chair. Then the The-a-tres are going to open again, I suppose.
b.1 Orthography: “The-a-tres” (unfamiliarity or pronunciation?); “rade” (read)
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “Paddy”; “honey”; “jewel”
c. Nationality: Ireland
d. Character profiles: low-level Irish theatre employees
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Author
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 255]
Auth. I presanted you with a piece for representation last winter. You sent me a la-co-nic epestle, importing that it was not calculated to suceed o’ the stage. Pray, Sir, what did you mean by not calculated to succeed o’ the stage?
b.1 Orthography: “succeed” spelled inconsistently; “presanted”; “epestle”
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “la-co-nic” (unfamiliarity)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: unsuccessful playwright
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